Facebook - Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's Noosphere - NotFriday, October 08, 2010
Photograph at right by Philippe Halsman
In 1969 I read Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man. It pretty well changed my life as this man’s thinking, as complex as many would say it is, is far more accessible than for example, Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media or Herbert Marcuse's One Dimentional Man. Teilhard de Chardin’s argument of the onward an upward complexity of evolution towards thought meshed with some of the wonder I had experienced when years before I had understood the calculus and thus whence the volume of cone (Chardin uses the slicing of a cone to demonstrate the upward path of evolution toward thought) or the development of ballistics had all come from. The calculus and Teilahard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man gave me those indelible moments in one’s life that we call an “aha!” moment.
In the chapter, the Birth of Thought, Teilhard de Chardin writes:
There can indeed be no doubt that, to an imaginary geologist coming one day far in the future to inspect our fossilized globe, the most astounding of the revolutions undergone by the earth would be that which took place of the beginning of what has so richly been called pyschozoic era. And even today, to a Martian capable of analyzing sidereal radiations psychically no less that physically, the first characteristic of our planet would be, not the blue of the seas or the green of the forests, but the phosphorescence of thought.
This phosphorescence of thought Teilhard de Chardin dubbed the noosphere and he defined it as “thought enveloping the world.”
Many now believe that the French Jesuit, who was told by the church that he could not publish any of his works until he was dead, predicted and defined the world wide web.
The portrait you see here was taken by the great Latvian photographer Philippe Halsman. Of the portrait Halsman wrote in his book Halsman – Portraits:
In 1950 a woman phoned and asked me to photograph her friend, a Jesuit priest; she wanted to offer him his portrait as a present. Thus, without realizing it, I met one of the most important persons of our time, the brilliant scientist/priest who strongly influenced the ecumenical change in the Roman Catholic Church.
Aristocratic-looking and exuding intelligence, he made an indelible impression on me with his brilliant Cartesian logic and the precision of his speech. Many years later when I read his books, I was surprised to find instead of the clarity which I remembered, a poetic and metaphysical labyrinthine prose, which nevertheless had a profound influence on the thoughts of millions of people.
In light of my daughter Hilary’s difficult effort to arrest her eldest’s daughter’s addiction to Facebook I wonder what the Jesuit priest would say of those who say he predicted the moments that we are living in this 21st century. Is this enveloping world of thought not one of banality if seen through the pages of Facebook?
I have a woman friend who lives in Madrid. We met some 8 years ago on the net through an intelligent essay she wrote about being a model and how to deal in a preliminary way with photographers. We compared notes and I immediately was struck by her narcissistic, almost obsessive way of having her picture taken by many photographers and not only by the one who was her current boyfriend. Since she was around 24 she sill had to live with her parents. She marveled that I would have an exclusive and unshared garden. She sent me pictures of herself in her bathtub (beautifully taken self-portraits) and I was amazed as to how small bathtubs are in Spain. Her pictures came to me fast and they were all expertly taken and they showed to perfection her extreme freckled complexion.
Then she joined Facebook and started posting pictures of herself that suddenly had gone down in quality. They were terrible. There was one in which her friends commented on how lovely she looked. The photograph had terrible lighting and did nothing for her beautiful body.
Without thinking I posted a comment where I mentioned that her would-be photographer should try other professions and I clearly explained the photographic mistakes. I was instantly flamed by her and all her friends and told I was out of turn in my remarks and besides who was I to determine what was good and what was bad. I retreated without any defense. I came to understand that Facebook is a rosy and wonderful world where everything is o.m.g fantastic and most are blown away by everything and anything. It is world-wide Disney Fantasyland.
Since then I have limited my Facebook contributions to postings of my blogs and to their immediate content. I occasionally get one of those thumbs-up sings “I like it” which seems to me to be inconsequential. They are about as depersonalizing and cloaking of oneself in a sea of a crowd, very much like one that would have gesticulated, in safe unison, with their thumbs up (but more often with their thumbs down) to save (in a populist demand to the emperor) the skin of a valiant gladiator.
As I study Facebook I notice that it is becoming "Twitterized". By this I mean that those who post comments or “what’s in their mind” do so in an extremely brief manner. In fact my granddaughter Rebecca protested, “Papi the messages you send me are much too long!”
The contributions by most people to Facebook rarely involve the making of something. This could be an original thought, a poem or an emphatic paragraph of researched opinion backed by researched facts. The bulk of the contributions is of the “I like this… or “I read this… and I like it,” or “There is this YouTube video that is interesting.”
To me Facebook has become the air guitar of the net. Not being able to play a guitar we live the artificial world of watching the celebrities and commenting on what they do or not do. Most participate in a passive way.
I wonder if Pierre Teilhard de Chardin might not remove that smile from his face and frown, just a bit.
Jorge de Irureta Goyena