Much has been made of Vice President Al Goreıs attempt to take credit for inventing the internet. Many people shrug it off with a laugh, and others will point out how the internet was invented by a few college professors and scientists looking to share ideas with each other via computer. The idea of the internet, that may very well have been dreamed up by Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest and paleontologist, in the year 1925.
What Teilhard de Chardin thought of was not the internet in all of its computerized splendor, but the mechanism of evolution that gave rise to the internet. The concept of the internet as an evolution of thought and consciousness Teilhard de Chardin refers to as the noosphere. The earth is all one organism made up of all of the plants, animals , and rocks molded into an inner layer, surrounded by the outer layer of consciousness, or noosphere; "noos" being the Greek word for mind. As Teilhard de Chardin writes (1959): Unless we give up all attempts to restore man to his place in the general history of Earth as a whole without damaging him or disorganizing it, we must place him above it, without , however, uprooting him from it. And this amounts to imagining, in one way or another , above the animal biosphere a human sphere, the sphere of reflexivity, of conscious invention, of the conscious unity of souls, the noosphere if you will, and to conceiving, at the origin of this new entity, a phenomenon of special transformation affecting pre-existent life: hominisation....Nothing can be compared with the coming of reflexive consciousness except the appearance of the consciousness itself (47).
What Teilhard de Chardin wrote of early on in the 20th century , was an evolution of communications, tied to electrical impulses. This layer above the biosphere would contain all of the worldıs knowledge and would float around in the atmosphere. The noosphere would evolve to accomplish the next great advance for mankind and the world at large in its evolution.
It is not difficult to see how Teilhard de Chardinıs theory of 1925 can be applied to todayıs internet. The world wide web certainly is a repository for the knowledge of man. What we do with this tool, now that we have it , is what presents us with the problems we face every day. Interactive communications developed in the late 1990ıs are limited to specific chat rooms that are forums for specific subjects. While there are ever increasing online communities, the actual amount of people using online chat around the globe in the year 2000 is pretty small. Projected figures for MUDS in 2010 are expected to be 27 million users, however. (Thieme, 20)
What does this say about the priorities of the average computer user? When faced with interaction, people would appear to prefer to interact in a virtual world rather than a real one
. Is the web merely a form of entertainment to be used as an escape from the reality of everyday life or can it become the means by which we change society and everyday reality? Is there some way that this endless need to escape into the dark realm can have a positive spin on it so that people can be free from their demons and be able to evolve a sense of higher consciousness that Teilhard de Chardin was envisioning? With so many issues in the world to confront, and so many people, plants and animals in need of help, is society best served by people spending hours fighting imaginary battles when the real battles continue to remain unfought? Is this the best the noosphere can aspire to?
Looking at the internet as a living organism, such as a rose, an analogy can be made towards the fulfillment of the noosphere as envisioned by Teilhard de Chardin. Surely the development of the noosphere must need input and nourishment in order to grow and propagate. But will sunlight (servers) be enough? Will water (e-commerce) enable new growth to take place? Will an aspirin in the water (government regulation) be enough to stem the tide of moral decay and cyberterrorism?
Connection between the soil and the rose is key for development of the rose and a key factor in the fulfillment of the noosphere. Stretching this connection a bit further, perhaps much of the content of todayıs internet, brimming with chat, pornography, e-commerce and MUDs, provides the noosphere with important nourishment in the form of fertilizer. All of this content, varied and unstructured, possibly meaningless to many, will eventually be used in the global collective brain as nutrient food for fostering ideas and allowing further development of the internet and global evolution of it in the future. Ideas have always been the powerhouse of humankind, what separates man from the animals. Free thinking and exchange of ideas enables the processing of those ideas to continue and the internet is a perfect compost heap for this to take place. No other medium has thus far been able to contain so many varieties of human endeavor contained within the same structure. From literature to art and music, to science and sociology, all are contained within the realm of cyberspace.
As a compost heap though, the internet is presently falling short . The idea behind a compost is to integrate all substances together to form a rich material that is broken down into small micro-organisms. The churning of the heap makes certain that all areas are incorporated into the process. When looking at cyberspace, much churning has yet to be done.
The deficiencies of the internet early in the 21st century are a function of the technology which is still too slow and limited in what it can do. As speeds and data retrieval programs become more refined, this problem will surely be corrected. Nevertheless, a major shift has to take place in the way information is looked for and given in order that the churning of the compost and incorporation of ideas takes place. Presently there is no mechanism for someone with ideas or poetry or art to get themout to the masses at large without marketing. Information is only given from searchengines to those that look for it. The hierarchies of the search engines also provide a barrier to people looking for specific ideas. Pages and pages must be downloaded until the specific items are found, if at all. Generally, one has to hear about an idea or website from some other medium in order to get at it in cyberspace. The interaction is only one way, from the user outward. Information should also move toward the user, inward.
Being able to access only the things you want to study is great for the individual but bad for the compost . New ideas have to be heard by the masses as well as the fringes, ruminated upon, and then broken down. If one is only going to investigate what he agrees with , then no richness can be added into the mix. The internet needs to be more interactive with the public at large, providing them with information that they did not always ask for, crossing cultural lines in order to shake off the excesses of racism and narrow-mindedness towards new ideas and different cultures. Ideas, once broken down, can then be blended into a rich compost that fuels more integration, adding to the global mind and the evolution of the noosphere. Not everyone understands the idea of the noosphere and its relation to the internet. David Shenk, in his book Data Smog, (1997) writes :
As fantastic as the web is, it is not [the noosphere]. To be sure, there is a vast supply of scattered intelligence, much of it breaking new ground aesthetically and intellectually. But there is also much of the old, problematic world thrown into the mix...pornography is also rampant. The virtual world has turned out to include all of the unsavory elements of the physical world. The information tools that yesterdayıs techno-utopian dreamed about have arrived, but the machines are not the cultural panaceas they had prophesied (64).
What Shenk, and others must realize is that evolution of the noosphere is not something that will overtake the world by storm in a dramatic fashion. Evolution, by its nature is a process that takes time. This is only the beginning of the development of the global mind. Teilhard de Chardin (1959) writes that "these perspectives will appear absurd to those who don't see that life is, from its origins, groping, adventurous, and dangerous. But these perspectives will grow, like an irresistible idea on the horizon of new generations"(23). Peter Russell, in The Awakening Earth (1982), sees the noosphere as:
The cumulative effect of human minds over the entire planet , as part of a new evolutionary phase towards collective consciousness.This idea is not only based on perception but also on the observation that major qualitative transitions take place throughout the course of evolution and the historical record proves this in several systems where the units become tightly coupled at a density of roughly 10 billion, as the number of atoms in a bio-molecule and a number of molecules in a cell² (19).
Russell argues that the human population (in 1999 at roughly 6 billion) is now approaching this threshold. Through the use of computers, satellites and other technologies, Russell sees catalysts that are linking the planet into a single community; a global mind. The notion of a global mind can even be traced back to Freud who wrote that such a concept was necessary to explain the evolution of
. He wrote:
I have taken as the basis of my whole position the existence of a collective mind, in which mental processes occur just as they do in the mind of the individual....Without the assumption of a collective mind , which makes it possible to neglect the interruptions of mental acts caused by the extinction of the individual, social psychology in general can not exist. Unless physical processes were continued from one generation to another, if each generation were obligated to acquire its attitude to life anew, there would be no progress in this field and next to no development. ... what are the ways and means employed by one generation in order to hand on its mental states to the next one? I shall not pretend that these problems are sufficiently explained or that direct communication and tradition - which are the first things to occur to one - are enough to account for the process (Sheldrake, 247).
Freud concluded that an important part of this mental inheritance was transmitted unconsciously. Rupert Sheldrake has proposed that this type of mental inheritance is transmitted by his hypothesis of morphic resonance. By morphic resonance, structures of thought and experience that were common to many peoples in the past contribute to morphic fields. Within a morphic field, the mind learns new ways of doing things by an unconscious connection with the world at large.
Sheldrake has used the example of how a crossword puzzle is easier to do at the end of the day when many people have already worked on it. The answers to the puzzle are somehow transmitted through the morphic field, allowing people to tap into the collective mind, and solve the puzzle.
Sheldrake proposes that morphogenetic fields are organizing patterns that transmit causal influences through space and time by the process of "morphic resonance." Morphogenetic fields are thought to build cumulatively through repetition, analogous to memories. Thus, all processes, such as solving a crossword puzzle, become easier to perform with time. In addition, morphogenetic fields are thought to slowly change with time, as they interact with other morphogenetic fields. Sheldrake proposes that morphic resonance plays a strong role in evolution; morphogenetic fields are responsible for the inheritance of instinctual behaviors. An adjacent idea to that of Sheldrake is one proposed by Richard Dawkins. Dawkins writes in the Selfish Gene (1976):
The new soup is the soup of human culture. We need a name for this new replicator, a noun which conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission....meme, which sounds like gene, related to the French word for memory. Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, clothes, ways of making pots or of building arches.....memes propagate themselves by leaping from brain to brain via imitation....even if we look on the dark side and assume that individually man is selfish , our conscious foresight- our capacity to simulate the future in imagination - could save us from the worst self excesses of the blind replicators.....We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines, but we have the power to turn against our creators. We, alone on earth can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators (13).
Sheldrake (1988) also claims that his idea of morphic resonance involves human creativity. He writes:
Morphic fields contain goals and attractors that are indeed habitual and conservative; the creativity that occurs within them involves finding new ways of reaching these goals.....one way of thinking about these creative syntheses involves looking from below, from the bottom up: we then see the emergence of ever more complex forms....evolution then becomes more than a word describing a process; it involves a creative principle inherent in matter, or energy, nature, life or process itself (205).
To look , as Sheldrake suggests, from the bottom up, perhaps creativity and evolution are intertwined in the development of the of the noosphere. It would seem that the noosphere is dependent on morphogenetic fields and/or memes in order to have what Teilhard (1959) described as a "a whole layer of consciousness exerting simultaneous pressure upon the future and the collected and hoarded produce of a million years of thought"(52).
Using both the ideas of Sheldrake and Dawkins, a theory can be constructed as to how the noosphere might eventually evolve. Perhaps music, not the mind, may be the vehicle that spreads most quickly and powerfully across the internet. Music and poetry rely on resonance, memory, and cultural ideas, suggesting the possibility that morphic fields and memes could carry the ³software² of the noosphere, via the hardware of internet. Sheldrake (1988) writes of Pythagoras having made the discovery that musical tones could be understood in terms of mathematical ratios. Harmonic proportions could be expressed precisely, and understood by reason and be heard, and mathematical ratios could be seen. ³Thus, ratio and proportion could be directly experienced through the senses and at the same time be understood as timeless fundamental principles. The cosmos itself was understood to have a vast harmonic systems of ratios. Pythagoras is said to have claimed that he actually heard cosmic music, the harmony of spheres, although not with normal hearing²(19).
Music is a great transformer. To look at the late 20th century in particular, many pop culture movements were started as an idea formulated in a song. It is interesting to note how music and poetry worked together during the 1950ıs as the Beat Generation came on the scene;
and dived right in....enthusiastically they embraced be-bop, the
counter statement to the lush over orchestrated big band sounds of the
forties....Beat poetry, those dense word-notes of cross-hatched blank
verse chanted...with jazz accompaniment, riffed off the hidden social
history of black America, a mirror image of the cool, mournful, meditative,
intuitive, self-referential worlds the musicians inhabited (Walley, 1998, p. 166).
The ³boundaries between music, politics and consumerism are indistinct;... just how permeable the cultural membrane is between the world of rock music and politics was demonstrated when the music of Frank Zappa inspired students in the Czech Republic to battle Soviet tanks with rocks in the late 1960ıs.² (Walley 1998, p. 29) Soviet soldiers, while beating the students , muttered that they would ³beat the Zappa out of them² (Walley, 1998, p. 30).
Music is part of the evolutionary process of individual psyche; teenagers experiment with identity through their choices in music. Music also crosses culture, caste and language barriers more effectively than television or literature. Rap and hip-hop music cross race and class boundaries to the point ³where lyrical and visual conventions have been enthusiastically assimilated by mainstream commercial culture which meets and matches in the celebrity realms of pro basketball² (Walley 1998, p.175). The importance of music as a cultural force crossing political and social boundaries is not the only reason for it to be considered as the language of the noosphere. Philosopher Frederick Hegel (1977) writes of the connection between music and consciousness;
Sound penetrates the self, grips it in its simplest being, and by means of the temporal movement and its rhythm sets the self in motion; while the further figuration of the notes, as an expression of feelings, introduces besides a still more definite enrichment for the subject by which he is likewise touched and drawn on. This is what can be advanced as the essential reason for the elemental might of music (53).
Lucy Green writes in her book Music on Deaf Ears,(1988) that;
Music and consciousness connect, or mediate with each other in some way....music mediates with a state of subjective intentionality in us, which becomes interconnected with the musicıs temporal structure. Music raises, negates and affirms our expectations, makes us wait, carries us forward and turns us back....Music structures our state of subjective temporality towards the world...Individual temporal musical experience arises directly from musical materials that inhere in music and create meanings between themselves, for consciousness, through time (14).
It is easy to see then how music could be the ³might² as Hegel would say, to travel via the internet connecting cultures and consciousness. Ultimately the noosphere is about mind, and yet music communicates directly to the emotions; perhaps the fulfillment of Teilhard de Chardinıs noosphere is not a global mind , but rather a global heart.
Musical communities on the internet could become the spawning ground for the future noosphere, connecting people,ideas, and consciousness through evolution of music designed to incorporate a message of global heart and collective consciousness.
By examining examples of music and musical communities on the internet, the beginnings of the process by which the noosphere might evolve may be discovered. Looking at late 20th century music, a transition was made from albums to compact discs, and from live performance to rock videos. The group Devo, was at the forefront of the emergence of multimedia; some people credit them with the invention of the rock video genre. In an interview with Mark Mothersbough, the lead singer, he describes how the videos were done:
The first one,The Truth About De-Evolution, was made for like 2,200 dollars. We put the words "Submit"and "Obey" subliminally in the film, and it won every film festival we sent it to....There was no such thing as MTV in the mid-'70s. There was no way to show the stuff, so we would just string a sheet up and then show the film in front of us.... We were tracking history as art deco, art nouveau, art de-VO. In our purest sense, we were always attempting for subversion. We learned something from the hippies that, unfortunately,the punks at the same time didn't learn, and that is that rebellion is obsolete. In a healthy capitalistic world, rebellion is just something else to market. .... I think that, in the mid-'80s, people fixed a concept of what we were... I'm talking about record companies and magazines. You have to understand, during our career, that we were resisted vehemently by magazines like Rolling Stone and all the powers-that-be. Even MTV, soon after they got their payola structure established, cast us aside, even though originally we were the only band you would see on the hour every hour with a different video when it first came out. That was because nobody else was doing video besides us (The Onion , 1997).
Devo had a message to convey. Their idea of de-evolution was an step toward the noosphere well before the internet hit the big time. Many of Devoıs lyrics talked of the rise of materialism in the 1980ıs, and threats to humanity, both environmental and societal. Devo was one of the pioneers in techno-music and multimedia long before it was fashionable. Devo became trendsetters in the new wave movement of the 1980ıs by producing the very first music videos that then spawned the MTV generation. While visuals and music had been combined previously in movies and before that , in opera, Devo used concepts and ideas that foretold the coming of a techno age. Closer to art than opera, Devoıs music videos provided the viewer with more information to improve the aesthetic experience of listening to the music. The concept of De-Evolution that was introduced in these videos may be the first hint of an awareness of the noosphere.
They tell us that we lost our tails
evolving up from little snails....
Are we not men? We are D - E - V - O.......
We walk like the ape,talk like the ape
do what monkeys do
God made men but the monkey supplied the glue
We must repeat D-E-V-O
We must repeat D-E-V-O
We must repeat D-E-V-O
(Devo Music 1978)
Devo realized the need for people to look at the fact that after millions of years, homo sapiens had changed little, still more concerned with ³repeating² rather that evolving. Thus, the notion of De- evolving, getting back to our roots, becoming aware that a higher consciousness is needed in society; homo sapiens is ready to evolve into a new species or face destruction. The call to the noosphere may be that homo sapiens has reached the limit of its usefulness on earth in this form; the next step toward the noosphere needs to be evolving to a new species. Looking at more of Devoıs lyrics, it can clearly be seen that the band was interested in communicating this message:Planet Earth
I'll probably stay
on planet earth
it's a place to live your life
where pleasure follows pain
people go insane
fly around in planes
praying that it won't rain
drive around in cars
get drunk in local bars
dream of being stars .....
i saw enough to make me cry on planet earth
(Devo Music 1980)
The mundane and often ridiculous way that human beings conduct themselves was a message that people could laugh about, but there was a very real message that what people do is ³enough to make you cry.² Devo had a big hit with the song Whip it in 1980; the cartoony music and videos appealed to the sense of high spirited fun of the 1980ıs new wave culture. Then the lyrics turned darker. When fans started to listen more closely, they became disenchanted. The band showed their frustration in dealing with the record companies and the society at large in later songs:
Devo Has Feelings too
Law and order puppets remote controlled by greed
and TV preacher robots wonıt give you what you need...
big bucks and energy sucks
and dumb things make it hard to live and breathe
subhuman bloodless leaders fed on lies and fear
and TV anchor news teams trim all we see and hear
use your head, sidestep the traps
snake through the chaos with a smooth noodle map
because God isnıt dead, heıs in your head
right where he ought to be
(Devo Music 1988)
The message of ³beware the evil media² seems to run through many of the songs. One can conclude that Devo saw the method for gaining self awareness for humanity (ie. the commercial media) was not working. Devoıs message, is very direct. The subliminal aspect of their act was in the messages that they put into their videos, not in the lyrics or the music that they used. They were so very intense in their performance that their message hit you over the head like a sledgehammer. They were infused with dynamic energy, jumping and marching across the stage. To attend a Devo concert was a very energetic experience for both performer and listener.
Devo tried to create a mass hysteria like the Beatles, transforming listeners into ²spuds², and encouraging the purchase and wearing of uniforms like theirs. Devo wanted to orchestrate a cultural change; one memorable video they released talks of the ³beautiful world we live in , a sweet romantic place² and shows clips from the 1950ıs , people happy, buying new refrigerators, cars and such. As the lyrics continue repeating, ³Itıs a beautiful world...² the clips begin to show starving children, war and sickness. The message here was too heavy for people to take in. It was not a happy message; it contrasted with Devoıs appearance as a band with an upbeat energy and yet the video showed negative images. These concepts were a bit too dark for people (specifically the record companies) to sign on to .
Devoıs cautionary tale of dealing with the big media conglomerates of the music industry is another example of how they conveyed expressive original ideas through video. In The Men who Make the Music (1979), the record company executive asks them why they canıt do pop music like Group X, who sell millions of copies of their records. Devo retorts ³We like ideas². The record executive replies ³We like to talk in tonnage.² Devo knew well that what would extinguish the creativity in collective consciousness was the mass media and the way commercialism orchestrates everything that we hear or see or wear. Devoıs yellow suits, knee pads, and helmets were costumes designed to protect them from the pollution of commercialism. They were concerned about the future; how to retain freedom of choice in a capitalistic society where so much information is processed commercially; how to maintain enthusiasm and creativity even if what you are selling doesnıt sell, and lastly, how to fight the record companies that try to dictate to you what to sell and how to sell it.
Like Dionysus, Devo espoused a direct source of creativity, appealing to emotions, using vital energy and drive.
³The figure of Dionysus reveals the process whereby art has met technology since the mid- nineteenth century: the encounter between the artistic creation and the photomechanical, electrical, electronic, and digital technologies...for Dionysus is the god of ecstasy brought about by music; he is related to what Nietzsche calls...ıthe spirit of musicı, and to the ecstatic and emotional agitation provoked by sounds.³ ( Leseson & Gagnon, 1996).
Gagnon's interpretation of Nietzsche also portrays Dionysus as vital energy and drive , attributes that were described previously in Devo. ³In Nietzscheıs aesthetic, two worlds confront each other: the Apollonian world of dreams and the Dionysian world of ecstasy. Thus, Apollo is the god...of prophecies and moderation,...of planning. He is linked to the wisdom of appearance , in the ethical concept of moderation² (Leeson & Gagnon, 1996) Then what group in late 20th century music can aspire to the perfection of form, self knowledge, and rationality of Apollo?
During the VH1 special of Storytellers broadcast on April 24, 2000, a fan of the band of Steely Dan talked of the fact that he, and everyone he knows brings a compact disc of Steely Dan music to the store with them when shopping for a new stereo. The perfection of the recording and the melodic music produced by Steely Dan is some of the very best music by which to test a new stereo. So sublime and sly, one never even notices that the Dan are present. Their music resonates through shopping malls and supermarkets. As William Gibson writes of them in an article for Sonic Net (2000):
[Steely Dan] continues on, of course in the temporal reaches of electronic popular culture, and I have often raised an eyebrow at hearing [them] sing, as I push a cart down some Safeway aisle, of the spiritual complexities induced by the admixture of Cuervo Gold, cocaine, and 19 year old girls. At which point I look around the frozen foods and wonder is anyone else hearing this? Do the people who program these supermarket background tapes have any idea what this song is actually about? On this basis alone I have always maintained that Steely Danıs music was, has been and remains among the most genuinely subversive ouvres in late 20th century pop²(www.sonic net.com)