Phenomenon of Man

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* Book: The Phenomenom of Man. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Torch Books, 1961


Also called "The Human Phenomenom" in later editions.


From the Wikipedia:


"The Phenomenon of Man (French: Le phénomène humain) is an essay by the French geologist, paleontologist, philosopher, and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. In this work, Teilhard describes evolution as a process that leads to increasing complexity, culminating in the unification of consciousness. The text was written in the 1930s, but it achieved publication only posthumously, in 1955.

In depth, the work seeks to unify multiple scientific fields, as per the author's multidisciplinary approach in his own career, with the principles of religion and broader human understandings of existence into a coherent whole. Centering upon biological evolution, Chardin articulates a vision of the universe itself as gradually increasing in complexity and unity from early chaos into ever greater oneness. Drawing upon his devout Christianity, the author argues for a morally idealistic understanding of human nature through which social advancement under the watchful eye of God will eventually lead to a total reconciliation of all things and a final state of absolute collective consciousness, which Chardin titled the "Omega Point". Thus, history's final state will take place such that all of the creatures of the universe exist together with Jesus Christ as the "Logos" or sacred "Word"."



From the Wikipedia:

"Teilhard views evolution as a process that leads to increasing complexity. From the cell to the thinking animal, a process of psychical concentration leads to greater consciousness.The emergence of Homo sapiens marks the beginning of a new age, as the power acquired by consciousness to turn in upon itself raises mankind to a new sphere. Borrowing Huxley’s expression, Teilhard describes humankind as evolution becoming conscious of itself.

In Teilhard's conception of the evolution of the species, a collective identity begins to develop as trade and the transmission of ideas increases. Knowledge accumulates and is transmitted in increasing levels of depth and complexity. This leads to a further augmentation of consciousness and the emergence of a thinking layer that envelops the Earth. Teilhard calls the new membrane the “noosphere” (from the Greek “nous”, meaning mind), a term first coined by Vladimir Vernadsky. The noosphere is the collective consciousness of humanity, the networks of thought and emotion in which all are immersed.

The development of science and technology causes an expansion of the human sphere of influence, allowing a person to be simultaneously present in every corner of the world. Teilhard argues that humanity has thus become cosmopolitan, stretching a single organized membrane over the Earth. Teilhard describes the process by which this happens as a "gigantic psychobiological operation, a sort of mega-synthesis, the ‘super-arrangement’ to which all the thinking elements of the Earth find themselves today individually and collectively subject".The rapid expansion of the noosphere requires a new domain of psychical expansion, which "is staring us in the face if we would only raise our heads to look at it".

In Teilhard’s view, evolution will culminate in the Omega Point, a sort of supreme consciousness. Layers of consciousness will converge in Omega, fusing and consuming them in itself. The concentration of a conscious universe will reassemble in itself all consciousnesses as well as all that we are conscious of. Teilhard emphasizes that each individual facet of consciousness will remain conscious of itself at the end of the process.

Fellow scientist and supporter of Teilhard's thought Julian Huxley summarized Teilhard's approach as:

"Before the appearance of man, life consisted of a vast array of separate branches, linked only by an unorganised pattern of ecological interaction. The incipient development of mankind into a single psychosocial unit, with a single... common pool of thought, is providing the evolutionary process with the rudiments of a head. It remains for our descendants to organise this... more adequately, so as to enable mankind to understand the process of evolution on earth more fully and to direct it more adequately... [as] in modern scientific man, evolution was at last becoming conscious of itself[.] [...] Teilhard... implies that [we] should consider inter-thinking humanity as a new type of organism, whose destiny it is to realise new possibilities for evolving life on this planet."



The Impact of the Book

"Although this book represents an attempt to bridge the divide between religion and science, the religious order to which de Chardin swore a vow of obedience forbade its publication (the Superior General of the Jesuit order) on the grounds that it contradicted orthodoxy, and when it was eventually published, after his death, it was largely rejected by his scientific peers as 'unscientific'. In his review of the book published in the journal Mind, the British immunologist Peter Medawar dismissed it as full of "metaphysical conceits", a sentiment which Richard Dawkins echoed when he called it "the quintessence of bad poetic science." Although the book has been largely ignored by evolutionary biology, except in footnotes on discussions on 'teleology', 'directed evolution' and 'orthography', it has been taken up in 'process theology' (note: see Barbour's essay Whitehead and Teilhard De Chardin published in Process Theology: Basic Writings edited by Cousins). In the introduction he wrote for The Phenomenon of Man, Julian Huxley described de Chardin simply as a "very remarkable human being." Philip K. Dick, in his Exegesis, was surprised to find that many of de Chardin's ideas accorded with his own 'hylozoic cosmology', and Terence Mckenna elaborated some of de Chardin's lines of thought in his many talks and lectures, frequently referring to The Phenomenon of Man."



David Sloan Wilson:

"A few years ago I read The Phenomenon of Man, by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and was amazed by its current relevance. Teilhard was a Jesuit Priest and famed paleontologist at a time when science was regarded as a suitable path to God. Teilhard’s path was too radical for the Catholic Church, however, and his best-known work was not published until after his death in 1955. Over the decades, Teilhard was largely forgotten as a scientist but remained widely read for his spiritual quality. What did I, a practicing evolutionary scientist, find so relevant about his work?

Teilhard wrote that humans are both a biological species and a new evolutionary process. As a biological species, we are little different from our primate cousins, and there was no divine spark in our origin (this did not play well with the Catholic Church!). As a new evolutionary process, however, our origin was almost as momentous as the origin of life. Teilhard called the human-created world the noosphere, which slowly spread like a skin over the planet, like the biological skin (the biosphere) that preceded it. He imagined “grains of thought” coalescing at ever-larger scales until they became a single global consciousness that he called the Omega Point.

I tell Teilhard’s story in a chapter of my book The Neighborhood Project titled “We Are Now Entering the Noosphere,” where I also say that reading his book was like the strings of a musical instrument resonating to the strings of another instrument being played nearby. Teilhard anticipated, far ahead of his time, the concept of an evolutionary process built by evolution. Today, this concept is sometimes called a “Darwin Machine,” and it is described with great clarity in a book titled Evolution in Four Dimensions, by Eva Jablonka and Miriam Lamb. They remind us that Darwin’s theory of natural selection requires heredity, not genes. Genes constitute one mechanism of heredity. Genes as we know them were not the starting point of evolution; before genes there was evolution without replicators. Genes, in turn, produced other mechanisms of heredity, including epigenetic mechanisms (involving the expression of genes), learning mechanisms, and systems of symbolic thought that are trans-generational. The second (epigenetics) and third (learning) dimensions of evolution exist for many species, but the fourth (symbolic thought) is nearly uniquely human. Moreover, the symbolic inheritance system rivals genetic inheritance for its combinatorial diversity. There are nearly an infinite number of genotypes in a sexually reproducing species, each potentially producing a different phenotype for natural selection to act upon. Similarly, the diversity of imagined worlds is nearly infinite, and each “symbotype” potentially motivates a different suite of actions in the real world for natural selection to act upon. Thanks to this combinatorial diversity, our ancestors spread over the planet, adapting to all climatic zones and hundreds of ecological niches, displacing countless biological species along the way, for better or for worse. Culturally, we are more like an entire adaptive radiation, similar to the dinosaurs, birds, and mammals, than a single biological species.

Teilhard also anticipated the concept of multilevel selection, which happens to be my academic specialty. Traits that are “for the good of the group” seldom maximize relative fitness within the group and therefore require a process of between-group selection to evolve. When between-group selection becomes very strong compared to within-group selection, a species becomes ultra-social, which is jargon for “very, very cooperative.” Social insect colonies are the classic example of ultra-sociality (also called eusociality, especially when there is a reproductive division of labor). One of the greatest discoveries in the history of evolutionary thought (due to Lynn Margulis in the 1970s) is that nucleated cells are ultra-social groups of bacteria. This is something that Darwin never imagined! Multi-cellular organisms are ultra-social groups of nucleated cells. The concepts of “organism” and “highly cooperative society” have literally become one and the same."



The Law of Complexity and Consciousness

Scott Ventureyra:

"In The Phenomenon of Man, Teilhard theorizes that all matter is in the process of becoming spirit through progressive complexification that entails “matter [giving] birth to life, consciousness and thought—in a word, gives birth to ‘spirit.’” Smith emphasizes that the law of complexity and consciousness is the very heart of Teilhard’s “scientific theology”: “the entire edifice rests upon that stipulated Law” and that it is an “empirically verifiable truth” according to Teilhard.

Smith points out that consciousness is not observable in an empirical sense like bodies and behaviours are. Consciousness is solely observable in a subjective sense. We are conscious of ourselves, and others in the world around us, but we are not “conscious of someone else’s consciousness.” Although we may postulate through our empathetic nature what may be going on in someone else’s mind, it raises a significant difficulty for Teilhard to define it “experimentally.” Moreover, complexity as used by Teilhard is not a “well defined parameter” needed to reach scientifically justified results.

There is no way of accounting for consciousness being proportional to the complexity of an organism and Teilhard admits this but for dubious reasons, such as the enormity of the calculations. Smith questions the unwarranted assumption of Teilhard “that some kind of rudimentary consciousness exists even in the simplest of corpuscles.” Where is the evidence that consciousness exists in rocks or protons? As made clear by the question, much of the problem is that Teilhard lacks rigour in distinguishing between complexity and consciousness throughout his writings. The advent of the understanding of functional information can perhaps help with this. Smith points out that it makes no sense to postulate a “specific effect” without a “specific cause.” In an attempt to resolve such a dilemma Teilhard attempts to analogize by “imperceptible” principles used by physicists in the laws of motion and relativity but Smith shows how such an analogy fails, i.e., since what is alluded to in physics by Teilhard can in fact be observed, tested and verified.

An honest scholarly examination of Teilhard would necessarily include an intellectual engagement with critics like Smith. Acknowledgement of Teilhard’s fruits, such as his futuristic allusions to the internet, globalization and elements of his eco-theology, should not be given without recognizing weaknesses in other areas, such as the logical problems regarding evolution and his law of complexity/consciousness that loom large in his “scientific theology.” These problems make it not only incompatible with Christian theism but also as a stand-alone comprehensive view of reality."



For a series of generous excerpts from various chapters, see: [1]

This is an excerpt from the preface and foreword:

See also:


"This book deals with man solely as a phenomenon; but it also deals with the whole phenomenon of man.

[...] Put quite simply, what I have tried to do is this; I have chosen man as the centre, and around him I have tried to establish a coherent order between antecedents and consequences. [...] ...on the plane of experience, I have identified... the combined movement towards unity... .

[...] Like the meridians as they approach the poles, science, philosophy and religion are bound to converge as they draw nearer to the whole. [...]

The pre-eminent significance of man in nature, and the organic nature of mankind; these are two assumptions that one may start by trying to reject, but without accepting them, I do not see how it is possible to give a full and coherent account of the phenomenon of man."




"Man has a double title, as the twofold centre of the world, to impose himself on our effort to see, as the key to the universe.

Subjectively, first of all, we are inevitably the focus of our own observation. In its early, naive stage, science... imagined that we could observe things in themselves, as they would behave in our absence. Instinctively physicists and naturalists went to work as though they could look down from a great height upon a world which their consciousness could penetrate without being submitted to it or changing it. They are now beginning to realise that... when they reach the end of their analyses they cannot tell with any certainty whether the structure they have made is the essence of the matter they are studying, or the reflection of their own thought. [...] willy-nilly finds his own image stamped on all he looks at.


It is tiresome and even humbling for the observer to be thus fettered, to be obliged to carry with him everywhere the centre of the landscape he is crossing. But what happens when chance directs his steps to a point of vantage... from which, not only his vision, but things themselves radiate? In that event the subjective viewpoint coincides with the way things are distributed objectively, and perception reaches its apogee. The landscape lights up and yields its secrets. He sees.

[...] By virtue of the quality and the biological properties of thought, we find ourselves situated at a singular point, at a ganglion which commands the whole fraction of the cosmos that is at present within reach of our experience. Man, the centre of perspective, is at the same time the centre of construction of the universe. [...] Yet he has only just begun to take a scientific view of his own significance in the physical world. [...]

For man to discover man and take his measure, a whole series of 'senses' are necessary, whose gradual acquisition... covers and punctuates the whole history of the struggles of the mind:

  • A sense of spatial immensity, in its greatness and its smallness... ;
  • A sense of depth, pushing back laboriously through the endless chains of events and measureless distances of time which a sort of sluggishness of mind tends continually to condense for us in a thin layer of the past;
  • A sense of number... ;
  • A sense of proportion, realising as best we can the difference of physical scale which separates, both in rhythm and dimension, the atom from the nebula, the infinitesimal from the immense;
  • A sense of quality, or of novelty, enabling us to distinguish in nature certain absolute stages of perfection and growth... ;
  • A sense of movement, capable of perceiving the irresistible developments hidden in extreme slowness-- extreme agitation concealed beneath a veil of immobility... ;
  • A sense, lastly, of the organic, discovering... structural unity under the superficial juxtaposition of successions and collectives.

Without these qualities to illuminate our vision, man will remain indefinitely for us... what he still represents to so many minds: an erratic object in a disjointed world. Conversely, we have only to rid our vision of the threefold illusion of smallness, plurality and immobility, for man effortlessly to take the central position we prophesied-- the momentary summit of an anthropogenesis which is itself the crown of a cosmogenesis.

No longer will man be able to see himself entirely unrelated to mankind, neither will he be able to see mankind unrelated to life, nor life unrelated to the universe. Thence stems the basic plan of this work: Pre-Life: Life: Thought-- three events sketching in the past and determining for the future (Survival) a single and continuing trajectory, the curve of the phenomenon of man.


When I try to picture the world before the dawn of life, or life in the Palaeozoic era, I do not forget that there would be a cosmic contradiction in imagining a man as spectator of those phases which ran their course before the appearance of thought on earth. I do not pretend to describe them as they really were, but rather as we must picture them to ourselves so that the world may be true for us at this moment. What I depict is not the past in itself, but as it must appear to an observer standing on the advanced peak where evolution has placed us.


His over-pronounced individuality conceals from our eyes the whole to which he [man] belongs; as we look at him our minds incline to break nature up into pieces and to forget both its deep inter-relations and its measureless horizons: we incline to all that is bad in anthropocentricism.


The time has come to realise that an interpretation of the universe-- even a positivist one-- remains unsatisfying unless it covers the interior as well as the exterior of things; mind as well as matter. The true physics is that which will, one day, achieve the inclusion of man in his wholeness in a coherent picture of the world.


In fact I doubt whether there is a more decisive moment for a thinking being than when the scales fall from his eyes and he discovers that he is not an isolated unit lost in the cosmic solitudes, and realises that a universal will to live converges and is hominised in him. In such a vision man is seen not as a static centre of the world-- as he for long believed himself to be-- but as the axis and leading shoot of evolution, which is something much finer."


More information

  • a critical approach by Traditional catholic Wolfgang Smith: Theistic Evolution: The Teilhardian Heresy (1988; originally published as Teilhardism and the New Religion); see also his own alternative at: The Vertical Ascent: From Particles to the Tripartite Cosmos and Beyond (2021)