Twenty years ago we proposed noöpolitik (nü-oh-poh-li-teek) as a new approach for American information strategy (1999). According to our argument, strategists will have to rethink what is “information” and see that a new realm is emerging — the noosphere, a global “realm of the mind” — that will profoundly affect statecraft. and its preference for ideational “soft power.” A rethinking is needed because the decisive factor in the new global wars of ideas will be “whose story wins” — the essence of noöpolitik.
Notes about the noosphere and noopolitik — #1: Introductory comments about a new series of posts
As mentioned elsewhere, former co-author John Arquilla and I have been asked — and we’ve agreed — to update our ten-year-old chapter for a new revised edition of a 2009 handbook on public diplomacy. Our chapter back then was titled “Noopolitik: A New Framework for Public Diplomacy”. Not sure what our new title will be, but I do know we will do a major update and rewrite. I also know it might help keep me motivated if I post some draft pieces here as I go along, especially if comments ensue.
In brief, our argument is as follows: As the information age deepens, a globe–circling realm of the mind is being created — the “noosphere” that Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (and others) identified ninety years ago. This will increasingly affect the nature of grand strategy and diplomacy. Traditional realpolitik, which ultimately relies on hard (principally military) power, will give way to the rise of noöpolitik (or noöspolitik), which relies on soft (principally ideational) power. Ultimately, noöpolitik is about whose story wins.
Our original RAND report, titled The Emergence of Noopolitik: Toward An American Information Strategy (1999), is available here:
Our follow-up paper, “The promise of noöpolitik” (2007), which summarizes the RAND report and was edited down for the chapter in the public diplomacy handbook, is here:
Notes about the noosphere and noopolitik — #2: draft of introduction to new paper
[UPDATE — MARCH 20, 2018: What follows is a preliminary draft introducing our likely new paper. I have deleted what was here before about the origins of the noosphere concept, and moved it — revised, expanded — to post #3 in this series]
The Continuing Promise of the Noösphere and Noöpolitik — Twenty Years After
David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla: Twenty years ago we proposed noöpolitik (nü-oh-poh-li-teek) as a new approach for American information strategy (1999). According to our argument, strategists will have to rethink what is “information” and see that a new realm is emerging — the noosphere, a global “realm of the mind” — that will profoundly affect statecraft. The information age will continue to undermine the conditions for traditional strategies based on realpolitik and material “hard power,” and lead to new strategies based on noopolitik and its preference for ideational “soft power.” A rethinking is needed because the decisive factor in the new global wars of ideas will be “whose story wins” — the essence of noöpolitik.
The noosphere and noopolitik concepts relate to an organizational theme that has constantly figured in our work about the information revolution: the rise of network forms of organization that strengthen civil-society actors. Few state or market actors, by themselves, seem likely to have much interest in fostering the construction of a global noosphere, except in limited areas having to do with international law, or political and economic ideology. The impetus for fostering a global noosphere is more likely to emanate from activist NGOs, other civil-society actors (e.g., churches, schools), and individuals dedicated to freedom of information and communications and to the spread of ethical values and norms. We believe it is time for state actors to begin moving in this direction, too, particularly since power in the information age will stem, more than ever, from the ability of state and market actors to work conjointly with civil-society actors.
Ten years ago we provided an update on the promise of noopolitik for a handbook on public diplomacy (2007; 2008). In it, we summarized our 1999 report and added four new points: (1) Other new information-age concepts similar to noopolitik — notably, netpolitik, cyberpolitik, infopolitik — had appeared, but all (including noopolitik) were having difficulty gaining traction. (2) Instead, the concept of “soft power” had come to dominate strategic discourse in government, military, and think-tank circles, even though its definition was flawed and lacked operational clarity. (3) Meanwhile, in non-state arenas where noosphere-building ideas had taken hold, activist NGOs representing global civil society were becoming major practitioners of noopolitik — but the most effective practitioners were militant jihadis organized in global networks and outfitted with sophisticated media technologies. (4) Against this background, we argued that American public diplomacy would benefit from a course correction to head in the direction of noöpolitik. But we also cautioned that conditions for doing so were less favorable than when we first fielded the concept a decade earlier — and propitious conditions seemed unlikely to re–emerge anytime soon.
Today, another ten years later, as we prepare this new update, noopolitik remains a promising concept for American information strategy. However, it’s not alive and well here in the United States, where even “soft power” is lately in decline as a strategic concept. Instead, our major adversaries are the ones working on developing noopolitik — but in dark ways and by other names — and they’re using it against us. These new circumstances mean, paraphrasing Charles Dickens, that we are now living in not only the worst of times but also the best of times for revisiting the promise of the noosphere and noospolitik.
So, we’re doing this update differently. Our initial writings analyzed at length the importance of information in the information age and the nature and growth of three information-based realms — cyberspace, the infosphere, and the noosphere. We did so in order to recommend that strategists begin to prefer the noosphere concept. However, by now the importance of information and those three realms are conceptually more familiar to strategists. Thus, for this update, we are skipping over re-summarizing our initial analysis and diving straight into discussing the noosphere concept at length — its origins in the 1920s, and the spread of its influence through today, nearly a century later.
This update proceeds this new way partly because we have learned more about the concept. We have also found new implications for discussing the prospects for noopolitik. We then go on to provide a new assessment of noopolitik for America’s current strategic situation.
Notes about the noosphere and noopolitik — #3: finally getting ahold of The Biosphere and Noosphere Reader (1998)
Further evidence for the growth of interest in the noosphere concept across the decades is the impressive wide-ranging collection by David Pitt & Paul R. Samson (eds.), The Biosphere and Noosphere Reader: Global Environment, Society and Change (1998). As the editors state (on what appears to be the back cover or infold),
“The noosphere concept captures a number of key contemporary issues — social evolution, global ecology, Gaia, deep ecology and global environmental change — contributing to ongoing debates concerning the implications of emerging technologies such as human-created biospheres and the Internet.”
Their book provides, in excerpts, “the central ideas and key writings of many prominent thinkers”, including Teilhard, Vernadsky, and LeRoy — the original coiners of the term — along with admirers and interpreters Henri Bergson, Julian Huxley, Arnold Toynbee, James Lovelock, Lynn Margulis, Rafal Serafin, Marshall McLuhan, Theodosius Dobhzansky, Dorion Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Kenneth Boulding, and Nikita Moiseev, among others. Plus Mikhail Gorbachev, who wrote the book’s Foreword.
I wish I’d seen it earlier. But unfortunately, this book was not out when we did our research and writing during 1997-1998. Today in 2018 I wish it could be updated with a second edition (but I can’t find any recent traces of the two editors).
Online download available here, fortunately:
Notes about the noosphere and noopolitik — #4: origins of the noosphere concept (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Vladimir Vernadsky, and Edouard Le Roy)
DRAFT OF PROSPECTIVE SECTION FOR NEW PAPER (SUPERSEDING WHAT WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED AS #2 IN THIS SERIES):
The noosphere: a concept about the world’s future evolution
For discussing information-based realms, the grandest, most abstract, and so far least favored term is the noosphere. This term, from the Greek word noos, meaning “the mind,” was coined — whether separately or collectively is unclear — by French theologian-paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, along with French mathematician Edouard Le Roy, and visiting Russian geochemist Vladimir Vernadsky, in Paris in 1922. They were already familiar with the terms “geosphere” and “biosphere”, long in use, and innovatively decided that the planet would next evolve a noosphere. The idea spread in Europe and America following Teilhard’s posthumous publications in the 1950s-1960s, and in Russia following Vernadsky’s return there in the 1920s-1930s.
Our earlier writings credited only Teilhard. We did not know about Vernadsky (nor Le Roy, who left few writings behind). So we slightly expand here on our past discussion of Teilhard, then provide a long new discussion about Vernadsky, followed by some comparative remarks. We also add important points from Le Roy’s perspective. Most helpful for doing so was our finally reading David Pitt & Paul R. Samson (eds.), The Biosphere and Noosphere Reader: Global Environment, Society and Change (1998 — hereafter abbreviated as BNR). It contained extracts from Vernadsky’s and Le Roy’s writings that were previously unavailable to us.
Teilhard’s thinking about the noosphere: In Teilhard’s view — especially as expressed in The Phenomenon of Man ( 1965) and The Future of Man ( 1964) — the world first evolved a global geosphere and next a biosphere. Now that people are communicating on global scales, the world is starting to create a noosphere — what he variously describes as a globe-circling realm of “the mind,” a “thinking circuit,” “a new layer, the ‘thinking layer’,” a “stupendous thinking machine,” a “thinking envelope” full of fibers and networks, indeed a “planetary mind” and a planetary “consciousness”, where Earth “finds its soul.”
In the 1964 book’s Introduction, Julian Huxley further defines Teilhard’s concept as “web of living thought” and “a common pool of thought”. He also praises Teilhard for advancing “a threefold synthesis — of the material and physical world with the world of mind and spirit; of the past with the future; and of variety with unity, the many with the one.” And he clarifies 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.”
According to Teilhard, then, forces of the mind — first “psychogenesis’ and then “noogenesis” — have gradually created pieces of the noosphere for ages, while increases in social complexity and human consciousness have laid further groundwork for the noosphere’s emergence. Now it is finally achieving a global presence, and its varied “compartments” and “cultural units” are beginning to fuse. As he puts it, equating cultures with species, “cultural units are for the noosphere the mere equivalent and the true successors of zoological species in the biosphere.” Eventually, a synthesis will occur in which peoples of different nations, races, and cultures will give rise to “unheard-of and unimaginable degrees of organised complexity and of reflexive consciousness” that is planetary in scope (a “mono-culturation”), without people losing their personal identity and individuality.
Fully realized, the noosphere will raise mankind to a high new evolutionary plane, one shaped by a collective coordination of psychosocial and spiritual energies and by a devotion to moral, ethical, religious, juridical, and aesthetic principles. However, he counsels, “No one would dare to picture to himself what the noosphere will be like in its final guise”. Moreover, he warns that the transition may not be smooth — a “paroxysm”, a global tremor and possibly an apocalypse may characterize the final fusion of the noosphere. (Sources: 1964, pp. 175–181, 200–4, 235, 303; 1965, pp. 287–290; 1998, p. 77)
Although Teilhard’s concept is essentially spiritual, and far less technological than cyberspace or the infosphere, he identified increased communications as a cause. Nothing like the Internet existed in his time. Yet he sensed (1964) that 1950s-era radio and television systems were already fostering “a sort of ‘etherized’ universal consciousness,” and someday “astonishing electronic computers” would give mankind new tools for thinking. Today, he is occasionally credited with anticipating the Internet, as well as the idea of the Anthropocene.
Vernadsky’s thinking about the noosphere: Vernadsky’s views parallel but also differ from Teilhard’s — Vernadsky’s are much more materialist, in spots more mystical, and always less spiritual (Vernadsky was an atheist). Like Teilhard, he too held that Earth first evolved a geosphere, then a biosphere — and a noosphere is next. Indeed, he wrote the first book on The Biosphere (1926), in which he treated the spread of life as an essentially geological force.
In his landmark paper, “New Scientific Knowledge and the Transition from the Biosphere to the Noösphere” (1938), Vernadky argues that increases and changes in the nature of “biogeophysical energy” — owing to a progression of inventions from fire-making, to agriculture, to modern communications technologies, etc. — explain the planetary spread of the biosphere and the coming emergence of a noosphere. In his words, “This new form of biogeochemical energy, which might be called the energy of human culture or cultural biogeochemical energy, is that form of biogeochemical energy, which creates at the present time the noösphere.” (p. 16) This kind of energy, he wrote, lay behind the development of the human mind and reason itself; and it will lead “ultimately to the transformation of the biosphere into the noösphere, first and foremost, through the creation and growth of the scientific understanding of our surroundings.” (p. 20)
Vernadsky goes on to say that the creation of the noosphere has “proceeded apace, ever increasing in tempo” during the “last five to seven thousand years” despite “interruptions continually diminishing in duration” (p. 29). He evidently expects “the unity of the noosphere” to bring “a planned unified activity for the mastery of nature and a just distribution of wealth associated with a consciousness of the unity and equality of all peoples”. But while it is “not possible to reverse this process”, he expects “the transitional stage” to be accompanied by “ruthless struggle” and “intense struggles” that may span several generations. Nonetheless, he doubts “there will be any protracted interruptions in the ongoing process of the transition from the biosphere to the noösphere.” (p. 30) Finally, as he conveys all this with confidence, he nonetheless seems to wonder whether it all “transcends the bounds of logic” and whether “we are entering into a realm still not fully grasped by science.” He even makes positive closing references to Hindu philosophy and to the role of art in man’s thinking (p. 31).
Later, despite his dismay about the destructiveness of WWII, Vernadsky clarified optimistically in an article based on translations of earlier writings, in “The Biosphere and the Noösphere” in the journal American Scientist in 1945 that:
“The historical process is being radically changed under our very eyes. For the first time in the history of mankind the interests of the masses on the one hand, and the free thought of individuals on the other, determine the course of life of mankind and provide standards for men’s ideas of justice. Mankind taken as a whole is becoming a mighty geological force. There arises the problem of the reconstruction of the biosphere in the interests of freely thinking humanity as a single totality. This new state of the biosphere, which we approach without our noticing it, is the noösphere. …
“Now we live in the period of a new geological evolutionary change in the biosphere. We are entering the noösphere. This new elemental geological process is taking place at a stormy time, in the epoch of a destructive world war. But the important fact is that our democratic ideals are in tune with the elemental geological processes, with the laws of nature, and with the noösphere. Therefore we may face the future with confidence. It is in our hands. We will not let it go.” (in BNR, p. 99)
Note that despite despair about WWII, he still identified the nascence of the noosphere with such values as freedom, justice, and democracy.
Throughout his varied writings about “the evolution of the biosphere into the noosphere,” Vernadsky extolled the emergence of reason as a powerful, even geological force tied to the development of science and scientific thinking. He thus mostly regarded the noosphere as the “sphere of reason”, the “realm of reason,” the “reign of reason,” and as “the way through which the noosphere manifests itself in the thinking process” — even as “life’s domain ruled by reason.”
Vernadsky’s audience was mostly fellow scientists in Russia, not policy-makers. But he did occasionally argue that government administrators should attend to his findings, and that “Statesmen should be aware of the present elemental process of transition of the biosphere into the noosphere.” (in BNR, p. 38)
Teilhard and Vernadsky compared: Both Teilhard and Vernadsky shared a deep belief in our planet’s evolving a geosphere, then a biosphere, and next a noosphere. Yet their views about causes and consequences differ enough to be worth comparing. Teilhard’s views were far more spiritually-grounded than Vernadsky’s. He preferred to explain the noosphere’s emergence in terms of geological and technological forces. Yet, like Teilhard, he expected the noosphere to have wonderful ethical consequences for humanity — as he noted, “a just distribution of wealth” and “the unity and equality of all peoples”. Moreover, while both viewed the noosphere optimistically as a realm of collective consciousness, neither regarded it as a realm of uniformity. Both valued individualism and variety. Both favored a future built on democracy. And, seemingly contrary to Charles Darwin, both thought that evolution depended on cooperation as much as competition.
Both are quite unclear regarding what the transition to the noosphere will be like for people. They both make the transitional phase seem inevitable. At times, Teilhard even makes it seem alluringly smooth and peaceful. Yet, if they’d just offered comparisons (which neither evidently did) to the transitions to the geosphere and biosphere, they’d surely have noted that evolution of any kind is often far from smooth and peaceful; indeed, it is often chaotic, disjointed, and violent. Fortunately, Teilhard and Vernadsky at least allude to this prospect — Teilhard by noting that a global tremor if not an apocalypse may characterize the final fusion of the noosphere, Vernadsky by noting the likelihood of intense ruthless struggles spanning several generations. Both recognized humanity’s capacity for self-destruction.
Which raises another question about the nature of the transition: Teilhard and Vernadsky both see the noosphere as evolving piecemeal around the planet, much as did the geosphere and biosphere, with some parts arising here and then spreading there, other parts elsewhere, with interconnections and interactions increasing over time, until the entire planet is caught up in webs of creation and fusion. But neither Teilhard nor Vernadsky specifies exactly what parts and pieces may matter along the way. Teilhard at least mentions that “compartments” and “cultural units” will do the “fusing”. That isn’t much to go on, but it’s a bit helpful for thinking strategically, as we elucidate later.
Le Roy’s depiction of the transition: Concept co-founder Le Roy’s few writings offer further insight into how the transition may occur. In his book on The Origins of Humanity and the Evolution of Mind ( in BNR, 1998), Le Roy turns to a “hydro-dynamical” metaphor for showing how the noosphere may emerge from the biosphere. It would not resemble the growth of a branching tree, but instead occur by way of spurts, jets, and spouts that finally link to form a layer. In his words,
“Take the biosphere. Let us imagine in it a few points here and there where spurts, strictly limited and hardly surpassing above the middle level, and where jets grow little by little, open up and finally link up their spouts, spreading a layer that covers the Earth.” According to his imagery, it is “the spurting points that [will] attach the noosphere to the biosphere.” (BNR, p. 66)
Those metaphors aside, Le Roy goes on to identify real-world factors that will drive creation of the noosphere: “division of work, game of association and habit, culture and training, exercise of all types; from where come social classes, types of mind, forms of activity, new powers”. And he says this will ultimately lead to a separation and spiritualization of the noosphere — “a disengagement of consciousness increasingly free and pure, and the constitution of a superior order of existence; the order of spirituality, reaching a point of perfection where the noosphere would strain to detach itself from the biosphere as a butterfly sheds its cocoon.” According to Le Roy, it is “this mysterious force of thought cohesion between individuals that allows the start of organised union in a unique layer”. (BNR, p. 67, 69)
In other words, Le Roy views the expansion of the mind and the creation of the noosphere as a planetary process that will lead to the noosphere’s separation from the biosphere:
“We are, in truth, confronting a phenomenon of planetary, perhaps cosmic, importance. This new force is human intelligence; the reflexive will of humankind. Through human action, the noosphere disengages itself, little by little, from the biosphere and becomes more and more independent, and all this with rapid acceleration and an amplification of effects which continue to grow. Correlatively however, by a sort of return shock, hominisation has introduced, in the course of life, some formidable risks.” (BNR, p. 5)
Quite a depiction.
Notes about the noosphere and noopolitik — #5: spreading recognition of the noosphere concept
UPDATEd — March 29: Edited to add paragraph about Anton Vaino.
Noosphere concept gaining ground in recent decades
The progressive spread of the noosphere concept during the 1920s-1990s is well-documented in the impressive wide-ranging collection by David Pitt & Paul R. Samson (eds.), The Biosphere and Noosphere Reader: Global Environment, Society and Change(1998). As the editors state, “The noosphere concept captures a number of key contemporary issues — social evolution, global ecology, Gaia, deep ecology and global environmental change — contributing to ongoing debates concerning the implications of emerging technologies such as human-created biospheres and the Internet.” Their book’s excerpts provide “the central ideas and key writings of many prominent thinkers”, including Teilhard, Vernadsky, and Le Roy — the original coiners of the term — along with admirers and interpreters Henri Bergson, Julian Huxley, Arnold Toynbee, James Lovelock, Lynn Margulis, Rafal Serafin, Marshall McLuhan, Theodosius Dobhzansky, Dorion Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Kenneth Boulding, and Nikita Moiseev, among others. Plus Mikhail Gorbachev, who wrote the book’s Foreword.
Unfortunately, this book was not out when we did our research and writing during 1997-1998. Today in 2018 we wish it could be updated with a second edition.
When we first published about noopolitik in 1999, the noosphere idea was attracting evermore interest and adherents. As we learned, Marshall McLuhan’s notion of the “global village” and James Lovelock’s & Lynn Margulis’s “Gaia thesis” were derived partly from Teilhard’s ideas. Cyberspace guru John Perry Barlow was claiming that “The point of all evolution to this stage is to create a collective organism of mind. With cyberspace, we are essentially hardwiring the noosphere.” And scholar-activist Elise Boulding was foreseeing a “many-layered map of the world” à la Teilhard, consisting of the geosphere, biosphere, and a “sociosphere” (families, communities, nation-states, international organizations, and “the peoples’ layer” of NGOs), and atop all that the noosphere. In her view the noosphere consisted of “the sum total of all the thoughts generated in the sociosphere.” Indeed, “[t]he more we can involve ourselves in the networks that give us access to that envelope, the more we can contribute to the emergence of that [global civic] culture.”
Boulding’s writings in particular showed that the noosphere concept was gaining resonance and credibility among transnational civil-society actors, more than among government and commercial actors. We still believe it is time for the latter to begin moving in this direction, too, particularly since power in the information age stems, more than ever before, from the ability of government and market actors to work conjointly with networked civil-society actors. [Sources: see our 1999 study]
Later, when we wrote our update in 2007, we found we were not alone in predicting that the information age will affect grand strategy and diplomacy so thoroughly that a new concept will emerge. David Rothkopf urged that “the realpolitik of the new era is cyberpolitik, in which the actors are no longer just states, and raw power can be countered or fortified by information power.” David Bollier favored Netpolitik to name “a new style of diplomacy that seeks to exploit the powerful capabilities of the Internet to shape politics, culture, values, and personal identity.” Europeans prefered infopolitik as the term for a new era of public diplomacy based on “proactive international communication” and “the projection of free and unbiased information.” None of these alternative terms has taken hold; but at the very least they have helped advance the sense that something new was in the making. [Sources: see our 2007 article]
At this writing, in 2018, the noosphere concept has still not gone mainstream, but recognition and validation have kept growing. One significant supportive venue is the website Edge, which consults a rich variety of leading thinkers around the world in order to compile answers to Edge’s Annual Question. Regarding the 2010 Annual Question “How Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?” psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi replied:
“The development of cooperative sites ranging from Wikipedia to open-source software (and including Edge?) makes the thought process more public, more interactive, more transpersonal, resulting in something similar to what Teilhard de Chardin anticipated over half a century ago as the “Noosphere”, or a global consciousness that he saw as the next step in human evolution.”
And, to the 2017 Annual Question “What Scientific Term or Concept Ought to Be Better Known?” historian David Christian replied that
“The idea of the “Noösphere,” or “the sphere of mind,” emerged early in the 20th century. It flourished for a while, then vanished. It deserves a second chance. … Freed of the taint of vitalism, the idea of a Noösphere can help us get a better grip on the Anthropocene world of today.”
Elsewhere, former New York Times blogger, environmentalist Andrew Revkin cleverly called attention to the concept by referring to it as the “knowosphere” (and “no(w)osphere”) in 2012. Moreover, pro-commons P2P theorist James Quilligan included the noosphere along with the biosphere and physiosphere in his layout of “the global commons” — criticizing “the Market State” for creating contradictions and then proposing that
“Today’s global superbubble is the result of deep structural imbalances between economic ideology and policy (noosphere), and environment and labor (biosphere) and physical resources (physiosphere). The challenge is to assemble international representatives from all regions and sectors to discuss global commons issues in a negotiating format which integrates these three streams of evolution.”
Meanwhile, psychologist Roger Nelson led the unusual controversial inconclusive “Global Consciousness Project” (GCP; 1998-2015) at Princeton University, as “an international collaboration of researchers interested in the possibility that we can detect faint glimmerings of a coalescing layer of intelligence for the earth, what Teilhard de Chardin called the Noosphere.” Mostly a parapsychology experiment, it deployed engineering devices around the world to try to detect whether a collective consciousness might be forming in response to major world events (e.g., 9/11). According to Nelson, “Suggestions like those made in many intellectual and cultural traditions, that there is an Earth consciousness, appear to have a modicum of scientific support in the GCP results … and that we may be interconnected on a grand scale by consciousness fields.” (2007) Not exactly the kind of validation we are looking for, but it does provide another recent piece evincing interest in a “realm of the mind.”
Lately, DARPA has shown interest in discussing the matter, having organized an event whose objectives included the following agenda item: “Noosphere: Create, measure, and model foundational questions regarding humans, human-machine interactions, and society For example, are there new approaches to ‘computation’ based on human or animal social or cognitive processes and how might we understand them? We are also discussing how human perception might be a tool in modern conflict resolution.” (2017)
Far away, as a result of Vladimir Vernadsky’s early work on the biosphere and noosphere (as well as “noocracy”), plus Alexey Eryomin’s later work on noogenesis and Nikita Moiseev’s work on the noosphere, not to mention Mikhail Gorbachev’s interest in these matters, noos-related concepts have grown in stature in Russia more than has been recognized. They continue to flourish in sub-groups within the Russia Academy of Sciences, notably the Vernadsky Institute of Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry, and the Institute for the Scientific Research and Investigation of Cosmic Anthropoecology. Russians also lead the Noosphere Spiritual Ecological World Assembly (NSEWA), which holds periodic conferences that attract New-Age believers from around the world, notably Jose Arguelles, author of Manifesto for the Noosphere: The Next Stage in the Evolution of Human Consciousness (2011). Other spin-offs from Vernadsky’s thinking include the Galactic Research Institute (GRI) and its Foundation for the Law of Time (GRI-FLT), along with an online activity it organized in 2012, the First Noosphere World Forum. These (and other) New-Age activities may not matter for thinking about American information strategy and diplomacy, but they do indicate the influences that Vernadsky and his Russian scientist colleagues have had not only in Russia but also in odd circuits around the world.
Lately, extending Vernadsky’s influence and recalling the Global Consciousness Project at Princeton, Russian eclectic Anton Vaino co-invented and touted the “nooscope” during 2011-2012 as “a device that records changes in the noosphere” — and as “the first device of its kind that allows for the study of humanity’s collective mind.” If operationalized, it would deploy a complex system of “sensory networks”, potentially around the world, to collect data and scan activities in seven areas: the business sphere, market conscience, the infrastructure of human life support systems, technogeneous catastrophes, natural disasters, special-purpose layers, and collective consciousness. Vaino’s influence and the nooscope idea’s proposal are unclear. But, curiously, Vladimir Putin appointed him Chief of Staff in 2016, a position he holds today. This has aroused speculations as to whether Putin’s ideas for a “Third Way” and “managed democracy” may now mean imposing a “noocracy” — Plato’s term for “rule of the wise” that Vernadsky reiterated, but applied in mind-manipulating authoritarian Russian ways.
Actually, throughout history every expansion in interpersonal communications and connectivity has led to new notions that a collective, even global consciousness may taking shape. The noosphere is but one of many concepts for grasping this. Significant 19th C. precursors were Hegel’s idea of the “objective Spirit” and Emerson’s notion of the “Over–Soul”. The early 20th C. brought Henri Bergson’s work on “creative evolution” and H. G. Well’s call for a “world brain”. In the late 20th C., notions multiplied that collective intelligence, global consciousness, a global brain, and/or or a global mind may awaken from the growth of cyberspace and the Internet. These notions included, as noted above, Marshall McLuhan’s “global village” and James Lovelock’s & Lynn Margulis’s “Gaia”. These new notions also enlarged the possibilities for Benedict Anderson’s “imagined communities” to form in new ways, apart from territory and nation. A more recent manifestation is the concept of the Anthropocene. Making matters more nebulous and mysterious, philosophers interested in consciousness and quantum dynamics have lately proposed “panpsychism” and “cosmopsychism”, implying collective consciousness.
These alternatives aside, we favor the noosphere concept — it provides the best grounding for thinking about policy and strategy in the information age. Indeed, what Samson and Pitt wrote in their Epilogue in The Biosphere and Noosphere Reader (1998) two decades ago still makes timely sense for public policy dialogue,:
“Once again, we are faced with two questions: in what direction does public opinion want the noosphere to go and in which directions is the noosphere capable of going? Practically speaking, and in today’s world, this translates into asking how the noosphere can be applied to help to solve problems in such areas as environment, health, poverty, violence and inequality.” (BNR, p. 181)
With a few word substitutions, their two questions also make sense for American strategists to pose about noopolitik and international security matters.
Notes about the noosphere and noopolitik — #6: implications of the noosphere concept for thinking about noopolitik
NOTA BENE: This is a preliminary draft section for a prospective paper.
Implications of the noosphere concept for thinking about noopolitik
The foregoing points about the noosphere, some nearly a century old, have implications for framing noopolitik in our era. We mean for the development of noopolitik to reflect a keen clear grasp of the noosphere concept, particularly along the following lines:
- The noosphere remains a scientific and spiritual concept. It arose from revolutions in thinking about science and evolution, about complexity and consciousness, about the importance of cooperation as well as competition, about systems and self-organization, and about how the world is becoming evermore interconnected and interdependent. It makes knowledge and reason — the mind — crucial for humanity to attain its planetary potential and address matters that require systemic holistic analyses and answers.
- The noosphere has become a visionary political concept as well. But it is not a fantastic utopian idea. It’s an evolutionary “protopian” idea — which means expecting “progress in an incremental way where every year it’s better than the year before but not by very much” (Kelly, 2011, 2015). Accordingly, the noosphere concept is very much about anticipating and shaping what lies ahead, with a sense of grounded realism as well as hopeful idealism. It is about living within the permissible limits of the biosphere, in part by recognizing and attending to the effects of human activity, so that the biosphere and noosphere are kept in a mutually-beneficial balance. Thus the noosphere concept offers an engaging positive vision of the future; its proponents believe its emergence is the key to the future of humanity.
http://kk.org/thetechnium/protopia/ OR https://www.edge.org/response-detail/26062
- The noosphere concept is embedded with value orientations that its originators deemed best for protecting the biosphere and creating the noosphere. It means to favor views that are ethical and ecumenical, that seek harmony and mutual goodwill, that value freedom and justice, pluralism and democracy. It calls for the world and its cultures to be open and inclusive, in ways that foster unity and variety, a collective spirit as well as individuality — all in order to foster an “inter-thinking humanity”. It is a pro-humanity anti-war concept. As Moiseev said, “entering the age of the noosphere requires the practical reconstruction of the worldwide order and the establishment of a new thinking, a new scale of values and a new morality.” (BNR, p. 171)
- From the beginning, the noosphere’s emergence has been a function of revolutionary advances in information and communications technologies across the centuries. More recently, and thus less noticed, yet increasingly important for the future, is that the noosphere’s growth is also a function of the development and distribution of all sorts of sensory apparatuses that will enable what McLuhan aptly called an “externalization of senses”. This revolution in sensory technologies is in early phases, and its maturation is surely essential for the noosphere’s growth.
- The noosphere concept carries a set of standards for strategy. This is clearest if strategy is understood not only as an art of relating ends, ways, and means, but also as an art of positioning for spatial, temporal, and actional advantages. Then, valuing the noosphere strategically means thinking and acting in global/planetary ways (spatially), while minding long-range future end-stakes (temporally), and creating new means or forms of agency to shape problems and opportunities at all scales (actionally).
- Moreover, the noosphere concept, like the biosphere concept, has long implied an end to Westphalian realpolitik-type thinking that nation-states are the most important actors and that material factors matter most. Now, in the information age, other actors and factors increasingly matter more. Reflecting this, proponents of the noosphere helped inspire the establishment of “noospheric institutions” such as the United Nations and UNESCO, as well as Green Cross International, and a range of activist civil-society NGOs (BNR, p. 184-185). The time may come when aspects and/or parts of the noosphere are defined as belonging to the “global commons”.
All these points about the noosphere apply to our vision of noopolitik. In a grand sense, the purpose of noopolitik is to prepare the way advantageously for the age of the noosphere, while also protecting the biosphere and geosphere. In a more practical sense, our early definition of noopolitik still reads well, even in light of our updated analysis of the noosphere concept:
In sum, noöpolitik is an approach to diplomacy and strategy for the information age that emphasizes the shaping and sharing of ideas, values, norms, laws, and ethics through soft power. Noöpolitik is guided more by a conviction that right makes for might, than the obverse. Both state and non–state actors may be guided by noöpolitik; but rather than being state–centric, its strength may well stem from enabling state and non–state actors to work conjointly. The driving motivation of noöpolitik cannot be national interests defined in statist terms. National interests will still play a role, but should be defined more in society–wide than state–centric terms and be fused with broader, even global, interests in enhancing the transnationally networked “fabric” in which the players are embedded. While realpolitik tends to empower states, noöpolitik will likely empower networks of state and non–state actors. Realpolitik pits one state against another, but noöpolitik encourages states to cooperate in coalitions and other mutual frameworks. In all these respects, noöpolitik contrasts with realpolitik. (2007)
All this implies that the noosphere begs for strategic thinking. Yet we’ve seen arguments that a key component of the noosphere, cyberspace, is “ill-suited for grand strategic theories” — the challenges it poses and the technologies it rests on are said to be changing too rapidly and too uncertainly for such thinking, at least for the time being. Do such arguments also apply to the noosphere? We think not. By comparison, the noosphere is a more complex, vastly larger, indeed cyberspace-encompassing “space” — and it too is evolving uncertainly, though maybe less rapidly. And the noosphere is even more difficult to pin down than cyberspace. Yet, our view, along with the views of others we discussed above, is that the noosphere does lend itself to grand strategic thinking. In our case, that means advancing the concept of noopolitik.
[Martin C. Libicki, “Why cyber war will not and should not have its grand strategist,” Strategic Studies Quarterly, (Spring 2014, pp. 23-39), p. 33.]
Besides, let’s notice that U.S. policy and strategy have long aimed to “assure access to and use of the global commons” — its land, sea, air, and space domains — and that cyber has lately been added to that set of domains. Thus cyberspace now seems increasingly headed for grand strategic theorizing. It makes sense to expect the noosphere, in at least some respects, to eventually be deemed part of the global commons. Indeed, viewing the noosphere from a global-commons perspective may help with framing and specifying what noopolitik is all about.
[Jasper, Scott, ed., Conflict and Cooperation in the Global Commons: A Comprehensive Approach for International Security. Georgetown University Press, 2012.