“The New Natural Selection”

I read an essay in a book titled Teilhard in the 21st Century:  The Emerging Spirit of Earth, and thought that a blog entry here would make sense.  I didn’t start this blog with the intention of writing about books or spiritual matters, but given the relevance of this essay to what Albatross is all about, I think it’s appropriate.

I’ve been attracted to the thought of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin since first hearing about him at a conference I attended as a young college student probably 25 years ago.  It was a Jean Houston conference, and she mentioned her friendship with Teilhard as a youth and his great knowledge of geology.  Later, in my exploration and development of energonomics, a glocal concept of “energy management,” I picked up his books titled Human Energy and Activation of Human Energy and read about his concept of the noosphere, the emergent consciousness of the earth into which humankind is evolving.  I also recognized direct and indirect allusions to his thought in the work of Pierre Levy’s Collective Intelligence (esp. his concept of the “noolithic” period which we are entering) as well as the poetry of radical Nicaraguan poet-priest Ernesto Cardenal, especially the amazing 500-page epic Cosmic Canticle as well as a parody/revision of St. John’s Apocalypse (in his Apocalypse and Other Poems).  The closing lines of “Apocalypse” capture Teilhard’s vision perfectly:

And in the Earth’s biology I saw a new Evolution
It was as though a New Planet had appeared in space
For death and hell were cast into the sea of nuclear fire
and neither were there peoples as before
but I saw rather a new species freshly evolved
a species not made up of individuals
but rather one sole organism
made up of men in place of cells
and all biologists were mightily amazed
But men were free and in their union were one Person–
not a Machine–
and the sociologists were equally astounded
Such men as had no part in this new species
were but as fossils
The Organism enclosed the whole roundness of the planet
round as a cell (but planetary in dimensions)
and the Cell was garlanded as a Bride awaiting the Bridegroom
and the Earth rejoiced
(as when, dividing, the first cell was wedded)
And there was a New Canticle
and all other inhabited planets heard the Earth singing
and it was a love-song

I was struck by the parallel to Brian Swimme’s essay, which speaks of a “new natural selection,” an evolution into “our role as human earthlings”, as the “evolutionary unfoldment brought into the conscious mode”:

“The full context of the human must include the cosmic and planetary dimension of life and being.  Humans are, as Teilhard celebrated, the conscious mode of co-evolution.”

In presenting three principles of natural selection for humankind to follow, Swimme writes a beautiful paragraph about the need to revere all of nature.  It’s worth quoting in full:

Scientific investigation has revealed that every individual organism, every mineral, every ecological community possesses within itself a significant story in relation to the whole emergence of life on Earth.  Each existent being or community of beings can be considered a voice that speaks from thirteen billion years of cosmic development.  We are only just now understanding  how to listen to the voice that speaks in these systems of life and being. Only in the last few decades have we been able to listen to the story of the universe’s origin that is contained in the radiant energy that bathes the Earth.  Each wave of these photons brings even more information from the earliest moments of the universe.  Then, too, it is only in the last few years that we have been able to listen to the story contained in the continents of their journey through the transformations of the Earth. And only now are we able to hear the story of the prokaryotes and their symbiotic fashioning to create the eukaryotic cells some one and a half billion years ago. Only in the last few years have we realized that all the nuclei even of our own skin must be considered fossils from the ancient origins of the symmetry breaks in the heart of the primordial fireball. In these and many other examples we are beginning to appreciate the way in which every existent being is the whole universe’s story told from a particular viewpoint and history. We must, therefore, hope that future humans recognize and respect this great truth, this great mystery of history’s presence within each being. A voice that is lost means knowledge and information lost for all time, a story that will never be recaptured. We must move into the future with a deep reverence for all beings and the story that each is able to tell.

I can’t mention Swimme without making a plug for his incredible book The Universe Is A Green Dragon: A Cosmic Creation Story.  This book puts all of life–but especially our individual lives–into the perspective of a 15-billion year cosmic evolutionary process, “a larger perspective by which to evaluate our activities, a perspective that included stars, planets, and all other life forms” (72).  It is a shift “to a biocentric and cosmocentric orientation where the universe and the Earth are the fundamental referents” rather than the anthropocentric/egocentric orientation that we are beginning to shed.

This book, I believe, is one of the most important on the planet, as is the idea that we as a species are evolving into our new larger role “as a dimension of the emergent universe” (18).



  1. Kathleen Kirk said,

    September 6, 2008 at 1:26 am

    This is fascinating. I think you would also be interested in the work of sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson, and this art exhibit inspired by his ideas!


  2. September 6, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    I am familiar with E.O. Wilson and have read his CONSILIENCE and THE FUTURE OF LIFE (in fact, I consider the latter to BE one of THE most important books on the planet, second only to CRADLE TO CRADLE and perhaps Jared Diamond’s COLLAPSE: HOW SOCIETIES CHOOSE TO FAIL OR SUCCEED). CONSILIENCE is the book that inspired me to pursue a similar kind of unification of all disciplines, though rather than biology as the common denominator I use the physics of energy flow (“energonomics“).

    You’re right about my interest in the art exhibit. Thank you! I love sculpture, and this show is especially significant to these ideas.

  3. Kathleen Kirk said,

    September 8, 2008 at 9:55 pm

    CONSILIENCE wowed me! By coincidence, I picked it up for $1 on the half-price cart of the used bookshop where I now work! Then I read another of his books in the library, then went to hear him speak when he was in town, and got/read more books, including THE FUTURE OF LIFE and his book on human nature.

    At the same time, I started reading the work of Lynn Margulis, which tied right in! The actual cell/bacteria book–early work in biology–was daunting, so I mostly looked at the pictures! Of single-celled life forms!

    But the more sociobiological stuff–written with her son Dorion Sagan–I could handle!

    Just had a poem published, “When We Lived at Night,” based on their book MYSTERY DANCE: ON THE EVOLUTION OF HUMAN SEXUALITY, a fascinating read! Animal life is explored beautifully, and humans are animals, too.

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