In the Phenomenon of Man, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the Catholic priest and paleontologist, presents a version of the Panpsychic story (without using that term). Like Alfred North Whitehead, Chardin recognizes that everything has a physical dimension and a mental dimension. Chardin presents evolution as the story of physical entities becoming more complexly integrated with correspondingly increased complexity and coherence of interior mental experience.
The Story: We know the story. Chemical chains become single celled organisms with an ability to move with volition to accomplish survival purposes. Single celled organism agglomerate to become multi-celled organisms.
I’ve always liked the example of the slime mold, which is a transitional figure in the evolution from single celled to multi-celled organisms. According to Wikipedia: “When food is abundant, a slime mold exists as a single-celled organism, but when food is in short supply…” certain slime mold cells send out a chemical signal and then collections of slime mold cells “congregate and start moving as a single body.
In this state, they are sensitive to airborne chemicals and can detect food sources. They can readily change the shape and function of parts and may form stalks that produce fruiting bodies, releasing countless spores, light enough to be carried on the wind or hitch a ride on passing animals.” Once these spores find food, they return to being single celled organisms and begin to feed again.
Multi-celled organisms evolved into the great plant and insect and animal kingdoms. However, when multi-celled plants, insects, and animals reproduce, they must return to the single celled state as a fertilized egg and then they rapidly recapitulate their whole evolutionary history, both along the physical and the mental dimensions.
Humanity: Along one arm of this multifaceted evolutionary trajectory, humanoids and, eventually, our species, homo sapiens, developed. With humans, a new level of physical integrated complexity and a new mental level of consciousness emerged so that human consciousness acquired the ability to become conscious of itself, not just the world around it. And human consciousness evolved symbolic language, enabling it to escape its time bound state and think about things other than what is right here right now.
This evolution of human self-consciousness and symbolic consciousness made the relatively rapid (on the cosmic scale) evolution human society and human culture possible. With the emergence of the human socio-cultural reality, the primacy of evolutionary direction shifted from the natural selection of physical entities each with a mental dimension, to the socio-cultural evolution of human society. People became able to use their mental dimensions to guide their own evolution.
The Noosphere: Chardin asserted that this process has led to the emergence of what he called the “noosphere.” The biosphere exists in between the lithosphere and the atmosphere and the biosphere gave birth to the noosphere, defined by the Miriam Webster dictionary as “the sphere of human consciousness and mental activity especially in regard to its influence on the biosphere and in relation to evolution.”
The Internet can be seen as an augmentation and enhancement of the physical dimension of the noosphere. Some have suggested that Chardin’s concept of the noosphere was an anticipation of the Internet, through which the mental dimension of humanity can interact consciously throughout the Earth.
The Omega Point: Chardin goes on to suggest that the emergence of the noosphere is the prerequisite for a subsequent evolutionary leap that he calls the “Omega Point” when human consciousness as a whole develops a coherent self-conscious vantage point for the whole human species and the Earth itself.
This is where Chardin’s Panpsychic perspective intersects with Planetary Philosophy. As I put it in Toward a New Paradigm:
“We can see ourselves at a moment of crucial Planetary Transformation, when the Earth evolves to the point that it acquires an integrated consciousness—with humanity playing a critical role—that can guide the formation of a planetary civilization that is conducive to continued human life on Earth…
And maybe, just maybe, we can actually connect with this emerging Planetary Consciousness that is a blending of the emerging unified consciousness of the human species and of the Earth. And maybe we can engage with this Planetary Consciousness to help it emerge further. And maybe we can take strength from it and use it to unite with and act together with the very large numbers of us humans that will be needed to work the work of the Great Transformation whereby we learn to live at peace with ourselves, with each other, and with the Earth.”
This is where we are now in the story that emerges from the philosophy of Panpsychism.