I completed a midterm paper recently on the theologian, philosopher, and scientist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Writing about his philosophy was one of the most difficult things I’ve done in graduate school thus far. Every sentence of his oozes with the wisdom of 17 billion years of creation and putting that into words of my own proved nearly impossible. He is yet another inspired soul of the cosmos attempting to orient the human within the vastness of existence. Teilhard understands, as most philosophers/cosmologists do, that the story of the Earth and the story of humans have been inextricably linked together as a necessary way of finding our place. We depend upon our eyes for this responsibility to come into relationship with our surroundings, cultivate sensitivities, and locate ourselves in our environment. For Teilhard the way to truly orient ourselves requires us to see not only with new eyes, but with entirely new senses, as way of uniting with the whole. In his book Phenomenon of Man, and the appropriately titled prologue “Seeing,” introduces a new way of relating to sight and coming into relationship with the divine through individualizing.
Ernst Cassirer, a German philosopher whom I mentioned in previous posts, believes humans are the creature constantly in search of himself. This quest for self-knowledge consists of the obligatory, and alienating, process of differentiating between externality and internality. For Cassirer, language, which he defines as symbolic form, produces this process for creating an “outer” world because it establishes relationship and therefore, objectification. Giving everything a name and then seeing it as separate from us gives us relationality; part of reflection requires us to categorize. Ultimately through this process we seek a relationship to Self/whole/other and the unity of Omega Point described in Teilhard’s writing.
The more sensitive we become to the separation and objectification of our outer experience, the more deeply we come into self-reflection. Language, just like science or religion, requires another perceived to be outside of ourselves in order to have meaning. This reason makes cosmology so vitally important, as it gives us a way of relating to externality through a philosophy. We crave self-knowledge as affirmation of identifying with ourselves as individuals. This way of orienting separates us from the whole as a necessary part of the unification process. As our physical eyes improved, so did our desire to “see” ourselves.
Brian Swimme says of humanity, “The Earth wanted to see.” And it does through our eyes, but it sees only a certain version of its vision. If a common vision of unity is where we are headed, our eyes seem to tell a different story. In this visually oriented society, the eyes account for 80 percent of the information sent to our brain. As we look around our world, our eyes reflect a separation and our common language of division. As the only exposed part of our nervous system, eyes offer focused boundaries as a way of navigating through our lives. Ernest Mayr, an evolutionary biologist, showed that eye sight developed 40 independent, different types. As eyes continued to change, so did we. In the words of Teilhard,
“One could say that the whole of life lies in seeing…That is probably why the history of the living world can be reduced to the elaboration of ever more perfect eyes at the heart of a cosmos where it is always possible to discern more.”
In short, evolution allowed us a more and more complex way of seeing. Teilhard’s theory of evolution focuses upon the nervous system as the main process of creating an inward consciousness, or within. The brain development, as a part of the nervous system, corresponds to the outer growth of a being, as well as the inner process. The paradox of this evolution being the ability of the eye to see more and at the same time see less. Teilhard tells us we will “see or perish.” He wants us to see more, not the superficial layer as our eyes would allow, and instead the within of things not visible through sight. Until we see the “within” we cannot fully appreciate their evolution. If future of seeing, according to Teilhard, won’t involve our eyes we must alternatively rely upon other modes of perceiving.
Teilhard believes the way for us to discover, and see, the human completely requires the acquisition of a new set of senses.These senses no longer require the eye to do all the discerning of reality and allow the cultivation of a different perspective and orientation. Teilhard says if we “lack these qualities of sight” we will remain an “erratic object of a disconnected world”for only through this new way of seeing can we have a new way of being. The seven new senses/perceptions Teilhard suggests rely less upon our eyes for orienting and allow a new sight to take over, one that brings us more closely aligned with cosmic energy, or as Teilhard calls it — love.
“The affinity of one being for another,”is the simple way in which Teilhard defines love and releases us from preconceived notions of a purely sentimental meaning of the word. He reasons that because we know it with such certainty it must be present everywhere.In spite of appearances, love is what helps us see more clearly. Eyes no longer serve an orienting purpose when we utilize love because they can’t show us the full brilliance of the entire cosmos uniting. The driving force of love, as it moves the evolutionary process forward, connects the fragments of the world with one another so the world may come to be. “Universe” and “unity” both stem from the Latin root word “unus” meaning “one.” The word “universe” literally means “turned into one.” In this case, language suggests harmony of the whole and also distinct separate existence.
Just like the necessary step of objectification for the creation of language, we must first recognize our loneliness before love can bond us back. Unexpectedly, love differentiates what it unites. Teilhard emphasizes this point by suggesting hyperpersonalization,an individuation process of sorts heading towards love. As each human moves deeper into his or her center, it creates an internal deepening of consciousness. This process of opening to universal insight furthers the evolution of cosmic consciousness through the human and into a convergence of the spiritual and physical worlds, or Omega Point. The only way forward, according to Teilhard, towards Omega Point is through and with love as the attracting energy of the entire cosmos. Through Teilhard’s work, philosophy becomes the “wisdom of love”, or “love wisdom” as classmate Caleb Grayson would say, instead of the “love of wisdom.” Teilhard’s way of seeing enables us to orient ourselves individually through loving and in the process create an entirely new way of relating to all of existence.