The Noosphere

Amelia Winger-Bearskin
3 min readSep 29, 2022


Decentralization is a lot older and weirder than you think.

In today’s world, everyone is connected to everyone else in a single decentralized network.

It’s almost impossible to read that sentence and not think of hyperlinks, smartphones, social media, and connected devices. But many people don’t know that this idea has been around much longer than the internet.

Way back in 1922 just following WWI, French Jesuit priest and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin coined the phrase “noosphere” to describe an interconnected network of minds all across the globe. In 1926 he was joined by his friend Eduoard le Roy, a philosopher and mathematician, and Vladimir Vernadsky, a Russian geochemist, to work out some of the details.

an image I made with a portrait of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

In their writings, the noosphere (pronounced “Noah-sphere”) is described as a natural progression of the evolution of the planet from inert rock (the “geosphere”) to a web of ecosystems sustaining biological life (the “biosphere”) to the sum total of all conscious life and mental activity on Earth. (Noosphere comes from the Greek word “nous” which means “mind.”)

De Chardin wrote that the noosphere was a

“thinking layer… above and discontinuous with the biosphere.”

Elsewhere he described it as

“a network of links … more and more literally present, in the immensity of their organism, as the image of a nervous system…”

Of the three, Vernadsky was the most traditional scientist. He has been a central figure in developing the model of the biosphere, which is now a well-established idea among biologists and earth scientists. In his mind, the noosphere was something that emerged out of the biosphere and influenced and would soon exert a powerful influence on the ecosystems of the planet.

A perfect example of this dynamic is climate change.

Human ideas about money, trade, and capitalism are part of the noosphere in the sense that they don’t have a material presence. But even though these ideas are just abstractions, they still drive people to build thousands of factories, drive millions of cars, and clear-cut billions of trees. This all has a direct and measurable effect on the chemical composition of the water, the air, and soil that make up ecosystems. Long before global warming bloomed into an international policy crisis, Vernadsky wrote “statesmen should be aware of the present elemental process of transition of the biosphere into the noosphere.”

Vernadsky’s ideas about the noosphere provide a useful way to map the systems of influence between the distributed networks of human thought and those of the environment. These ideas provide a foundation for much of our contemporary thinking about the Anthropocene, or the epoch in which humans exert a dominant influence over the planet's climatic and biochemical systems.

De Chardin on the other hand was more of a mystic.

His career was split between that of a biologist and paleontologist, and that of a priest who wrote spiritual tracts about universal love. His penchant for the esoteric probably didn’t help his credibility in serious academic circles, but it earned him a devoted following amongst the New Age-y hippie set. Today most thinking about the noosphere has branched off into a world of data fiddling, wishful thinking, and TEDx hucksterism.

But we shouldn’t be so dismissive of all noosphere enthusiasts. Sure, some devotees of de Chardin do sell healing crystals and lead dubious workshops about telekinesis. But the link between the hippie counterculture and the proponents of the early internet is established and well documented. Some of the people who were influenced by de Chardin’s writing in the 60s and 70s went on to build a kind of noosphere in real life. The physical communications networks that run on cable and electromagnetic frequencies are a literal “network of links,” which really does connect the thoughts of people all around the world.



Amelia Winger-Bearskin

Banks Endowed Chair AI and the Arts, Digital Worlds Institute, University of Florida | USDAC: Honor Native Land | | She/Her | Artist