On the Noosphere and the Nature of Thought: Towards an Object-Oriented Ontological Perspective of Thinking

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Vladimir Vernadsky, the father of geochemistry, wondered how thoughts could alter material processes if they were not a form of energy. He believed that mankind, through the power of higher thinking, was fundamentally altering his milieu and becoming a “geologic force” in his own right. Man had created what Vernadsky called the “noosphere”—a realm of thought in the same vein as the biosphere and geosphere. The noosphere was to Vernadsky “the third in a succession of phases of development of the Earth.” Just as life on Earth had shaped the geosphere upon its appearance, so would human thought influence the geosphere and the biosphere.

My seminar project explores the noosphere in the context of the humanities, examining our relationship with this realm and its constituent thoughts. Specifically I draw upon the field of object-oriented ontology (OOO) to question the perception of thoughts as “passive products” of our thinking process. Object-oriented ontologists believe that things are not passive “stuff” but instead possess a “vital materiality” that enable them to exist and perform actions independently of us. In a similar vein, I propose that thoughts (and by extension the noosphere) are vibrant i.e. they possess an independence and aliveness of their own. They interact with us as much as we do with them, making thinking truly an “alliance” between us and our thoughts. Further exploration of this idea is briefly made in the framework of the actor-network theory—a “cousin” of OOO studies—and the Gaia hypothesis.

As a side project, I also created my version of the noosphere in a science-fiction setting. This version, which I call the Plugworld noosphere, is an imagining of what Vernadsky’s thought-realm will be like in the future. I believe the noosphere can be made tangible as a real-time three-dimensional simulation of our thoughts in a dream-like/virtual reality state!

Faculty Mentor

Sally Livingston

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