Body and Soul

Vernadsky was fully aware of the fact that the second question - how human thoughts can cause changes in the material environment - was a key research challenge posed by the noosphere concept. Nowadays, brain research holds promise of important elements to address that question. However, when imagining that these elements will be sufficient to answer the question, a simple fact is ignored: what can be found in the human skull are neurons, synapses, electrochemical reactions, but no thoughts. One may expect that some day we will be able to establish a one-to-one relation between certain brain processes and certain thoughts, a bit as playing music from notes is based on a correspondence between certain marks on paper and certain sounds. But this does not mean that marks on paper and sounds are the same things. The noosphere concept challenges environmental research to reflect on one of the weak points of contemporary scientific culture: the difficulty in developing coherent arguments about the relations between movements of the human body and what was once called the human soul.

Research in logic has helped to clarify the role of domains of discourse for the development of arguments. For logical inference to be possible, participants in a debate must share the ability to refer to individuals -stones, dreams, numbers, rainbows, people, whatever -in some reasonably well-defined domain. This ability has a price, however: the domain itself must be presupposed; attempts to refer to it within the logical discourse it supports lead to paradoxes and eventually contradictions. Discourse A can refer to the domain of discourse B, but not to its own domain. The domains of discourse used in biogeochemistry, however, are quite different from the ones needed to talk about human thoughts. Perhaps a new domain of discourse needs to be established before the intuition conveyed by the noosphere concept can be used in reliable professional research. Using a word like 'noosphere' as if one had a great unified domain of discourse at hand, however, can be not only inspiring, but also seriously confusing.

The world as a whole is not a possible subject of logical inferences. This led Wittgenstein to suggest that accepting silence, mysticism if one wishes, was the appropriate stance toward the world in its entirety. Later, however, he realized that this silence was interwoven with a different kind of speech. In a letter to his friend Drury, a psychiatrist who at one stage wondered whether it would not have been better to become an academic, he wrote: ''Look at your patients more closely as human beings in trouble

Discourse A can refer to the domain of discourse B, but not to its own domain. The domains of discourse used in biogeochemistry, however, are quite different from the ones needed to talk about human thoughts. Perhaps a new domain of discourse needs to be established before the intuition conveyed by the noosphere concept can be used in reliable professional research. Using a word like 'noosphere' as if one had a great unified domain of discourse at hand, however, can be not only inspiring, but also seriously confusing.

The world as a whole is not a possible subject of logical inferences. This led Wittgenstein to suggest that accepting silence, mysticism if one wishes, was the appropriate stance toward the world in its entirety. Later, however, he realized that this silence was interwoven with a different kind of speech. In a letter to his friend Drury, a psychiatrist who at one stage wondered whether it would not have been better to become an academic, he wrote: ''Look at your patients more closely as human beings in trouble and enjoy more the opportunity you have to say 'good night' to so many people'' (Rhees, 1984, p.109f). We may call this way of using words - as in honestly wishing 'good night' to somebody in trouble - poetic. Developing a domain of discourse is a poetic craft, a way of world-making, perhaps. Of course, the argumentative and the poetic use of words are not mutually exclusive; but sometimes the former is more appropriate, sometimes the latter. And this can lead one to wonder whether the noosphere concept does not fit a poetic use of language more than an argumentative one.

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