Related Concepts

According to Venadsky, ''The Noosphere is the last of many stages in the evolution of the biosphere in geological history'' (Vernadsky, 1945, p. 10). The word ''evolution'' here does not refer to the interplay of variation and selection that Darwin saw at work in the evolution of biological species. Rather, it hints at a process in which new realities emerge in the course of time without any need for inheritance of traits between biological generations. This line of thinking is related to the idea of 'emergent evolution' proposed by the psychologist Lloyd Morgan and further developed by LeRoy. Today, the emergence of new realities in the course of time is often described as a process of self-organization in complex systems. Evolutionary history then becomes an overarching narrative telling the story of the world as a whole. It tells how physical matter rearranged itself up to the point where portions of it became the first living organisms, how these then evolved into species of increasing organic complexity, how the complexity of some organisms enabled them to develop the mental faculties that characterize humankind, and how humankind is now beginning to understand its own global environmental impacts.

The concept of the noosphere is also related to the concept of Gaia proposed by Lovelock and Margulis. The Gaia concept pictures the Earth as a complex, self-regulating system, a kind of organism that maintains conditions favorable to life despite a variety of disturbances. The emergence of the noosphere then means that some living beings - humans - became aware of this larger organism they are part of, of their capability to modify it by technological means, and of their responsibility to develop these means in ways that do not disrupt Gaia.

Closely related is a new concept of Earth system. Traditionally, Earth scientists considered as the Earth system those physical and chemical processes taking place on planet Earth that shaped oceans and continents, forming rocks, causing earthquakes, etc. Living beings were seen as playing a rather peripheral role (although for obvious reasons fossil fuels always were a big topic for the Earth sciences), and the influence of human beings on the Earth system was considered negligible. The debate about global environmental change and sustainability has changed this situation. As a result, a broader concept of Earth system has been proposed by Schellnhuber and others. In this perspective, the Earth system is seen as a complex system including physical, chemical, biological, as well as social and mental processes. Some sort of emergent evolution is seen as leading from a purely physicochemical system first to a biogeochemical system and then to one including human beings and their interactions. The first transition can be described as the emergence of the ecosphere, the latter as the emergence of the noosphere.

Finally, the role of humankind in shaping the face of the Earth has been used to propose a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, supposed to start more or less with increased control over natural resources due to application of fossil energies during the industrial revolution in the nineteenth century. So far, geological epochs were defined to be periods of millions of years, and the last such epoch, the Holocene, has been defined to start just about 10 000 years ago. The concept of the Anthropocene marks a clear break with the previous practice of structuring a geological timeline. However, others have suggested that humankind significantly altered the climate system already some 8000 years ago by clearing forests. On a timescale of millions of years, this would make the beginning of the Holocene and the Anthropocene indistinguishable. On a conceptual level, of course, there still is a major difference between defining the current geological epoch in terms of an ice age that came to an end independent from any human action or in terms of the emergence of humankind as a new geological force. It is the latter approach that clearly relates to the concept of the noosphere.

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