The coming Age of Knowledge
Reflections on the new noetic economy
From Marc Halévy
379 pages, 20 euros
Format : 15 x 21
ISBN : 2-9520514-6-1
Web site: lanoetique.com
Author site: www.noetique.org
The new economy ideas.
Today’s knowledge revolution demands a radical change of perspective. Noesis—the cognitive process that combines character, intelligence and learning--has already taken precedence over economics and policy within many organizations. The typical company’s resources of talent—its people’s expertise and creativity—have become worth more in recent years than its material and financial assets. Already, 73% of today’s labor force works exclusively with information. On average, 80% of the value of commercial products derives from gray matter.
This book contains the keys to understanding and managing the migration towards a knowledge-based society and a non-material economy of ideas—on the individual as well as the organizational level. We’re entering a different paradigm, one that may change the very nature of humanity as we know it.
Marc Halévy is a graduate of L’Ecole Polytechnique, France’s most prestigious engineering school. For more than twenty years, he has served as a management specialist for companies in crisis. Starting in the early 1990s, he branched out into futurology. He is convinced that the world is quickly shifting from an industrial economy, based on the manufacture and exchange of physical objects, towards a knowledge economy based on the creation and proliferation of non-material ideas. In this book, he gives us a tour of the sweeping changes just ahead.
Table of contents
1 Evolutionism: today’s revolution
2 Complexity: the new epistemology
3 The emerging Noesphere
4 Organization and growth of the Noesphere
5 The noetic human
6 Noetic thinking
7 The noetic movement
Noetic comes from the Greek term noesis, meaning “knowledge, intelligence and spirit.” The most academic definition covers the entire range of sciences and technologies that treat knowledge, intelligence and, more generally, spirit: It can include all the cognitive sciences and the neurobiological models of memory, creativity and thought. A broader universal definition could also include, the evolution and living organization of concepts within the human noesphere, or an additional “layer” that envelopes our blue planet in an all-embracing, dense, living network of knowledge, as well as our mental, artistic and spiritual pursuits.
Though it is neither circular nor deterministic, the history of humanity has passed through cycles: It is defined within an irregular spiral that regularly passes through the same axes or phases: collapse, growth, culmination and decline. Our time is one of collapse.
We are leaving one cycle and beginning another.
The cycle of yesterday was the so-called "modern age,” born from another collapse around the middle of Fifteenth Century, with its turning point between the end of the Feudal Age and the Italian Renaissance.
Now half a millennium of "modernity" is ending. It was based on key values: humanism, materialism, state control, capitalism, rationalism, scientism, progressivism, hedonism, individualism and other values. It led to Verdun and Ypres, then to Auschwitz, Hiroshima, the Gulag and Tiananmen Square. It still erupts in Baghdad, and lies dormant in other places.
Any collapse is a passage from one cycle to the next. It is like a birth, always a painful entrance to a new human landscape founded on new values, new reference points, new ways of life and new priorities. We are living within such an infancy. The first wave of contractions began during the 1920s in the world of science (especially physics and biology), and the arts (poetry, painting and music), just before the Nazi and Stalinist cataclysms. The second wave came during the 1950s, with decolonization and Americanization. The third wave, beginning with the oil crises of the early 1970s, ended at the foot of the Berlin Wall in 1989 with the collapse of Communism.
Since then, a bridge has been crossed—irreversibly. The explosion of telecommunications and information technologies has radically transformed our modes of behavior, both domestic and professional. “Virtual” realms have dematerialized many aspects of everyday life, starting with the substitution of bankcards for money, the symbol and ultimate core of the modern age. And after that comes globalization, both economic and political.
In fact, deregulation, despite of the beginnings of re-regulation, has stimulated the spread of organized crime and its detrimental peripheries of lawlessness. Dematerialization translates to a diffident individualism and hedonism, its mind purring under the comforter like a cocooning autist. Quality of life becomes increasingly important, exceeding the quantity of purchasing power.
The rapid obsolescence of information, products, technologies and fashions drives an unchecked pace of innovation. The increasing hyper-specialization of careers and their tasks simultaneously requires a precise focus on one’s own capabilities, yet at the same time an overall de-compartmentalization in order to collaborate with others. Organizations everywhere are using flexible, fluid networks to overtake their ponderous, hierarchical competitors. Cellular telephones and portable computers permit a new nomadism that makes an individual’s pursuits and place of residence independent of one another.
Until about one hundred years ago, everyone had faith in the Cartesian truth that the world was no more than the outcome of an immutable juxtaposition of building blocks, mortared by absolute universal laws. Descartes himself had clearly explained it: the Parts entirely explain the Whole and the Whole is the exact sum of its Parts. To understand a clock, just disassemble it, examine all its parts in order to understand their functions, and work your way back to the whole clock. All traditional sciences operate in this way, with immense successes, as we all know.
Analysism and Reductionism established the “scientific” method, which we have endeavored to apply to everything, including psychology, sociology, politics and economics—with some obvious failures. Since the 1920s, we have seen more and more problems, even in the field of "hard" sciences, that don’t fit into this analytical Cartesian mold. A living cell cannot be reduced to the sum its atoms. Human thought cannot be reduced to the total number of neurons. The turbulences of a river around the pile of a bridge cannot be reduced to a calculation of the laminar grid. A basketball team cannot be reduced to the individual strengths of its players. Even water, when subjected to certain influences behaves in ways that cannot be explained by the individual juxtaposed movements of its molecules.
In short: a stew is much more than the simple juxtaposition of its ingredients, just as a poem is much more than the simple juxtaposition of the letters of its words.
What is the key to all these mysteries? Complexity.
Simple systems are indeed reducible to their components and the mechanical interactions between them. They are entirely compatible with the Cartesian method. But when the interactions between components become more intense and varied, resultant properties appear that do not belong to any of the components, but emerge from the interactive processes themselves. An everyday example is the emulsion of mayonnaise, which comes neither from eggs, nor from mustard nor from oil, but from their strong interaction under the whisk of the cook. It is obvious that these emergent properties exclude the use of the analytical scalpel, which would shear and destroy the interactions, leaving only disjointed ingredients.
The more complex a system is—and thus irreducible to its individual components—the more dominant the number and the potential intensity of its emergent properties become. While Cartesian methods will usually explain the mechanical order of simple systems, complex systems add an underlying organic order that calls for new methods of study. To summarize in a few words: a system is complex when its whole is more than the sum of its parts; the more complex it is, the more its whole (by far) exceeds its parts. And as it becomes increasingly autonomous and unpredictable, it increasingly escapes mechanical determinism. Lastly, the increasing importance of these emergent properties, independent of the materials that compose the complex system, points to a predominance of information ("form") over matter ("substance"). Any increase in complexity is also a dematerialization. Complexity and concentration of information are synonymous.
Descartes systematized the methodology that bears its name (and which dates back to Plato and Aristotle) into four principles:
1. Obviousness (to doubt what is not evident)
2. Analysism (the whole can be explained entirely by its parts)
3. Reductionism (the whole can be reduced to the exact sum its parts) –
4. Exhaustiveness (to comprehend the whole requires examination of each of its parts).
Complex thought is post-Cartesian in the sense of recognizing that the Cartesian method applies only to simple systems. As soon as a system becomes complex, nothing is obvious, because everything depends on one’s viewpoint (relativism); the whole and its parts evolve dialectically (systematism); the whole is far more than the sum of its parts (holism); and the whole is understood starring with its final form, independent of its parts (teleology).
When Lamarck, then Darwin, proposed the theory of the Evolution of Species, do you think that started a colossal intellectual revolution?
Consider the theories of cosmology. Following the model of the Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (1916), it evolved into the model of an open and infinite universe (Sitter, 1917), then into a universe that is expanding (Friedman,1922). The Lemaître principle, in 1931, posits a theory of the primal atom that would be renamed “the Big Bang” by Gamow in 1948. Today, the scientific community universally accepts this view of cosmology. They view the universe as the deployment of a specific original singularity that exploded billions of years ago, and has since continued to expand as it gradually becomes more organized.
From a philosophical point of view, cosmic evolutionism is a theory born of the meeting between General Relativity and the Big Bang on one hand; and on the other, the teleological vision of Bergson or Teilhard de Chardin. The central idea is that the universe, taken as a single and unitary whole, is a complex system that changes as it expands and becomes more and more complex. Thus, the engine of cosmic evolution itself is becoming increasingly complex; a progression in the level of complexity is an inherent quality. And as we saw, this increase means that at each level, the resulting systems become increasingly autonomous, increasingly unforeseeable and more and more “informed.” They are becoming dematerialized or "spiritualized" to quote Teilhard de Chardin).
Today, we can describe this cosmic scale of complexity as comprised of four segments (Energy, Matter, Life and Spirit), each having two levels: One level resulting from the force of individuation that generates new “objects” and another level resulting from the force of integration that causes these new ”objects” to interact within increasingly complex structures. There are two energy levels: one of pure energy and another of vibrating energy (the photosphere). There are also two material levels: one of atoms and molecules (the nanosphere), and one of crystalline or viscous aggregates (the lithosphere). There are two levels of life: the level of plants and animals, including humans (the biosphere), and the level of their social, homogeneous or heterogeneous associations (the sociosphere). Finally, there are two levels of thought: the level of thoughts and ideas (the noesphere) and that of knowledge and intuition (the gnosisphere). Cosmic evolution thus represents the successive development of each of these levels, bearing in mind that the lower level must be sufficiently developed before the higher, latent level can originate and begin to evolve.
We are experiencing today on Earth the emergence of a new level. Human societies, thanks to the neocortex, have been able to simultaneously develop powerful languages that enable us to formulate complex ideas; and effective technologies, such as data processing and telecommunications, that allow the mass processing and rapid transmission of large volumes of information. The marriage of these languages and technologies, in less than 50 years, has enabled the emergence and development of the earthly noesphere and gnosisphere. In short, on Earth, because of and through man, Life is preparing to give birth to Spirit.
The noetic revolution
the noetic revolution (from the Greek noesis, meaning spirit, intelligence and knowledge) is a way to describe this passage, or jump, or bridge between the sociosphere and the noesphere. Philosophically, the consequences are immense: During the noetic revolution, not only will our individual and collective human existence take a new direction—centrally and fundamentally—but also, humanity will become the bearer of a cosmic responsibility. This essential (r)évolution can only come about through us, and we must do it and make a success of it. Man is becoming the architect of Spirit at the beginning of its life, a challenge and a responsibility that are far from insignificant.
The noesphere is this :layer” of facts and knowledge, which covers all the Earth and its networks. It is superimposed on the sociosphere, a word created by Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), who provides this definition: “The noesphere (or thinking sphere) is superimposed, coexistent, over the biosphere," or '”the place of man within nature.” (Threshold, 1995). Noesphere generally means the networks of ideas and knowledge that give rise to the processes of creativity, memorization, and the transformation and transmission of noemes (see this word). It is the place from which they autonomous proliferate. The noesphere is immaterial, a "layer" rooted in the human sociosphere, but distinct from it (as a tree is rooted in soil, but distinct from its medium).
The gnosisphere, derived from the same structure as lithosphere, biosphere, sociosphere or noesphere, comes from the root "gnosis" (total knowledge). It defines the "layer" that will eventually be superimposed on the noesphere once it builds the capacity to cause its emergence. The gnosisphere will be the place where systems of knowledge (the noesphere) meet and interact, just as the sociosphere is where living beings meet and interact within organized and structured groups. (cf. glossary at the end of the book)
This is about an infancy. It will not be without pain. But the movement is irreversible. As irrepressible as a flood of water that must flow to the sea, it will arrive despite some obstacles. Historically, the fact is colossal: We, the humans of this century, are bringing forth a leap of incredible complexity. By living, we carry the sprouting seed of the noespheric tree within our sociospheric soil.
Faced with this challenge, there are only two possible scenarios. The first is one of suicide. Humanity refuses the challenge and remains locked up in its sociosphere – to remain the star of earth, and be mummified. People can continue to deify themselves and proclaim themselves the center, the goal and the summit of the universe.
Then there is the scenario of daring: humanity leaves its sociosphere and becomes aware that it forms an integral part of the cosmos, and that it has a role to play there which infinitely exceeds it. Obviously this second scenario must prevail—to embrace the evolution of cosmos as much ecologically within the biosphere as noetically within the noesphere. This Nietzschian vision of man, like a bridge between nature and the superhuman being, now becomes a cry of truth. Human life is turning towards a new metaphysics of becoming, a new ethic of responsibility and achievement.
The first scenario is not, however, impossible. Humanity during the twentieth century amply demonstrated that it could be suicidal through atomic bombs and ecological waste, and also that it could nurture the influences of Thanatos through Nazism, Communism, nationalism, racism, fundamentalism, colonialism, imperialism, and mercantilism.
Since we will have to assimilate complexity and evolution in order to cultivate this small noespheric seed, we will need to renew our intellectual toolboxes. Cartesianism, such a fundamental analysis method of traditional rationalism, scientism and progressionism, must be supplemented and surpassed by new systemic methods that can incorporate the holism, indeterminism and evolutionism specific to complex systems. Our so linear natural languages, even if they are hierarchical, codified and univocal, must also be supplemented and surpassed by new poetic, metaphorical metalanguages and symbolic systems able to incorporate globality, fluidity, and the speed and blur of momentary circumstances and complex processes.
Our Aristotelian logic, stuck between pure truth and falsehood, must also be supplemented and surpassed by a new non-Aristotelian metalogic that is intuitive, analogical, dialectical, trialectic and so on—a logic that can take into account opacity, multiple meanings, relativity and the evolutionary qualities of the real worlds. Mathematical models, once the only guarantors of scientific validity, must also be supplemented and surpassed by qualitative and intuitive, colorful, visual and graphical metamodels in order to outgrow quantitative, measurable reductionism.
Beyond this profound renewal of our tools (including basic intellectual tools), it will be necessary that we change ourselves radically. A new ethics is taking shape where duties will be superimposed over rights, where rights will be subordinated to achievement, where modern humanism must be succeeded by a post-modern supra-humanism and Nietzscheism.
Humanism is the moral and political expression of the more general principle of anthropocentrism: “Man is the measure of all things” is its strongest and oldest expression. Everything originates from man, everything is given to man and exists for man. Man regards himself as the center, the summit and the goal of the universe. All things considered, man has only to answer to himself. Man has a dignity that is inalienable and impossible to circumvent, simply by being man, no matter what he does. This narcissistic vision is incompatible with the noetic vision. in which man is only an instrument and a link to the cosmic process of evolution, and within which man has value only through his contribution to the cosmic genesis.
The passage from child to adult involves a conditioning from a relationship of normative and coercive authority (the parental model) through the transition into autonomy (self control). The passage from the modern age to the noetic age is similar for man: He will need to free himself from the supervision of institutions—states, laws and police—which he himself invented. He will have to build his autonomy, control himself, and assume individual responsibilities for to himself, others, nature and the world.
Contrary to humanistic morals, the value of man will be subordinated to the value of his actions and his contributions. Moreover, the current society, with its shameless consumption, waste and plunder, will have to disappear by systematic application of the principle of frugality. This concept is diametrically opposite to the engine of a consumer society. It entails living while consuming frugally; in other words. less quantity with optimal quality. It is not about asceticism, or deprivation, or fasting. It is a matter of taking what is needed and shunning excess (in all forms). It is a question of generating more so an individual does not destroy in order to live.
Entering the noetic age
To enter this new age, the first step is to leave the "modern" age of the sociosphere, and also its logic of operation. The human sociosphere revolves around the dialectical relationship between politics and economics, which have different rationales—sometimes allied and sometimes contradictory, but always central. To leave the sociosphere is thus to leave these two ways of thinking and marginalize them by making them subservient to noetic and noespheric development.
Classical economics was based on the concepts of scarcity and shortage: an object belongs to me or does not belong to me, and its value depends on its scarcity. The economy of ideas is very different. An idea does not belong to anybody, and sharing it does not harm the person who possesses it. On the contrary, an idea becomes all the more valuable when it is divided up, shared, and becomes a paradigm. The more quickly it can proliferate, the freer it becomes. We could almost call it an anti-economy: one of immaterial credits (intangible assets) and of creative processes outside the doctrines of productivity (cf. example by Peter Drucker, bibliography).
Politics, in the traditional sense, assumed a paternalistic status and role. It headed the nation and its people in order to provide for their needs and desires—those same people being infantilized in the name of democracy. The state and its apparatuses took the place of the father to which his citizen-children simultaneously owed all love (of the Fatherland, such an eloquent word!), respect and obedience; in exchange for his protection and his many forms of assistance. As well demonstrated by current political stagnation and inefficiency, this vision has become obsolete for a number of reasons. Among them are today’s increasing complexity and globalization, which leave local authorities unable to influence the actual course of events.
Politics in the noetic age will become more a matter of services (paid by taxes) to which individuals can subscribe at will, and which will guarantee adequate infrastructures and the climate for the development of the noesphere. Identity cards will become credit cards, allowing access to membership services.
Definitely, the priority building sites for the successful building of the noetic revolution will be the following: a total reformation of educational systems; complete reorientation of research and development for infrastructures of informational connectivity; the introduction of a universal living allowance; total abolition of all borders, the transformation of exchange values into practical values for all goods; holistic, humane and preventive health management; and policing for waste and irregularities of consumption.
There is a lot to do!
Entering (or already in) the noetic age
There are three traditional ways to view the passage of time.
One is the motionless concept of time, which regards essence as immutable (Plato's Parmenides), and change as illusion (Zeno of Elea). "Nothing new under the sun!" proclaims Ecclesiastes.
Another concept is based on cyclic, agrarian time spans, and deals with the eternal recurrence of the same: the cycles of seasons and moon phases, cycles of births and deaths, cycles of fat and thin cows.
A third concept is directed time spans, which give direction to history like an arrow moving toward a target (or a pilgrimage towards the Promised Land), as an irreversible process (Heraclitus) progressing from the simple to the complex, from chaos to cosmos, from disorder to order. Thus, there are thus three ways to view our epoch and its upheavals:
- The upheavals are only illusions. Essence remains immutable.
- The upheavals are cyclic, and soon all will take its proper place again.
- The upheavals are signs of a passage, a leap, the irreversible crossing of a threshold.
The common thread
This entire book is founded on the concept of directed time, and thus on this third interpretation of the upheavals of our times. These are its fundamental assumptions.
From Life, which is the complexification of Matter, social languages brought about Thought, which is the expression of Spirit. But now we come to the point of dualism, of ontological collapse. Existence is one thing; a single continuum between Life and Thought, between Matter and Spirit.
But the qualitative leap of complexity is enormous between Life (the Biosphere) and Thought (the Noesphere). Making this leap is man’s great challenge: moving from animalistic thinking to cognizance of his own thoughts. It is a leap that was impossible until human technologies made it possible to manipulate enormous quantities of information at very high speed, using an elegant, quasi-dematerialized infrastructure. Now, in less than half a century, those technologies exist (although certainly still sputtering), and they open unsuspected horizons of creativity in knowledge. The noesphere (worlds of knowledge and creation) can finally emerge and be freed from the sociosphere (the world of human societies based on the dual pillars of politics and economics).
The moment of the emergence of this new structure is exactly what we mean by the "noetic revolution". This moment in time is the beginning of a new age: the Noetic Age. With it, the attributes of knowledge and creation will succeed the dying old lady of the former capitalist-industrial society. This is not a matter of an ideological wish but a great step forward. The noetic man is neither rightist nor leftist; he is in front!
This is more about improvement than just changing times. It is a matter of giving to man, to humanity, to mankind a new task, a new direction, a new destiny. For if the noesphere is indeed the new bridge to be crossed, the next "layer" to be built within cosmic evolution. If this stage rests entirely on the frail human brain, then that presents man with a role, a responsibility, a vocation, and an incredible mission.
Nothing can ever be the same again. Man, who for such a long time was considered the navel, the center, the summit and the goal of the world, now finds himself in the role of a wheel, an instrument, a messenger within cosmic history. Man has become the porter of Thought and Spirit. If his payload were less intense and immense, the expression would be laughable. The role and position of humanity are entirely subverted by this.
The vocation of Man
Rather than remain cozily locked up in his sociosphere to plunder the earth, to satisfy his whims and contemplate his navel, mankind as a whole is bursting out of its anthropocentric imprisonment and becoming the bridge between the biosphere (Life in the broad sense) and the noesphere (Thought or the Spirit in the broad sense). The autistic values of humanism are evaporating.
Man is no more the servant of man, the measures of all things, but enters into the service of the cosmic evolution in all his superb insignificance. He is becoming the pioneer of the noesphere, the noetic man. Knowledge and creation will become the key words of everyday life, from birth to death. All human societies will have to be renovated according to this single goal: noesis, or knowledge and creation.
Politics and economics, today the enemy centers of the sociosphere, will become singularly peripheral vis-à-vis this immense human challenge: they will become nothing more than administrative functions, one guaranteeing social peace and personal freedom, and the other ensuring nutritional subsistence and technological assistance.
Knowledge and creation will become the standard of economic analysis; ethics and esthetics will become the standard of everything done, said and thought.
A new morality will emerge: What is good is solely what is best for the enrichment of the noesphere. The repercussions of this paradigm change will be immense, and will affect every facet of collective and individual human endeavor. We could call it a metamorphosis like a crawling, hairy caterpillar that becomes a flamboyant butterfly, takes off and rises far above its cabbage leaf
We could also speak of the passage of man from a childish age to adulthood. Gone is the spoiled man-child, stuck at the center of the universe, playing cowboy, who destroys so much to satisfy his whims, who fells an oak to make a toothpick, and ransacks nature to pile up stones for his slingshot. The noespheric tree will only spread its branches strongly and take deep root within a healthy, clean, respected and cultivated biosphere.
Gone is today’s man; those who accumulate material objects will yield place to those who creates knowledge. The new wealth will be cognitive and cultural, imaginative and artistic. The essential capital of tomorrow will be the wealth of talent, of intelligence, of memory, of intuition, of imagination. The raw material of tomorrow will be gray matter—and that changes everything: All of education. All of society. All of urban life. And so on down to family life and leisure pursuits.
Three scenarios for humanity
There are only three potential scenarios for the prospective future of humanity.
First scenario It is possible that man will remain locked up in the sociosphere, refusing to leave, moving neither towards the biosphere, nor the noesphere. In short, the world remains as it is, and man remains the measurement of everything. His pride and selfishness continue to let him believe that all is allowed, and that he can continue to destroy everything around him to satisfy the whims of a dirty, spoiled child. This scenario obviously leads to a major catastrophe: the earth will not be able to support many more of the tortures man has inflicted upon it.
Second scenario Man may see himself as mainly under the pressure of ecological problems, so economic and cultural activities may be diverted towards a leap backward into the biosphere. This is the scenario of a massive return to Nature; we will all become country goatherds and shepherds. This scenario is plausible during a timeframe of two generations, but it would require an enormous population decrease: The Earth has become too small to support and nourish five or six billion country tyros. There is no longer enough arable land on earth for each one and his family to live in natural food self-sufficiency..
Therefore, if we must go “back to nature,” it will be from the viewpoint of the movement known as “deep ecology,” which estimates that the earth can nourish and support no more than 500 million human beings. What then will become of the 4.5 billion excess population? In short, we can see that this second scenario hardly points toward bright prospects.
Third scenario Finally, let’s suppose that man takes up his challenge, assumes his mission, and recognizes his vocation. Man then becomes noetic, a pioneer of the noesphere. He escapes the sociosphere at the top, meanwhile putting himself at the service of the biosphere at the bottom. Noesis and ecology meet by propelling man to exceed himself by becoming adult and mature, creating abundant knowledge while taking little from nature. It is the end of the egocentric man-person and of anthropocentric societies. It is also the end of the primacy of politics and economics over human concerns.
This third scenario is obviously that of the noetic revolution.