I have been wanting to attend a meeting of the American Teilhard Association (ATA) for some time. I have been a member of the association for several years and enjoyed reading their newsletter and monograph series. I was also able to combine my travel to NYC for this year’s meeting with wonderful visits with dear friends and my son, which made the event all the more meaningful.
If you look at the ATA Web site, the first thing you’ll see are the words “energies of love” and the following famous quote from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin:
The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.
From “Toward the Future,” 1936, XI, 86-87
I felt those energies of love so clearly and powerfully at the meeting on that warm and sunny Saturday in mid-May. Strangers immediately became colleagues and friends as we chatted about the mystical holy man who brought us together, Teilhard. Simply thinking about it and especially writing about it now is reconnecting me with that amazing energy.
Many scholars and devotees have dedicated their lives to interpreting, understanding, and extending the writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Some of these scholars are named on the Teilhard Project site, a PBS documentary in development now. Studying Teilhard’s voluminous work can be an avocation or a vocation, however, the experiential knowledge of the energy of love is readily available to all of us. I’ll explain.
Georgetown’s John Haught gave the keynote address this year. A highlight of Haught’s talk for me was coming to a deeper understanding of Teilhard’s claim that he was a “pilgrim of the future,” a statement he made to Jean Houston. (Houston met Teilhard when she was a teenager. They took regular walks together in the City’s Central Park.) Dr. Haught explained that the future is calling all of us to be more, to strive, to evolve. “Love is a force of attraction that works through evolution,” says Haught. “It is only through the force of love that something more wonderful can be brought about.”
Haught explained that we need to go through a personal transformation to move up the hierarchy of consciousness. Think about it. For better or worse, most personal transformation comes from pain, challenges, and obstacles. One of my favorite quotes from Teilhard is: “What would we do without our enemies?” They are like sandpaper–they rub us shiny and smooth. They help free us release the baggage that holds us back.
Haught used the work of the integral theorist Alfred North Whitehead to build his argument about the “insideness of things.” I have used integral theory to develop new ideas about the news environment, our newsphere is how I describe it. Basically, integral theory explains the power of connectedness and explores our different relationships. We are always, always, in relation to ourselves, one another, and the world. We just don’t always recognize and move from that understanding. I believe Teilhard did.
Haught explained it like this: “In the synthesis of elements you will find meaning, connection with others in the future.” The world is being drawn toward unity, coherence, and intelligibility from ‘up ahead,’ according to Haught. “Only the eyes of hope can see life,” he told the ATA audience. “Life is only possible when something is trying to achieve.”
And he made it very real for all of us. “We need a vision of reality so we can get up in the morning and realize our lives matter,” says Haught. Is this the “Journey of the Universe” that the ATA promotes? I believe it is. “It makes narrative sense to look inside, look ahead, but you have to wait,” says Haught. “If the universe is a drama, you need to be patient and to wait for it to unfold.”
I can wait for the unfoldment, but not to access this wonderful energy. I am practicing connecting this way as much as I can.
We are what we think. We are what we know. We often unconsciously assimilate the stories we hear. They become what we talk about. They form our lives and evolve into our histories.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a mystic, scientist, philiospher, and priest, coined the word “noosphere” to describe the layer of thought that surrounds the earth. He died in 1955–well before today’s Internet and global computer networks. Yet he understood that what we think individually we share collectively. His prescient wisdom about the power of our communication technologies, which we are now witnessing in social media, can guide and inspire the creation of an enlightened newsphere.
Perception is the foundation of Teilhard’s cosmology, his grounding of the human experience, and the premise upon which he builds his explanation of the evolutionary process.
The newsphere places novel yet real and pressing demands on the news consumer now challenged to learn a new version of news literacy to filter the news noise polluting the world of journalism.
We need to learn to SEE news differently…as an ecology. When viewed as an ecology, news is not a product to be consumed but a conscious act to engage with and produce shared information that has value in a community. This is how cultures and societies create their histories.
Given the rise of 24/7 news cycles and smart phones, the job of the journalist has changed dramatically. “The new journalist is no longer deciding what the public should know. She is helping audiences make order out of it. This does not mean simply adding interpretation or analysis to news reporting. The first task of the new journalist/sense maker, is to verify what information is reliable and then order it so people can grasp it efficiently,” write Kovach and Rosensteil in their Elements of Journalism.
Quite simply, the public needs help sorting the truth for itself over time.
The activist, poet, and novelist Alice Walker visited Ann Arbor, Michigan recently. She told an auditorium mostly filled by young women to “be friends with the people of the world” especially when confronted with conflict. Walker, in an amazingly authentic and, of course, poetic voice, also told her audience that she believes “there is no system now in place that can change the course the earth is on.”
So where does that leave us earthlings? I believe that Walker would agree that embracing the ideas of integral theories and theorist, such as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Ken Wilbur, and Steve MacIntosh, is an ideal place to start. Ultimately, our most important relationship is with ourselves. As this basic integral theory chart shows, we are always in relation to the environment and others, but as Walker so eloquently stated and demonstrated by her own powerful and authentic life, our primary relationship is with our selves.
The newsphere is sustained by the energy of integral journalists committed to a dialogue style of news. It is composed of news consumers who keep their hearts and minds open and listen with the possibility that they might change their thinking about long-held beliefs and convictions. It is fueled by intelligent networks that work individually and collectively to keep content open and self-vetting. Never forget–it starts with us.
How to see?
“This is a fluid universe where what one is looking for determines what one sees.”
How do we do this? Exactly how do we wake up from “trance imposed on us by our senses,” as McLuhan describes media influence and fortify ourselves against Postman’s American Technopoy? We pay attention to how we see, which we will define here as perception. Indeed, when he spoke at the 2007 Convention of the Media Ecology Association in Mexico City, Eric McLuhan, Marshall’s son and co-author of Laws of Media, accurately predicted the next stage of development in the study of human communication and the media that deliver our messages: “Perception is the next frontier,” Eric said. Paying attention to how we see means better understanding the role of human perception in the communication process, which is particularly essential with the advent of digital media and social networking tools.
Studying and better understanding perception and how human beings see is of critical importance to journalists, media ecologists, and communications scholars now because the processes of perception routinely alter what humans see. According to French Phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty, when people view something with a preconceived concept about it, they tend to take those concepts and see them whether or not they are there. This problem stems from the fact that humans are unable to understand new information, without the inherent bias of their previous knowledge. A person’s knowledge creates his or her reality as much as the truth because the human mind can only contemplate that to which it has been exposed. When objects are viewed without understanding, the mind will try to reach for something that it already recognizes, in order to process what it is viewing. That which most closely relates to the unfamiliar from our past experiences, makes up what we see when we look at things that we don’t comprehend.
The perceptual bias that favors the confirmation of old knowledge over the reception and accurate processing of new information has far reaching and profound consequences for both the creation and consumption of news in the newssphere: even when exposed and confronted with facts that are indeed true, people often select and, even more devastating, distort those facts to fit existing belief systems. This behavioral and cognitive phenomenon has been termed “back fire” by political scientists at the University of Michigan. Lead researcher on a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, Brendan Nyhan explains that backfire is “a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.” http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/07/11/how_facts_backfire/
Writing in the journal Political Behavior, Nyahn and co-author Jason Reifler observe: “An extensive literature addresses citizen ignorance, but very little research focuses on misperceptions.” “The backfire effects that we found seem to provide further support for the growing literature showing that citizens engage in “motivated reasoning.” While our experiments focused on assessing the effectiveness of corrections, the results show that direct factual contradictions can actually strengthen ideologically grounded factual beliefs—an empirical finding with important theoretical implications. (p. 329) “Many citizens seem or unwilling to revise their beliefs in the face of corrective information, and attempts to correct those mistaken beliefs may only make matters worse. Determining the best way to provide corrective information will advance understanding of how citizens process information and help to strengthen democratic debate and public understanding of the political process.”
This is a powerful insight and a significant finding because it supports a simple but profound truth: despite a huge amount of factual evidence to the contrary, people will often deny the truth. Not only will they deny the truth, they will find a way to rationalize factual evidence that conflicts with their belief system and distort that evidence so it confirm their existing belief system. Nyahn and Refiler’s findings are significant because they break this process down and show how this happens on an individual level. They point the way for a closer examination of the reception and consumption of news and information in the newssphere.
We can’t wait for the right information to come to us, we need to seek it out! Journalism students are especially capable of doing this. Read–read people who have different opinions. I read Howard Dean’s book to get informed about health care. Find more neutral outlets–the BBC perhaps, and
also factcheck.org. And look at the frame you are bringing–why do you want to know why this is a bad things? Would it suffice to know the significance to you
(devoid of laudatory or negative comments?) As journalists, we have a responsibility, in my opinion, to break down the polarization of ideas in this country–
no more blue or read, no more black and white, instead, how about some purple and grey!!!
Christine M. Tracy