Nous, Noology, and the Noosphere

By Maeve Maddox

My introduction to nous to mean “common sense” came from my reading of the Inspector Morse mystery novels by Colin Dexter. Morse frequently tells his long-suffering sergeant, Robbie Lewis, to use his:

Morse interrupted him. “Christ man, you’re not in apron strings. Use your nous!’”

Nous comes from ancient Greek philosophy in which it is the word for mind. It entered English with the meanings “mind, intellect, intelligence,” and “intuitive apprehension.”

British speakers use nous colloquially to mean “common sense, practical intelligence, or gumption.” Some speakers make it rhyme with house; others with noose.

Also deriving from the Greek word for mind are the words noology and noosphere:

noology noun: the branch of learning that deals with the mind or thinking; the study of the spiritual or distinctively human aspects of humanity.

noosphere noun: the part of the biosphere occupied by thinking humanity; (with reference to the writing of P. Teilhard de Chardin) a stage or sphere of evolutionary development characterized by (the emergence or dominance of) consciousness, the mind, and interpersonal relationships, postulated as following the stage of the establishment of human life.

Since the 1940s, these words have been gaining popularity in discussions of cybernetics.

We swim in imagination and bring the noosphere alive with collective consciousness. Wired, 1996.

This paper also introduces Noology, which is the study of the intellect and intellectual phenomena and explains how Noosphere is connected with Cyberspace.—Abstract of a paper titled Application of Cybernetics in Cyber Criminology.

Some people are going beyond the interaction between the noosphere and the physical world and see a link between the Internet and the noosphere.—Waking Times, a news blog.

Princeton University’s Global Consciousness Project measures changes in global human consciousness. When random number generators indicate that some great event has “[synchronized] the feelings of millions of people,” the researchers “calculate one in a trillion odds that the effect is due to chance.” According to the project’s website, “the evidence suggests an emerging noosphere or the unifying field of consciousness described by sages in all cultures.”

There can be no question that human interaction with computers is affecting the way people think and behave, not necessarily in a desirable way. Computer scientist Jaron Lanier sounds a warning against the consequences of a Web culture dominated by advertising and aimed at imposing conformity in his book You Are Not a Gadget, Knopf, 2010 (paperback, 2011).

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2 Responses to “Nous, Noology, and the Noosphere”

  • venqax

    I remember the first time I encountered the term “noological” when I was in college and I had no idea what it meant. When I looked it up in the reference I had (can’t remember what it was, probably something like MW or something– no google at the time) there was nothing. It actually bothered me to some degree, and I can’t remember where I finally found it. With a bit of a stretch I might say I had a distinctly noological problem. It was a search for meaning, after all, and I don’t recall either of my non-human companions at the time (both canine) being at all interested in issue. But then again, neither were my human ones. Maybe my question was heminoological.

  • Andy Knoedler

    Whereas Morse might have urged Lewis to use his nous, my British father-in-law told me to use my loaf to solve a problem. Despite knowing Latin and Greek and being a man of the cloth to boot, Ken was able to employ some rhyming slang to good effect from time to time.

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