The Omega Point
What does Don DeLillo share with Marilyn Manson and Dilbert?
Answer: An interest in the omega point, a theory developed by the French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in his book The Phenomenon of Man, which was written in 1938 but was so contested by the Catholic church that it wasn't published until just after his death in 1955.
Teilhard was both a Jesuit priest and a paleontologist, so right there you can begin to sense the tensions within his work. He applied the theory of evolution to a larger understanding of the forward momentum, the perfectability of the cosmos, and The Phenomenon of Man sought to account for the central role of human consciousness in the accomplishment of spiritual transcendence.
Drawing from his awe at the vastness in time and space from which human consciousness has arisen, Teilhard projected a future point toward which we are aimed. This he named the omega point, the point at which the stunning complexity and self-referentiality of human knowledge will become unified. If evolution is, as he writes, "an ascent towards consciousness," then
"must not that consciousness, if it is to be supreme, contain in the highest degree what is the perfection of our consciousness - the illuminating involution of the being upon itself? It would manifestly be an error to extend the curve of hominsation in the direction of a state of diffusion. It is only by hyper-reflection - that is to say hyper-personalisation - that thought can extrapolate itself."
Teilhard did not insist on identifying this omega point, this "mysterious centre of our centres," as God, but his theory is meant to be fully compatible with Catholic teachings.
Richard Elster, the protagonist of Point Omega, has his own take on the omega point, and it has nothing to do with God. He starts off familiarly enough: "Consciousness accumulates. It begins to reflect upon itself. Something about this feels almost mathematical to me. There's almost some law of mathematics or physics that we haven't quite hit upon, where the mind transcends all direction inward. The omega point." But then his theory takes a turn toward the peculiar: "Because now comes the introversion. Father Teilhard knew this, the omega point. A leap out of biology. Ask yourself this question. Do we have to be human forever? Consciousness is exhausted. Back now to inorganic matter. This is what we want. We want to be stones in a field."
This article was originally published in February 2010, and has been updated for the
December 2010 paperback release.
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