The Omega Point is a term coined by the French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin to denote the state of the maximum organized complexity (complexity combined with centricity), towards which the universe is evolving. For more information, see "Christogenesis".
Teilhard's universe is subdivided into matter and love, which are the tangential (rotational) and the radial (centripetal) components of the same spiral flow of fundamental psychic energy:
We shall assume that, essentially, all energy is psychic in nature; but add that in each particular element this fundamental energy is divided into two distinct components: a tangential energy which links the element with all others of the same order (that is to say, of the same complexity and the same centricity) as itself in the universe; and a radial energy which draws it towards even greater complexity and centricity—in other words forwards. <...>Driven by the forces of love, the fragments of the world seek each other so that the world may come to being. This is no metaphor; and it is much more than poetry. Whether as a force or a curvature, the universal gravity of bodies, so striking to us, is merely the reverse or shadow of that which really moves nature. To perceive cosmic energy 'at the fount' we must, if there is a within of things, go down into the internal or radial zone of spiritual attractions. Love in all its subtleties is nothing more, and nothing less, than the more or less direct trace marked on the heart of the element by the psychical convergence of the universe upon itself.
Under the centripetal attraction of cosmic love, the universe's matter undergoes involution from the state of disorganized complexity (uniformly distributed particles of matter) to the state of singularity (pure love-energy, without any particles):
Reduced to its ultimate essence, the substance of these long pages can be summed up in this simple affirmation: that if the universe, regarded sidereally, is in process of spatial expansion (from the infinitesimal to the immense), in the same way and still more clearly it presents itself to us, physicochemically, as in process of organic involution upon itself (from the extremely simple to the extremely complex)—and, moreover this particular involution 'of complexity' is experimentally bound up with a correlative increase in interiorisation, that is to say in the psyche or consciousness.
The Omega Point (the Millennium, "the end of the world as we know it") is the period immediately preceding the singularity (the end of the world proper). During the Omega Point, the universe is in the state of organized complexity, being neither uniformly distributed nor completely singular (essentially already singular, formally still complex). For the sake of simplicity, Teilhard visualizes the Omega-universe as a single spiral galaxy, whose nucleus is self-reflective (turned in upon itself) and plays the role of a conscious observer, quantum-mechanically orchestrating the rest of the "galaxy". Currently, the role of the conscious quantum-mechanical observer is played by mankind, acting as a collective Christ:
One might say that, by virtue of human reflection (both individual and collective), evolution, overflowing the physico-chemical organisation of bodies, turns back upon itself and thereby reinforces itself (see note following) with a new organising power vastly concentric to the first—the cognitive organisation of the universe. To think the world (as physics is beginning to realise) is not merely to register it but to confer upon it a form of unity it would otherwise (i.e. without being thought) be without.
Having reached the limit of its organized complexity, the collective Christ—mankind—will make a leap to a higher degree of singularity by dying and delegating all of its universe-orchestrating power to the single survivor, who will be automatically promoted to the rank of Christ personal:
The end of the world: the wholesale internal introversion upon itself of the noosphere, which has simultaneously reached the uttermost limit of its complexity and its centrality.
The end of the world: the overthrow of equilibrium, detaching the mind, fulfilled at last, from its material matrix, so that it will henceforth rest with all its weight on God-Omega.
An orchestra with multiple conductors cannot produce anything but an incoherent cacophony. When the number of the conductors becomes reduced to a single man, the orchestra shifts from cacophony to symphony, turning into the conductor's "extended body". Analogously, when the universe is quantum-mechanically orchestrated by billions of human observers, it is incoherent (objective)—every part exists by itself, obeying the principle of locality. Having become orchestrated by a single human observer (Christ personal), the universe will shed its incoherence (objectivity) and turn into the observer's "cosmic body":
Christ has a cosmic body that extends throughout the universe.
Through the incarnation, God descended into nature in order to super-animate and take it back to him.
- —Chardin, Pierre Teilhard de ♦ Cosmic Life 1916
- —Chardin, Pierre Teilhard de ♦ Mysticism of Science 1939
Five attributes of the Omega Point
Teilhard de Chardin's The Phenomenon of Man states that the Omega Point must possess the following five attributes. It is:
- Already existing. Only thus can the rise of the universe towards higher stages of consciousness be explained.
- Personal – an intellectual being and not an abstract idea or a human collective. The increasing complexity of matter has not only led to higher forms of consciousness, but accordingly to more personalization, of which human beings are the highest attained form in the known universe. They are completely individualized, free centers of operation. It is in this way that man is said to be made in the image of God, who is the highest form of personality. Teilhard expressly stated that in the Omega Point, when the universe becomes One, human persons will not be suppressed, but super-personalized. Personality will be infinitely enriched. This is because the Omega Point unites creation, and the more it unites, the increasing complexity of the universe aids in higher levels of consciousness. Thus, as God creates, the universe evolves towards higher forms of complexity, consciousness, and finally with humans, personality, because God, who is drawing the universe towards Him, is a person.
- Transcendent. The Omega Point cannot be the result of the universe's final complex stage of itself on consciousness. Instead, the Omega Point must exist even before the universe's evolution, because the Omega Point is responsible for the rise of the universe towards more complexity, consciousness and personality. Which essentially means that the Omega Point is outside the framework in which the universe rises, because it is by the attraction of the Omega Point that the universe evolves towards Him.
- Autonomous. That is, free from the limitations of space (nonlocality) and time (atemporality).
- Irreversible. That is attainable and imperative; it must happen and cannot be undone.
Technological singularity as a rival concept
Transhumanists argue that the accelerating technological progress inherent in the Law of Accelerating Returns will, in the relatively near future, lead to what Vernor Vinge called atechnological singularity or "prediction wall". They believe we will soon enter a time in which we must eventually make the transition to a "runaway positive feedback loop" in high-level autonomous machine computation. A result will be that our technological and computational tools eventually completely surpass human capacities. Some transhumanist writings refer to this moment as the Omega Point, paying homage to Teilhard's prior use of the term, though Teilhard himself denounces the belief in a collective technological singularity as a form of cowardice. He foresees that at the approaches to the Omega Point, mankind will, for the last time, become split over the concept of its final state. Being afraid of "crossing the threshold", the majority of people will erroneously imagine the final state as a collective technological singularity within the framework of the current physical laws. A tiny minority will remain loyal to the idea of a supernatural singularity in Christ, "transcending the dimensions and the framework of the visible universe":
Enormous powers will be liberated in mankind by the inner play of its cohesion: though it may be that this energy will still be employed discordantly tomorrow, as today and in the past. Are we to foresee a mechanising synergy under brute force, or a synergy of sympathy? Are we to foresee man seeking to fulfil himself collectively upon himself, or personally on a greater than himself? Refusal or acceptance of Omega? A conflict may supervene. In that case the noosphere, in the course of and by virtue of the process which draws it together, will, when it has reached its point of unification, split into two zones each attracted to an opposite pole of adoration. Thought has never completely united upon itself here below. Universal love would only vivify and detach finally a fraction of the noosphere so as to consummate it—the part which decided to ‘cross the threshold’, to get outside itself into the other. Ramification once again, for the last time. <...>
The death of the materially exhausted planet; the split of the noosphere, divided on the form to be given to its unity; and simultaneously (endowing the event with all its significance and with all its value) the liberation of that percentage of the universe which, across time, space and evil, will have succeeded in laboriously synthesising itself to the very end. Not an indefinite progress, which is an hypothesis contradicted by the convergent nature of noogenesis, but an ecstasy transcending the dimensions and the framework of the visible universe. <...>The idea is that of noogenesis ascending irreversibly towards Omega through the strictly limited cycle of a geogenesis. At a given moment in the future, under some influence exerted by one or the other of these curves or of both together, it is inevitable that the two branches should separate. However convergent it be, evolution cannot attain to fulfilment on earth except through a point of dissociation. With this we are introduced to a fantastic and inevitable event which now begins to take shape in our perspective, the event which comes nearer with every day that passes: the end of all life on our globe, the death of the planet, the ultimate phase of the phenomenon of man.
Science fiction literature
- In Dan Simmons's Hyperion Cantos, the Omega Point is used extensively. The Catholic priest character Father Hoyt/Duré who is introduced to the story frame as one of the pilgrims in the first two volumes of the tetralogy (Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion) eventually becomes Pope Teilhard I.
- In the first part of Poul Anderson's novel Harvest of Stars, North America is ruled by the Avantists, an oppressive pseudo-religious regime that draws its justification from a commitment to take humanity to what they call the Omega Point. It uses the Greek infinity symbol as a logo, and it is deemed politically correct to greet each other with "alpha", to which the reply is "omega". However, since the Avantist Advisory Synod believes in social engineering and technical progress as the means to advance humanity, its teachings are in fact transhumanist.
- In Tomorrow and Tomorrow, a novel by Charles Sheffield, the main character Drake Merlin is on a quest to cure his dying wife. He has her frozen and then freezes himself in the hope that the future holds the cure. Eventually, he finds that the only hope to having her back is to wait out the aeons until the Omega Point, at which time she will again be accessible.
- George Zebrowski wrote a trilogy of space opera novellas, collectively called The Omega Point Trilogy and published as a single volume in 1983. The name appears to be a coincidence; it predates Tipler by many years and does not involve any of the Omega Point ideas listed above.
- In Peter F. Hamilton's Night's Dawn Trilogy, the Omega Point is a repository for the souls of the dead of all sentient species in the Universe. It is implied that this is also the point to which the universe will eventually collapse.
- Humayun Ahmed's novel Omega Point (2000) concerns multiverses, a developing theory of time and a manifestation of the Omega Point that interferes with history to allow the theory to reach fruition.
- Stephen Baxter writes about the Omega Point in many books including Manifold: Time and Timelike Infinity.
- Julian May's Galactic Milieu Series draws heavily for both plot and background on the concepts of Teilhard de Chardin's Omega point theories.
- ^ Chardin, Pierre Teilhard de ♦ The Phenomenon of Man "... the 'galaxy' of living forms constitutes (as posited in these pages) a vast 'orthogenetic' movement of involution on an ever-greater complexity and consciousness."
- ^ Kurzweil, Raymond ♦ The singularity is near 2005, p. 41 ♦ "In another positive-feedback loop, the more effective a particular evolutionary process becomes—for example, the higher the capacity and cost-effectiveness that computation attains—the greater the amount of resources that are deployed toward the further progress of that process. This results in a second level of exponential growth; that is, the rate of exponential growth—the exponent—itself grows exponentially."
- Chardin, Pierre Teilhard de ♦ The Phenomenon of Man Scanned book in the Internet Archive
- Chardin, Pierre Teilhard de ♦ The Phenomenon of Man An HTML version of the book (without illustrations)
- Human Evolution Research Institute
- Princeton Noosphere project cites Teilhard de Chardin
- Teilhard de Chardin on evolution
- Computer history's stride towards an expected Omega Point by Jürgen Schmidhuber, from "The New AI: General & Sound & Relevant for Physics, In B. Goertzel and C. Pennachin, eds.: Artificial General Intelligence, p. 175-198, 2006."
- Omega Point Theory - Christchurch, New Zealand
- Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence