Tim Morton makes the useful point that E/Z’s notion of the “noosphere”

can only be functional if it discriminates between some kinds of thing such as cognizing with neurons versus other kinds of thing such as cognizing with plant hormones, or resting on a table, or spanning a river.

But these discriminations shouldn’t just be imported wholesale into the system: that’s just smuggling pre-given contraband into your philosophical view. Otherwise the system just can’t account for the very things it is trying to integrate: all knowable things.

Ken Wilber goes to some lengths to defend his view of a hierarchy of interiority — from the most basic prehension through to consciousness and so on — but his argument need not be treated as a fait accompli. There are very different ways of grasping things (prehending), and some entities’ (Whiteheadian “societies”) ways are more complex than others — more layered, internally self-reflexive, and so on.

Human ways — using complex imagery and language — are one set of complex prehensive/interpretive/modeling tools, but there might be other kinds that we cannot even imagine. What does certain whales’ capacity to send and receive vocalizations over hundreds of miles do for their sense of the oceanic world and of themselves? E/Z refer to such things now and again — their awareness of the growing field of animal cognition and animal culture studies is gratifying (they even propose the terms “zooethnology,” “zoopology,” and “bioethnography” for the growing field). But I suspect that we’re barely even equipped to hypothesize about whale noesis, let alone Armillarial noesis.

I prefer to think of the ‘noetic’ (noos, noosphere) as essentially the same as the ‘mental’, and I think that a consistent Whiteheadian (and Peircian and Batesonian) approach would be to acknowledge that noesis is everywhere: a noosphere, or a mental ecology (pace Guattari), would build up wherever noesis is shared, with bubbles of it proliferating everywhere like life in those hydrothermal vents at the ocean bottom (one of which is pictured above).

It’s conceivable that such a sphere could become more or less coextensive with something akin to a civilization, a communicative system that would be territorialized over a broad expanse of physical space (a continent, a planet, etc.). But this doesn’t mean there’s any inherent developmental trajectory that goes from ‘ethnocentrism’ to ‘worldcentrism’ to ‘planetcentrism.’

I would argue that ‘ethnos,’ ‘world,’ and ‘planet’ are simply three different ways of demarcating a world, a cosmos. All self-maintaining entities do that — all prehend and, in one way or another, model their environments. The sharing of such models, and therefore the building of a ‘worldspace,’ is facilitated by translation devices — such as the conjugal plasmids or transposons that facilitate bacterial horizontal gene transfer, or languages and books, or sea walls echoing whalesong back to other whales. (Translation devices are simply things that are turned to use as translation devices, extending communication further than it had gone without that use.)

So I agree with Wilber and E/Z that there is complexity generated through the emergence of structural and formal relations between things. The layeredness and enfoldedness of those relations could be taken as a gauge of what Wilber calls “depth” (which I prefer to “height”; I also like “thickness”). But, like Tim, I think we need to be careful in positing any clear demarcations between “the” physiosphere, “the” biosphere, and “the” noosphere.

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