Emergent Stories: Early Ideas of the Posthuman in Science and Popular Science

Although early ideas about the evolution of man – following the publication of Darwin’s theory of evolution – were not dealing specifically with the human evolutionary future, posthuman concepts are already to be traced in key biological works of the earlier twentieth century. Julian Huxley, for instance, proposed that man would take on the role as evolution’s caretaker, and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin imagined a teleological development toward a unified spiritual sphere, the so-called noosphere (Chardin; Huxley).

This project investigates how early posthuman ideas were represented in works on biology and how they were transferred into a broader popular scientific cultural context. More specifically, the project traces the concept of emergence as a key to analyse bio-cultural narratives in science and popular science since the late 19th century, from popular journals to visual culture and newsreels (Merrell). Shifting the primary units of evolution to larger collectives, this concept has important forerunners in analyses of group dynamics in culture (le Bon). Regarding human enhancement, a first and problematic use of collective interventions is the widespread eugenic procedures up until the 1960s. Teilhard’s idea of the collective noosphere (1922) as something rising spontaneously in culture is more in tune with biological ideas of emergence, and thus forms a sounder basis for a posthuman grand narrative (Reid).