For more than 3.5 billion years, the biosphere has been a continuous, highly active component of the Earth, interlinked with lithosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere. As an emergent system, it modulates Earth surface conditions, its evolution over time including major innovations such as photosynthesis and the emergence of animals. The biosphere has now budded off another global ‘sphere’, the technosphere, a technology-based system on which humans now depend.
In one view technosphere is less a conscious construct than an emergent system which humans no longer fully control, with dynamics partly modulated by human actions and needs, and partly by the serendipitous emergence and spread of system-altering components such as computers. The technosphere – like the biosphere a means to collect, transform and store energy and matter – evolves to maintain itself and appropriate more of the Earth’s surface and materials.
Alternatively the technosphere may be viewed as a socio-epistemic, i.e. knowledge-based, system, embodying a fundamental dilemma: individual actions are controlled by thought, while collective actions are controlled by institutions that contain shared knowledge, but cannot think, while participating individuals do not necessarily realize the consequences of collective action. This, and the limited coevolutionary dynamics of its epistemic component, lies at the root of the uncontrollability of the technosphere. Collective actions can reach global scale, affecting human survival, with knowledge production still determined locally. Yet, Enlightenment-style ideas may survive, perhaps sufficient to ensure human survival.
In this seminar, we considered the biosphere and technosphere, technological and scientific progress in terms of coevolutionary dynamics, the cognitive, material, and social dimensions of knowledge, and the major steps of socio-epistemic evolution in human history.
Listen to the Resumee Session on the Seminar “Technosphere/Co-Evolution”.
See also the case study on “Technosphere /Co-Evolution” presented during the opening weekend of the Campus by Jürgen Renn and Manfred Laubichler.