Toward Homo Noeticus

October 3, 2021
John White

Enjoy this excerpt from the introduction to author John White’s current work in progress, Enlightenment 101: A Guide to God-Realization and Higher Human Culture.

In 1972 I joined with Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell to study the human mind and apply our findings to planetary problems. The research organization he founded the following year was called the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS). Noetics means the study of consciousness.

I suggested that word for the Institute’s name at one of our planning sessions. I had adopted use of it from Dr. Charles Musés, editor of Journal for the Study of Consciousness (funded by Arthur M. Young, author of The Reflexive Universe), who in turn adopted it from Plato and William James, where its root form, nous, means “higher mind” or “ultimate mind.” Musés (1919-2000) had been using the word since 1967 to denote scientific investigation of a wide range of phenomena and issues involving human awareness. In his 1972 book Consciousness and Reality, Musés defined noetics as “the science of the study of consciousness and its alterations.” In 1978, the late Dr. Willis Harman, then president of IONS, elaborated: “the noetic sciences are…the esoteric core of all the world’s religions, East and West, ancient and modern, becoming exoteric”— i.e., “going public.” He added, “A noetic science — a science of consciousness and the world of inner experience — is the most promising contemporary framework within which to carry on that fundamental moral inquiry which stable human societies have always had to place at the center of their concerns.”

I created the term Homo noeticus in 1973, shortly after we organized IONS, to designate a more advanced form of humanity which I saw emerging around the planet, characterized primarily by a higher state of consciousness, a state beyond egocentric consciousness. As Canadian psychiatrist Richard M. Bucke put it so powerfully in his seminal 1901 book Cosmic Consciousness, “when we are in tune with a consciousness of the cosmos, we become members of a new species.” 1

I also understood myself to be a member of that emergent species. However, I had not always been such. Moreover, I saw the process of higher human development as essentially open to the entire race, democratically available to all people and intended so by God. Awakening to that potential for self-directed growth in body, mind and spirit to a higher state of being was, I believed (and still do), the true and permanent solution to the many worldwide problems which we sought to address at IONS — problems collectively called the human condition. Acutely, palpably, I felt destiny working in me and all humanity, impelled by the awesome divine intelligence which had created the cosmos and everything in it. I therefore began communicating that understanding in order to help awaken my human family to its future. Homo noeticus seemed a useful term to convey that message. The message can be stated simply: the human potential can change the human condition.

Since then, the term Homo noeticus has been adopted approvingly by some. It has also been criticized as imprecise and unscientific by some, and as a poetic fantasy by others. I acknowledge that the term is scientifically imprecise. I am not a scientist — only a student of science. Nor am I a poet, although I appreciate the poet’s sensibilities and vision. However, as I intended it, the term Homo noeticus is both quasi-scientific and quasi-poetic. It denotes a concept yet to be proven true, for which only time will tell; as such, one could say it is an untestable hypothesis and therefore not scientific. However, it also conveys an appealing image of the ideal future such as poets have offered, which may prove self-fulfilling; as such, one could say the term is useful and valuable because it points to the fact that vision is higher than reason in the ranking order of human faculties and can galvanize our attention into action where mere facts cannot.

There is a close relationship between poetics and noetics, as demonstrated in the work of visionary poet-authors such as Shakespeare, William Blake, Walt Whitman, James Joyce, T. S. Eliot and many others — including some outside the British-American tradition — who wrote what I call liberation literature. This book will describe more clearly what I mean by the concept of Homo noeticus and how it applies to the world of human experience, both ordinary and extraordinary. To do that, I’ve written over a dozen essays and notes especially for this book, and drawn them together with essays, articles, lectures, letters and interviews I’d previously written or delivered, mostly since my last book, The Meeting of Science and Spirit, published in 1990. In that book, I made the following argument.

The Next Stage of Human Evolution

The primary method for studying consciousness is going within oneself through introspection, contemplation, prayer, meditation and other psychotechnologies to discover Ultimate Reality. The “experts” in that, the ones who have done it, the models I have in mind when describing the features of the coming race are men and women recognized throughout history as enlightened sages and adepts, such as Jesus, Buddha, Krishna and others mentioned throughout this book. They are the awakened ones — awakened to Ultimate Reality. In fact, in the model of human consciousness which I present here, they represent a stage of evolution beyond Homo noeticus, which I call Homo magnus.

For now, it is important to understand that I see Homo noeticus as the next stage of human evolution, precisely as Cro-Magnon superseded Neanderthal. That evolutionary advance didn’t happen overnight. It took many generations. It was an event which anthropologists demark and delineate rather than date precisely because the end of one race and the beginning of the next overlapped, sharing common ground. Apparently a few mutant Neanderthals recognized themselves as “different” and sought out like-minded individuals with whom they shared their lives. From an anthropological perspective, we can say they speciated and became Cro-Magnon. They thrived and grew in numbers, crowding out, through various means, the Neanderthals from whom they sprang, eventually bringing forth fully modern man, Homo sapiens sapiens.

That is also the situation today, as I see it, but with this critical difference: the evolutionary process is accelerating rapidly. Homo noeticus may speciate far more quickly than Cro-Magnon because, first, science, technology and communications are now affecting human evolution, allowing greater control and range of choice, greater freedom from natural forces affecting the process, and because, second, we have the power to choose our future and we are aware of that power to choose. The essence of freedom is having a choice, and the desire for freedom is now consciously attracting us, calling us to choose what is necessary to attain it. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama put it in his Foreword to Mystics, Masters, Saints, and Sages:

We often think that the enlightened ones are somehow special, different from us, with a state of mind that is unattainable to an ordinary person. And yet, each human being has an equal opportunity to attain wisdom, happiness, and enlightenment by cultivating a correct motivation—a sincere aspiration to benefit all sentient beings—and engaging in diligent practice.

About the Author

John WhiteJohn White, M.A.T., is an internationally known author, educator and lecturer in the fields of consciousness research and higher human development. He has held positions as Director of Education for the Institute of Noetic Sciences and as President of Alpha Logics, a Connecticut school for self-directed growth in body, mind and spirit.

He is author of America, Freedom and Enlightenment; The Meeting of Science and Spirit; Pole Shift; A Practical Guide to Death and Dying; The Gulf of Tonkin Events—Fifty Years Later; and two children’s books. He has also edited nearly a dozen anthologies, including Frontiers of Consciousness; Psychic Exploration; and What Is Enlightenment?.

His writing has appeared in magazines and newspapers around the world, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Reader’s Digest, Omni, Esquire and Woman’s Day, and his books have been translated into 10 languages. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College and a master of arts degree in teaching from Yale University. He has taught English and journalism on the secondary and college levels, and has served on the governing and consulting boards of various academic and research organizations. He has also served on the editorial boards of various scholarly and popular publications. He has lectured at various colleges and universities throughout the U.S. and Canada, and has made numerous radio and television appearances.


1 Here is a more extended statement by Bucke, given in the “Opening Words” section: The prime characteristic of cosmic consciousness is, as its name implies, a consciousness of the cosmos, that is, of the life and order of the universe … Along with the consciousness of the cosmos there occurs an intellectual enlightenment or illumination which alone would place the individual on a new plane of existence — would make him almost a member of a new species. To this is added a state of moral exaltation, an indescribable feeling of elevation, elation and joyousness, and a quickening of the moral sense, which is fully as striking and more important both to the individual and to the race than is the enhanced intellectual power. With these come, what may be called, a sense of immortality, a consciousness of eternal life, not a conviction that he shall have this, but the consciousness that he has it already.

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