Jun. 15, 2018

Greek Goddess of Earth

Lovelock put forth the Gaia Hypothesis in the 1960s. It states that the living matter and systems on the earth collectively define and regulate the environmental conditions necessary for the continuance of life. Planet earth, or rather the biosphere, is thus likened to a vast self-regulating, living organism.

Homeodynamics, keeping an optimal balance, is the system’s goal and is seen in global temperature, atmospheric content, ocean salinity, and all the cycles (water, nitrogen, oxygen/carbon dioxide, phosphorous, etc.) that nurture life on the planet. Mary Midgley claims that personifying the earth means that it is not just a miscellaneous heap of resources but a self-maintaining system which acts as a whole. Life maintains systems suitable for its survival. And these systems are dependent on bacteria, protozoans, and plants to sustain this dynamic living and emergent entity. 

As one example, cloud formation over the open ocean is almost entirely a function of the metabolism of oceanic algae that emit a large sulfur molecule (as a waste gas) that becomes the condensation nuclei for raindrops. Previously, it was thought that cloud formation over the ocean was a purely chemical/physical phenomenon. The cloud formation not only helps regulate Earth’s temperature, it is an important mechanism by which sulfur is returned to terrestrial ecosystems. http://www.gaiatheory.org/overview/

The Gaia Hypothesis has not been well accepted by the scientific community that still views nature from a static, mechanistic, reductive paradigm. The personification of Gaia points our awareness to a place the reductive mind cannot reach. The Gaia theory undermines the entire foundations of Western science, including the emotive distancing that is inherent in all fields of science. 

Gould criticized Gaia as being "a metaphor, not a mechanism." He wanted to know the actual mechanisms by which self-regulating homeostasis was achieved. In his defense of Gaia, David Abram argues that Gould overlooked the fact that "mechanism", itself, is a metaphor— one which leads us to consider natural and living systems as though they were machines organized and built from outside (rather than as autopoietic or self-organizing phenomena). Mechanical metaphors, according to Abram, lead us to overlook the active or agential quality of living entities, while the organismic metaphorics of the Gaia hypothesis accentuate the active agency of both the biota and the biosphere as a whole. From a mythic standpoint it makes sense to think of the earth as being alive and humans as part of that life.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaia_hypothesis

Evolution is not a series of adaptations to inanimate events, but a system of feedbacks, an exchange. Life has not simply molded itself to the shifting contours of a dynamic Earth. Rather, life and Earth have shaped each other as they’ve co-evolved. http://nautil.us/blog/its-time-to-take-the-gaia-hypothesis-seriously

The Gaia hypothesis is good science, interpreting ecology through complex relationships and a great metaphor for the web of life that reflects those relationships. Seeing the planet as animated with life changes perspectives. The Gaia Paradigm can enable a smooth transition between today’s destructive perspectives and practices and those by which we can live well within the natural limits of our world. We need something to inspire us between two ways of being. Gaia Paradigm can be the catalyst to break us free from rigid thinking of the earth as dead matter to be exploited versus discovering ways to thrive as a cooperating community member of our living planet.