The GAIA Hypothesis

Articles on what it is, who formulated it and further discussion.


The GAIA Hypothesis, most simply expressed is that: “The Earth is Alive”. The Gaia Hypothesis conjectures that our planet functions as a single organism that maintains conditions (not unlike homeostasis in humans) necessary for its survival. Formulated by James Lovelock in the mid-1960s and published in a book in 1979, this controversial idea has spawned several interesting ideas and many new areas of research. While this hypothesis is by no means substantiated, it provides much to ponder about the symbiosis of physical, chemical, geological, and biological processes on Earth. In short, it is a very pretty hypothesis.

One thing making the theory pretty is that it seemingly forces a conjunction to occur between what I will call the spiritual and the scientific belief systems. These belief systems have evolved for centuries in a sort of détente, with an unspoken agreement to be non-antagonist to each other (unless one went too far, like Galeleo). On the spiritual side is the concept of Mother Earth that we have all heard, simply because it has been very much a part of human culture (part of our brief existence as a species) in myriad forms. The concept was central to the religion of Native Americans and is prominent in Hinduism as the goddess Kali. It is perhaps the ancient Greeks who had the best metaphor. They named their Earth goddess Ge or Gaia. An embodiment of the notion of a Mothering Earth, the source of the living and non-living entities that make up the Earth. Both Kali and Gaia was gentle, feminine and nurturing, but also ruthlessly cruel to any who crossed her. Gaia was the Greek goddess who drew the living world forth from Chaos. The prefix “ge” in the words geology and geography is taken from the Greek root for Earth. I believe it is fair to say that the concept of Mother Earth has been omnipresent and ubiquitous in human history, and anything but “new age”.  cont’d at the link


Gaia Theory: Is It Science Yet?

James Lovelock’s “Gaia hypothesis” has challenged conventional thinking about the nature of the earth as an integrated system. Gaia proposes that the earth acts like a living organism — that life is part of a self-regulating system, manipulating the physical and chemical environment to maintain the planet as a suitable home for life itself. Lovelock has developed this idea in a series of books, from “Gaia: A new look at life on earth” (1979) through to “Revenge of Gaia” (2006) and “The Vanishing Face of Gaia” (2009). He argues that as changes in the physical earth system occur, living systems respond so as to mitigate such changes.

How can a planet be alive?

In claiming that Gaia is “lifelike”, Lovelock notes the difficulty of defining life. He points out that a biological emphasis on (potential for) reproduction would, for example, exclude postmenopausal women. On the other hand, a physical emphasis on entropy reduction would include refrigerators. This leads Lovelock to emphasise physiological self-regulation as the defining characteristic of life-like systems – networks of interacting processes serve to regulate each other to preserve the functioning of the organism

In discussing the concept of Gaia, Lovelock now distinguishes:

Gaia hypothesis: the original version — the Earth’s organisms regulate the physical and chemical components of the earth system so as to maintain the planet as an optimal habitat for life.

Gaia theory: the revision in response to critics — the combined physical, chemical and biological components of the earth system regulate the planet so as to maintain it as a habitat for life.

Various analyses have tried to distinguish between “weak” and “strong” Gaia, with weak Gaia differing little from conventional earth system science.

But isn’t Gaia for hippies?

The name Gaia has been widely used as a metaphor, as well co-opted for a large amount of pseudo-scientific baggage. This does not invalidate any underlying science any more than the majority of physics is invalidated by similar appropriation of terms such as “relativity”, “crystals”, “force fields” etc.

After stripping away such baggage, one has to confront the question: is what Lovelock is saying science and mysticism? While Lovelock has used the term “geophysiology” to avoid some of the mystical associations, he notes that all that has been achieved is that the term geophysiology now carries the same suspicion as the name Gaia.

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