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A Sourcebook for the Worldwide Discovery of a Creative Organic Universe
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VI. Earth Life Emergence: Development of Body, Brain, Selves and Societies

9. Gaia Alive: A Bio-Ecosphere Sustains Itself

Dyke, James, et al. Towards Understanding how Surface Life can Affect Interior Geological Processes: A Non-equilibrium Thermodynamics Approach. Earth System Dynamics. 2/139, 2011. In this open access journal of the European Geosciences Union, a pithy paper from coauthor Axel Kleidon’s Biospheric Theory and Modelling group at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry. In such regard, the influences of “biotic activity, geochemical cycling, oceanic crust cycling, mantle convection and temperature gradients” are found to extend deep into the earth’s interior. Life is thus much more than a surface, crustal film, by extension the whole organic sphere becomes as a living entity.

Earth System Dynamics is an international scientific journal dedicated to the publication and public discussion of studies that take an interdisciplinary perspective of the functioning of the whole Earth system and global change. The overall behavior of the Earth system is strongly shaped by the interactions among its various component systems, such as the atmosphere, cryosphere, hydrosphere, oceans, pedosphere, lithosphere, and the inner Earth, but also by life and human activity. ESD solicits contributions that investigate these various interactions and the underlying mechanisms, ways how these can be conceptualized, modelled, and quantified, predictions of the overall system behavior to global changes, and the impacts for its habitability, humanity, and future Earth system management by human decision making.

Eriksson, P. G., et al, eds. The Precambrian Earth. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2004. Over 50 papers contribute to the quantified reconstruction by humankind of the state of the planet some 500 – 600 million years ago from its shifting tectonic mantle to volcanos, its Archean atmosphere and biogeology such as stromatolites.

Ernst, W. G., ed. Earth Systems: Processes and Issues. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. A comprehensive survey of earth systems science in its nested geological and atmospheric domains along with social policy implications.

Free, Andrew and Nicholas Barton. Do Evolution and Ecology Need the Gaia Hypothesis. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. 22/11, 2007. University of Edinburgh ecologists consider variations of this theory of biosphere self-regulation, and how it might well intersect with mainstream biological thinking. They opt for a ‘Homeostatic Gaia’ whereof feedback interactions between life and the environment are generally stabilizing and maintain planetary conditions within a range habitable for life over geological time. One might add that in this latter day of global warming, maybe a fever, a somatic earth is trying to achieve a comparable 98.6 F stabilization, this time we ought to realize by intentionally monitored human maintenance.

Harding, Stephen. Animate Earth. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2006. An ecologist at Schumacher College attempts to correct centuries of misconception about the nature of our abiding biosphere. Rather than an inorganic spheroid to which life vicariously clings, the mainstream view, we ought to revive and avail ourselves of an ancient and indigenous wisdom to rightly perceive its living essence. Our human role in service to this Gaia would be to intentionally, mindfully sustain its physiology and well being. Lynn Margulis strongly endorses in a foreword statement.

Hermida, Margarida. Life on Earth is an Individual. Theory in Biosciences. Online February, 2016. An Interdisciplinary Centre of Marine and Environmental Research of Madeira biologist considers several definitions of what constitutes an organism and a specie,s such as by David Hull and Ernst Mayr, namely a spatio-temporally localized, cohesive, and continuous entity to the fullness of biospheric being and becoming. By this 21st century vista, Earth life appears as a single individual organic entity.

Life is a self-maintaining process based on metabolism. Something is said to be alive when it exhibits organization and is actively involved in its own continued existence through carrying out metabolic processes. A life is a spatio-temporally restricted event, which continues while the life processes are occurring in a particular chunk of matter (or, arguably, when they are temporally suspended, but can be restarted at any moment), even though there is continuous replacement of parts. Life is organized in discrete packages, particular cells and multicellular organisms with differing degrees of individuality. Biological species, too, have been shown to be individuals, and not classes, as these collections of organisms are spatio-temporally localized, restricted, continuous, and somewhat cohesive entities, with a definite beginning and end. Assuming that all life on Earth has a common origin, all living organisms, cells, and tissues descending from this origin exhibit continuity of the life processes at the cellular level, as well as many of the features that define the individual character of species: spatio-temporal localization and restriction, continuity, historicity, and cohesiveness. Therefore, life on Earth is an ontological individual. (Abstract)

Herrmann-Pillath, Carsten. Revisiting the Gaia Hypothesis: Maximum Entropy, Kauffman’s ‘Fourth Law’ and Physiosemeiosis. http://arxiv.org/abs/1102.3338. In this extensive 2011 paper and bibliography, a senior Frankfurt School of Finance & Management specialist in evolutionary economics proposes that the main driver of earth’s viable lifesphere is an “accumulation of semantic information” as contained in biostructures. This “physiosemeiotic” view is braced by a Peircean philosophy and Kauffman’s self-organizing order. We excerpt the long Abstract for its argument. Please note an affinity with Freeman Dyson’s 2011 comment, search herein.

Recently, (Axel) Kleidon suggested a restatement of the Gaia hypothesis based on Maximum Entropy approaches to the Earth system. Refuting conceptions of Gaia as a homeostatic system, Gaia is seen as a non-equilibrium thermodynamic system which continuously moves away from equilibrium, driven by maximum entropy production which materializes in hierarchically coupled mechanisms of energetic flows via dissipation and physical work. I propose to relate this view with Kauffman’s ‘Fourth Law of Thermodynamics’, which I interpret as a proposition about the accumulation of information in evolutionary processes. I offer a twofold specification of Kauffman’s concept of an ‘autonomous agent’, one as a ‘self-referential heat engine’, and the other in terms of physiosemeiosis, which is a naturalized application of Peirce’s theory of signs emerging from recent biosemiotic research. I argue that the conjunction of these three theoretical sources, Maximum Entropy, Kauffman’s Fourth Law, and physiosemeiosis, allows to show that the Kleidon restatement of the Gaia hypothesis is equivalent to the proposition that the biosphere is a system of generating, processing and storing information, thus directly treating information as a physical phenomenon. In this view, there is a fundamental ontological continuity between the biological processes and the human economy, as both are seen as information processing and entropy producing systems. As with other previous transitions in evolution, the human economy leverages the mechanisms by which Gaia moves further away from equilibrium. This implies that information and natural resources or energy are not substitutes, i.e. the knowledge economy continues to build on the same physical principles as the biosphere, with energy and information being two aspects of the same underlying physical process.

Huggett, R. J. Ecosphere, Biosphere, or Gaia? Global Ecology and Biogeography. 8/425, 1999. The University of Manchester geographer compares the views of Teilhard whose biosphere is the totality of organic life, and Vernadsky to whom the biosphere was the whole animate zone from substrata to stratosphere. After noting a later Gaian sense of a living, self-regulating planet, the term of ecosphere is proposed, closer to Teilhard, as the most workable option.

Hystad, Grethe, et al. Statistical Analysis of Mineral Diversity and Distribution: Earth’s Mineralogy is Unique. Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 426/154, 2015. Coauthor Robert Hazen, a Carnegie Institution of Washington geophysicist, has been the leading discoverer that earthly life and mineral forms coevolve (search). Here, with Hystad and Robert Downs, University of Arizona, and Edward Grew, University of Maine, this finding is expanded to exoplanet dimensions. In recognition of nature’s interplay of chemical determinisms and contingencies, Earth’s own mineralogy, while attuned to our human presence, is unlikely to be repeated on another bioworld. A companion article by these authors is Mineral Ecology: Chance and Necessity in the Mineral Diversity of Terrestrial Planets in the Canadian Mineralogist (53/295, 2015). See also On the Origin of Sequence by Peter van der Gulik (search, 2015).

Earth's mineralogical diversity arises from both deterministic processes and frozen accidents. We apply statistical methods and comprehensive mineralogical databases to investigate chance versus necessity in mineral diversity-distribution relationships. Hundreds of mineral species, including most common rock-forming minerals, distinguish an “Earth-like” planet from other terrestrial bodies. However, most of Earth's ∼5000 mineral species are rare, known from only a few localities. We demonstrate that, in spite of deterministic physical, chemical, and biological factors that control most of our planet's mineral diversity, Earth's mineralogy is unique in the cosmos. (Abstract)

Jabr, Ferris. The Earth is just as Alive as You Are. New York Times. April 21, 2019. On Easter Sunday, a science writer makes a vibrant case, braced by new findings such as how even microbes can have an effect on plate tectonics, that the Gaia theory of a self-maintaining biosphere ought to be fully revived. As readers know, the view that living systems have long acted together to maintain a conducive world has had both advocates and detractors (see Michael Ruse). As so many stresses beset planet and person, maybe it is time to realize that our rarest abode is in actual fact a living organism.

In his early writing, Dr. Lovelock occasionally granted Gaia too much agency, which encouraged the misperception that the living Earth was yearning for some optimal state. But the essence of his hypothesis — the idea that life transforms and in many cases regulates the planet — proved prescient and profoundly true. We and all living creatures are not just inhabitants of Earth, we are Earth — an outgrowth of its physical structure and an engine of its global cycles. Although some scientists still recoil at the mention of Gaia, these truths have become part of mainstream science.

Like many living creatures, Earth has a highly organized structure, a membrane and daily rhythms; it consumes, stores and transforms energy; and if asteroid-hitching microbes or space-faring humans colonize other worlds, who is to say that planets are not capable of procreation? If Earth breathes, sweats and quakes — if it births zillions of organisms that devour, transfigure and replenish its air, water and rock — and if those creatures and their physical environments evolve in tandem, then why shouldn’t we think of our planet as alive?

Humans are the brain — the consciousness — of the planet. We are Earth made aware of itself. Viewed this way, our ecological responsibility could not be clearer. By fuming greenhouse gases, we have not simply changed the climate; we have critically wounded a global life form and severely disrupted its biological rhythms. No other member of this living assembly has our privileged perspective. No one else can see the sinews and vessels of our planetary body. Only we can choose to help keep Earth alive.

Kaltenegger, Lisa. Searching for Earth’s History among Earth-like Worlds. Mercury. 36/1, 2007. The steadily increasing ability to detect earth-size planets orbiting distant suns, along with their atmospheric, geological, and thermal signatures, can provide novel insights into how our home world came to form and evolve.

King, Roger and Ronald Birk. Developing Earth System Science Knowledge to Manage Earth’s Natural Resources. Computing in Science and Engineering. January/February, 2004. A survey article by NASA scientists in a special issue on “Grand Challenges in Earth System Modeling.”

Earth system science, the study of how the Earth works as a system of continents, oceans, atmosphere, ice, and life, is based on our ability to measure key parameters and integrate that knowledge into Earth system models. (47)

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