III. Ecosmos: A Revolutionary Fertile, Habitable, Solar-Bioplanet Incubator Lifescape
3. Earth Alive: A Cellular GaiaSphere Sustains Her (His) Own Viability
Dauphas, Nicolas. The Isotropic Nature of the Earth’s Accreting Material through Time. Nature. 541/521, 2017. The University of Chicago geophysicist reports new findings about how our home bioplanet formed by gradual additions of moon, and meteorite size masses, which were similar in chemical composition. This work, along with a companion article Ruthenium Isotopic Evidence for an Inner Solar System Origin of the Late Veneer (mantle) in the same issue, merited notice as Earth’s Building Blocks (541/468).
Dobretsov, Nikolay, et al, eds. Biosphere Origin and Evolution. New York: Springer, 2008. Guided by the foundational influence of Vladimir Vernadsky, along with their integral proclivity, Russian geoscience tends to the whole biosphere as the proper subject of study. This latest volume from various Institutes of Geophysics, Paleontology, Cytology, Microbiology, and so on, views “living matter” as quite engaged in the achievement of a global “homeostatic” system. The sciences of self-organizing complexity are somewhat mechanically employed to explore life’s hierarchy from a proposed “astrocatalysis” all the way to scientific civilization.
Doolittle, W. Ford. Making Evolutionary Sense of Gaia. Trends in Ecology & Evolution. Online May, 2019. The veteran Dalhousie University biologist has long disavowed this hypothesis of a steady self-regulating biosphere. It just does not square with or be explained by standard Darwinian selection. However as this vital theory has steadily grown by way of robust study and application, the author offers a novel rationale, much to his credit, as to how this presence is indeed possible.
The Gaia hypothesis in a strong and frequently criticized form assumes that global homeostatic mechanisms have evolved by natural selection favoring the maintenance of conditions suitable for life. Traditional neoDarwinists hold this to be impossible in theory. But the hypothesis does make sense if one treats the clade that comprises the biological component of Gaia as an individual and allows differential persistence – as well as differential reproduction – to be an outcome of evolution by natural selection. Recent developments in theoretical and experimental evolutionary biology may justify both maneuvers. (Abstract)
Downing, Keith. Exploring Gaia Theory. Mark Bedau, et al, eds. Artificial Life VII. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001. By means of evolutionary computation and simulation models for a natural selection on a global scale.
Dyke, James and Iain Weaver. The Emergence of Environmental Homeostasis in Complex Ecosystems. PLoS Computational Biology. 9/5, 2013. As readers know, James Lovelock’s 1970s Gaia hypothesis of Earth’s viable biosphere as a self-regulated and sustained system due to life’s geological, ecological and atmospheric effects has been under much study since, often attack, but leading to a general affirmation and practical acceptance. Here University of Southampton, Computational Modelling Group, researchers (see web bios below) further quantify and concur that, dare one say, the living planet seems to be actually be taking physiological and anatomical health care of itself.
The Earth, with its core-driven magnetic field, convective mantle, mobile lid tectonics, oceans of liquid water, dynamic climate and abundant life is arguably the most complex system in the known universe. This system has exhibited stability in the sense of, bar a number of notable exceptions, surface temperature remaining within the bounds required for liquid water and so a significant biosphere. Explanations for this range from anthropic principles in which the Earth was essentially lucky, to homeostatic Gaia in which the abiotic and biotic components of the Earth system self-organise into homeostatic states that are robust to a wide range of external perturbations. Here we present results from a conceptual model that demonstrates the emergence of homeostasis as a consequence of the feedback loop operating between life and its environment. Formulating the model in terms of Gaussian processes allows the development of novel computational methods in order to provide solutions. We find that the stability of this system will typically increase then remain constant with an increase in biological diversity and that the number of attractors within the phase space exponentially increases with the number of environmental variables while the probability of the system being in an attractor that lies within prescribed boundaries decreases approximately linearly. We argue that the cybernetic concept of rein control provides insights into how this model system, and potentially any system that is comprised of biological to environmental feedback loops, self-organises into homeostatic states. (Abstract)
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. As an update, in 2022 at the University of Bristol, see Natural Selection of Independently Originated Life Clades in Philosophy of Science (89/3. 2022) and second quote below.
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. (2016 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.
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