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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

Kleidon, Alex and Ralph Lorenz, eds. Non-Equilibrium Thermodynamics and the Production of Entropy. Berlin: Springer, 2005. An exploration of the Maximum Entropy Production concept as the best way to quantify how the earth’s viable biosphere regulates and sustains itself. Following Kleidon and Lorenz’s earlier work, an array of authors such as Eric Chaisson, Roderick Dewar, Robert Ulanowicz, Charles Lineweaver, Hisashi Osawa, David Schwartzman, Timothy Lenton, and others review issues and aspects from thermal gradients to ocean circulation, atmosphere interactions, human impacts, and so on. A good summary of this pertinent work can be found in John Whitfield's article "Order Out of Chaos" in Nature for August 18, 2005.

Kleidon, Axel. Beyond Gaia: Thermodynamics of Life and Earth System Functioning. Climatic Change. 66/3, 2004. A leading researcher in this field proposes that the biosphere regulates and sustains itself by a propensity to reach a state of Maximum Entropy Production (MEP). This state provides the most available potential energy to allow increased “degrees of freedom” so a biological diversity to prosper.

It is concluded that the resulting behavior of a biotic Earth at a state of MEP may well lead to near-homeostatic behavior of the Earth system on long time scales, as stated by the Gaia hypothesis. (271) Besides providing a fundamental perspective on homeostasis, the MEP hypothesis is a result of the application of the MEP hypothesis also provides a framework to understand why photosynthetic life would be a highly probable emergent characteristic of the Earth system and why the diversity of life is an important characteristic of Earth system functioning. (271)

Kleidon, Axel. How does the Earth System Generate and Maintain Thermodynamic Disequilibrium and What does it Imply for the Future of the Planet? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A. 370/1012, 2012. Kleidon’s web page as Director of the Biospheric Theory and Modelling group at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry lists his credits as mathematician, physicist and meteorologist and research interests as “atmosphere-biosphere interactions, geographic patterns of plant biodiversity, global vegetation modelling, non-equilibrium thermodynamics of Earth system processes, Gaia hypothesis, Earth system evolution, natural limits of renewable energies, geoengineering.” Indeed, with many colleagues, his well regarded papers on the nonlinear thermodynamics of life continue apace (search here and his website). In this case, new appreciations of a “planetary hierarchy of free energy generation, transfer and dissipation,” is seen as a way to detect habitable exo-worlds. As a consequence then, an imperative is defined for humankind to intentionally realign the energy usage of its consumptive civilization to enhance such a dynamic, viable homeostasis.

I provided a holistic description of the functioning of the whole Earth system that is grounded in the generation, transfer and dissipation of free energy from external forcings to geochemical cycling and the associated fundamental limits to these rates. Since free energy generation is needed to maintain a disequilibrium state, this description allows us to understand why the Earth system is maintained far from equilibrium without violating the second law of thermodynamics. I showed how biotic activity generates substantial amounts of chemical free energy by exploiting free energy in solar photons that is not accessible to purely physical heat engines. Hence, Lovelock’s notion of chemical disequilibrium within the Earth’s atmosphere as a sign for widespread life can be substantiated and quantified. This paper can hence be seen as a direct continuation of the work by James Lovelock. (1036)

Klinger, Lee. Gaia and Complexity. Schneider, Stephen, et al, eds. Scientists Debate Gaia. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004. A geochemist and philosopher employs complex network principles as a way to better understand earth’s biotic mantle as a living entity. The dynamic biosphere is not only a complex adaptive system (see Lenton below) but exemplifies a self-organized criticality. This state is characterized by fractal self-similarity at each geological and ecological instance. The deep source of these qualities is a universal complementary of symmetry-building or breaking which imparts yin and yang attributes. A rare visionary contribution.

A conceptual model of the duality in nature that elaborates on the symmetry, asymmetry, and fractality of systems is shown to be readily extendable to a wide range of phenomena, from molecules of water to planets in our solar system. Furthermore, this model shows how certain Eastern traditions of thought, especially the Chinese principle of yin-yang, closely correspond to patterns in symmetry, entropy, free energy, and fractality expressed in nature. (187) Complexity represents a collaboration across disciplines of related theories that link the phenomena of self-organization, self-replication, life, evolution, morphogenesis, chaos, and more into a unified set of principles to explain the emergence of order in systems. (187)

Langmuir, Charles and Wally Broecker. How to Build a Habitable Planet: The Story of Earth from the Big Bang to Humankind. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012. Charles Langmuir is a Harvard University professor of geochemistry, and Wallace Broecker, “the grandfather of climate science,” spent a lifetime at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University. A thorough, current scenario of earthkind’s cosmic pedigree and ancient heritage, the volume is a much revised and expanded edition of Broecker’s 1985 classic with the same title. A significance turn is their endeavor to move from an older reduction method to a systems vista that can rightly address nature’s spontaneous propensity for fractal-like self-organized networks. Objects do not exist in isolation, rather equally evident relationships between them from proteins to people can reveal a nested, non-equilibrium, evolutionary vector of cognitive complexity. A 700 page opus, chapters dutifully course from origins, elements, galaxies, stars, planets, to their expertise of “earth and life as natural systems.” Sunshine, warm water, and air to breath bring vitalities, along with mobile continental landforms. Cellular organisms are then seen to co-evolve with planetary processes, with a positive nod to the Gaia vision. And we humankin people arrive who by radical increases in energy usage initiate a global Anthropozoic era, in much need of respectful maintenance.

We also emphasize a “systems” approach to the history and understanding of our planet, and emphasize the linkages of all parts of the Earth system, as well as the relationship of those parts to the solar system and universe. If there is one theme that we hope comes through in the book, it is of a connected universe in which human beings are an outgrowth and integral part. (xv)

The scientific story of creation begins with the inception of our universe by the Big Bang, through the formation of the elements in stars, to the formation of our solar system, the evolution of our world that became home to life and ultimately to human beings who can question and begin to understand the universal processes from which we are derived. Viewed on the largest scale, this story is the central story of our existence. It relates us to the beginning, to all of natural history, and to everything we can observe. (1) The story also cannot be told by reduction to its smallest parts. Relationships among the parts and evolution through time also are necessary, a “systems” approach to scientific understanding. From a systems perspective, stars, planets, and life have a set of properties in common that appear to be characteristics of many of the “natural systems” of which the universe in made. (2)

One might ask the question whether the universe taken as a whole operates with the same characteristics, out of equilibrium, powered by the Big Bang, with cycles of chemicals and energy in a long-term evolutionary process. From this perspective, then, there is a commonality extending from microcosmic to macrocosmic scales. Systems appear to be the way the universe works. (23) The emergence of intelligent life from the perspective of energy and networks could be a natural consequence of planetary evolution. (534) There is the potential in human civilization for Earth to pass from “habitable planet” to “inhabited Planet,” i.e., one that carries intelligence and consciousness on a global scale, for the benefit and further development of the planet and all its life. (645)

Lenton, Tim and Andrew Watson. Revolutions that Made the Earth. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. University of East Anglia earth systems scientists join the Gaia vista of their mentor James Lovelock with the Major Transitions model of John Maynard Smith and Eors Szathmary to view life’s evolution from origin to Oxford as due to a few huge sequential phase changes. With some scale malleability, this includes Inception: rudimentary prokaryotes, Oxygen: photosynthesis, Complexity: nucleated eukaryotes and organisms, and Us: human beings as intelligent observers. But whether L & W’s four or MS & S’s eight stages (which also see information as a main factor), they seem somewhat arbitrary, unable to allow anything going on to spontaneously drive and be iteratively manifest in such a scalar ascendance. Anyway, to open the first chapter, an effective metaphor is used whereof our historical learning experience across widening spatial and temporal realms is seen in a dreamlike way as if humankind is slowly awakening.

In this book, we want to weave many strands of science together to present a narrative of Earth’s history and how we came to be here. It is a ‘systems view’ in that it considers the evolution of life and of the non-living environment as one coupled, indivisible process. This process has not been smooth and continuous: a series of just a few revolutions have created us and the world we enjoy today. Each revolution was inherently difficult, and each was built on the previous one. They all had to occur in the sequence they did to allow us – a conscious ‘observer’ species – to evolve, which could then look back and marvel at this history. (5)

Though each revolution is different in the detail, they share an overall pattern. Each has involved major reorganization in the system, and at each it has moved stepwise towards greater energy utilization, greater recycling efficiency, faster processing of information, and higher degrees of organization. (5) To summarize then, three levels of organization – the genetic code, the eukaryotic cell, and the ‘multi-cellular community’ – representing increasing complexity and progressively later evolution – are nested like Russian dolls in our bodies. (43)

Lenton, Timothy and Marcel van Oijen. Gaia as a Complex Adaptive System. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B. 357/683, 2002. The whole Earth system is considered as a manifestation of the way in which many local, interactive agents give rise to a self-regulating order.

Lenton, Timothy, et al. Life on Earth is Hard to Spot. Anthropocene Review. May, 2020. Gaia advocates TL, University of Exeter, Sebastien Dutreuil, University of Aix-Marseille, and Bruno Latour, Sciences Po, France note the long last acceptance of James Lovelock’s biospheric self-regulation over evolutionary spans by life’s composite vitalities. But this organic essence, here noted with a capital L, is not immediately evident. A teleology issue also needs to be clarified, which perturbs R. Dawkins, but overall a 2020 vision of a habitable bioworld is now well in place as evinced by its practical utility for Earth systems scientists.

The triumph of the Gaia hypothesis was to spot the extraordinary influence of Life on the Earth. ‘Life’ is the clade including all extant living beings, as distinct from ‘life’ the class of properties common to all living beings. ‘Gaia’ is Life plus its effects on habitability. Life’s influence on the Earth was hard to spot for several reasons: biologists missed it because they focused on life not Life; climatologists missed it because Life is hard to see in the Earth’s energy balance; Earth system scientists opted instead for abiotic or human-centred approaches to the Earth system; Scientists in general were repelled by teleological views that Life acts to maintain viable conditions. Instead, we reason from organisms’ metabolisms outwards, showing how Life’s coupling to its environment has led to profound effects on Earth’s biosphere. (Abstract)

Lenton, Timothy, et al. Selection for Gaia across Multiple Scales. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. Online July, 2018. A problem has remained to square theories of life’s evolutionary self-regulation with Darwinian selection. Here University of Exeter, Southampton, and Lincoln, UK Earth system scientists including James Dyke and David Wilkinson offer an expanded view of its sequential stages from micro individual homeostasis and groupings, onto vegetation, soil, desert and ocean environs, as they reach macro regimes of conducive global atmospheres. Selective effects can then become spread out and mollified over this hierarchical tenure.

Recently postulated mechanisms and models can help explain the enduring ‘Gaia’ puzzle of environmental regulation mediated by life. Natural selection can produce nutrient recycling at local scales and regulation of heterogeneous environmental variables at ecosystem scales. However, global-scale environmental regulation involves a temporal and spatial decoupling of effects from actors that makes conventional evolutionary explanations problematic. Instead, global regulation can emerge by a process of ‘sequential selection’ in which systems that destabilize their environment are short-lived and result in extinctions and reorganizations until a stable attractor is found. Thus, Earth system feedbacks provide a filter for persistent combinations of macroevolutionary innovations. (Abstract)

Lin, Douglas. The Genesis of Planets. Scientific American. May, 2008. Based on novel extrasolar observations, the founding director of the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Peking University explains the latest revised model of planetary occasion. Rather than an orderly coalescence, a chaotic interplay proceeds as interstellar clouds collapse into a grainy disk, which goes on to ‘germinate planetary embryos.’ Gas giants are formed, joined by other large worlds, and finally earths may appear. Such widely disparate spherical objects are arrayed in haphazard fashion around an equally vicarious sun star or two. How incredible might it then seem that on one infinitesimal orb a sentient awareness via you and I and everyone suddenly pops into collaborative being and cognizance? For whatever purpose are we granted this vista, what grand discovery and transfiguration might we imagine?

Lin, Guangxing and Zuntao Fu. A Universal Model to Characterize Different Multi-Fractal Behaviors of Daily Temperature Records over China. Physica A. 387/573, 2008. Peking University physicists quantify that even atmospheric phenomena can be found to exhibit a power-law scale similarity. As an analog, we add that ocean temperature gradients also hold to such mathematics, which then influence fish schools to do the same.

Lovelock, James. Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979. The original work by a British atmospheric chemist who initiated the modern conception of the planet as a self-sustaining entity.

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