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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

Poole, Robert. Earthrise. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008. The University of Cumbria historian recounts the past decades of the human achievement, most notably by the 1968 Apollo 11 mission, of the actual visual perception of our home planet in its biosphere blueness in dark space. The world is most of all round, a rarest cellular, neuronal, and even ovular abode of reflective consciousness in the galactic cosmos. By this image, the current environmental endeavors could much be about the attainment, or setting, of an equivalent “98.6” degrees metabolic homeostasis for the earth. The revolution we need is far more than bailouts and hybrid cars. It is indispensible that we come to know ourselves as both earthling and ethnic, and strive to create a viable, peaceable earth community.

Humankind now appears to be both the product and the custodian of the only island of intelligent life in the knowable universe. The astronauts’ revelation that the Earth was the only point of life and colour in the infinite blackness of space now seems more significant than ever. Whether that vision has been timely enough, and powerful enough, for homo sapiens, the most successful of all invasive species, to reverse its own devouring impact on the Earth, will probably become apparent before too long. (189)

Rhodes, Frank, et al, eds. Language of the Earth. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008. A selection of over 120 historical and current readings from James Hutton to James Lovelock which range from geological sciences to philosophy, prose, poetry, and onto a growing sense of a special bioplanet that is both robust and vulnerable. But alas, the phrase ‘the earth machine’ pops up here and there, as in other such works, for we are yet unable to witness (as Lewis Thomas once did extol) its true ovular, cellular, personal essence.

Ruse, Michael. The Gaia Hypothesis: Science on a Pagan Planet. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013. After writing book reviews on this subject, the Florida State University philosopher and author was asked if he would do a book about it. This result is an integral assessment, after some four decades, of its validity and value. To properly do this for Ruse involves a recount of two millennia of science and culture. With the synopsis next setting a scene, the Gaia theory of myriad organisms whose biological phenomena self-regulates local regions and global biosphere for its continued survival is basically sound and is now a good guide for earth system studies. But all is not well for the course of our human encounters with an extant natural reality. With Ruse acting as a referee, from Plato and Aristotle to the Renaissance revolution and the present conflicts, two main schools can be noted – Mechanist or Organicist. As the extended quotes relate, an exclusive “science” aligns with reduction to material parts in motion exist, which by their sterility rules out any further significance. In contrast, a holistic, animate, inclusive vista joins all the disparate pieces into a lively, self-organizing emergence.

One might add that these modes could be seen as dead or alive, nothing else or something more, a masculine or feminine dichotomy. The Gaia hypothesis is better appreciated in a historic setting, with criticisms or advocacy saying as much about the writer. The dichotomy has lately been taken over by a strident atheism of certain mechanist physicists and biologists, which Ruse sees in much need of mediation and consilience. While a coeditor of The Oxford Handbook of Atheism (2013), he feels that its current virulence (Dawkins, Dennett, et al) is doing damage to science and philosophy. The minority opinion, ages ago a “pagan” animism, then a Romantic Naturphilosophie, today appears in this form of a natural ecosphere vitality, with its promise of moral meaning and social guidance. As the text below contrasts, it is quite imperative we resolve this, for the fate of the Earth and its children and all creatures.

In 1965 English scientist James Lovelock had a flash of insight: the Earth is not just teeming with life; the Earth, in some sense, is life. He mulled this revolutionary idea over for several years, first with his close friend the novelist William Golding, and then in an extensive collaboration with the American scientist Lynn Margulis. In the early 1970s, he finally went public with the Gaia hypothesis, the idea that everything happens for an end: the good of planet Earth. Lovelock and Margulis were scorned by professional scientists, but the general public enthusiastically embraced Lovelock and his hypothesis. People joined Gaia groups; … there was a Gaia atlas, Gaia gardening, Gaia herbs, Gaia retreats, Gaia networking, and much more.

In The Gaia Hypothesis, philosopher Michael Ruse, with his characteristic clarity and wit, uses Gaia and its history, its supporters and detractors, to illuminate the nature of science itself. Gaia emerged in the 1960s, a decade when authority was questioned and status and dignity stood for nothing, but its story is much older. Ruse traces Gaia’s connection to Plato and a long history of goal-directed and holistic—or organicist—thinking and explains why Lovelock and Margulis’s peers rejected it as pseudoscience. But Ruse also shows why the project was a success. He argues that Lovelock and Margulis should be commended for giving philosophy firm scientific basis and for provoking important scientific discussion about the world as a whole, its homeostasis or—in this age of global environmental uncertainty—its lack thereof. (Publisher)

The (mechanist) world of science is the world of meaningless matter, endlessly moving. That is all there is to it. In the words of Richard Dawkins, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we would expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, …nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” (98) I use the term organicism for the philosophy I am describing here because of the historical continuity and because of the emphasis on integration, as one finds in the individual organism. Another term is emergentism, implying that the whole is more than the sum of the parts. (99) (An exemplar is the American biochemist Lawrence Hutchinson) He (Henderson 1913) argued that “our new teleology cannot have originated in or through mechanism, but it is a necessary and preestablished associate of mechanism. Matter and energy have an original property, assuredly not by chance, which organizes the universe in space in time.” (104)

Schneider, Stephen and Penelope Boston, eds. Science of Gaia. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991. Proceedings from the initial American Geophysical Union conference which explored and argued over the technical foundations of the Gaia hypothesis.

Schneider, Stephen, et al, eds. Scientists Debate Gaia. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004. A worldwide range of papers discuss an agenda for the consideration of earth as a special planet upon whose surface life maintains a self-regulating biosphere. Its sections review: Principles and Processes (e.g. geochemistry and thermodynamics), Earth History and Cycles (phosphorous, oceans, glaciers), Philosophy, History, and Human Dimensions of Gaia, Quantifying Gaia, and Life Forms and Gaia: Microbes to Extraterrestrials. Contributions by Eric Schneider, Francesco Santini and Ludovico Galleni, Lee Klinger, and Peter Westbroek are noted elsewhere. Overall the project seems stuck within the old paradigm of a teleology taboo while it exemplifies a life-friendly, genesis cosmos.

Schwartzman, David. Life, Temperature, and the Earth: The Self-Organizing Biosphere. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000. The Howard University astrobiologist proposes a thermodynamically based “geophysiology” whose conditions indicate self-organizing processes at work. Biospheric evolution occurs in part because it is a complex adaptive whole system with material inheritance and self-selection of relative stability. For a 2015 update of his contributions, see The Case for a Hot Archean Climate and its Implications to the History of the Biosphere at arXiv:1504.00401.

Sharma, A. Surjalal. Complexity in Nature and Data-Enabled Science: The Earth’s Magnetosphere. AIP Conference Proceedings. 1582, February, 2014. A paper by the University of Maryland astronomer presented at the International Conference on Complex Processes in Plasma and Nonlinear Dynamical Systems held November 2012 in Gandhinagar, India as an example of a worldwide explanation by way of these theories.

Understanding complexity in nonequilibrium systems requires multiple approaches and the well established approaches of experiment, theory and numerical simulation have led to the key advances. The data-enabled science, referred to as the fourth paradigm, is an inherently suitable framework for the study of complexity in nature. The data-driven modeling of the Earth's magnetosphere, based on the dynamical systems theory, highlights the achievements of this approach in the study of complexity in natural systems.

Skinner, Brian, et al. The Blue Planet. New York: Wiley, 1999. A basic, illustrated text on Earth System Science which includes a look at Gaian propensities.

Smil, Vaclav. The Earth’s Biosphere. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002. A proficient study covering physics, chemistry, biology, geology, oceanography, energy, climatology, and ecology, with an emphasis on symbiosis and the role of life’s complexity in biomass productivity and resilience. The influence of solar radiation and plate tectonics is discussed along with the quarter-power scaling of animal and plant metabolisms.

Sole, Ricard and Simon Levin. Preface. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B. 357/617, 2002. As an introduction to a special theme issue: “The Biosphere as a Complex Adaptive System.”

Ecosystems are complex adaptive systems. As such, they display a number of recognizable, large-scale features that result from their dynamics being far from equilibrium…..suggestive of universal principles of organization. (617)

Staley, Mark. Darwinian Selection Leads to Gaia. Journal of Theoretical Biology. 218/1, 2002. The adaptation to organisms to their environment leads in turn to an influence on their biotic niche.

Steffen, Will, et al. The Emergence and Evolution of Earth System Science. Nature Reviews Earth & Environment. 1/1, 2020. In this inaugural issue of a new Nature journal, eight veteran Earth scientists including Jane Lubchenco, Hans Schellnhuber, and Tim Lenton provide a status report from V. Vernadsky’s biosphere to J. Lovelock’s Gaia alive model and onto current needs to foster an ecosphere vitality. See also Genealogies of Earth System Thinking by Giulia Rispoli in the same issue.

Earth System Science (ESS) is an emerging transdisciplinary endeavour aimed at appreciating the structure and function of the Earth as a complex, adaptive system. Here, we discuss this integral merit of ESS, and it’s value for understanding global change. Inspired by early work on biosphere–geosphere interactions and by novel perspectives such as the Gaia hypothesis, ESS emerged in the 1980s to meet the need for a new ‘science of the Earth’. ESS has produced new concepts and frameworks which much serve environmental issues, such as the Anthropocene phase, tipping points and planetary boundaries. Moving forward, the grand challenge for ESS is to integrate biophysical processes with populous human dynamics to attain a truly unified vision of the Earth System. (Abstract)

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