VI. Earth Life Emergence: Development of Body, Brain, Selves and Societies
9. A Living Gaian Bio-Ecosphere
The Gaia Hypothesis: Science on a Pagan Planet.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
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.
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.
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.
Stewart, Iain and John Lynch. Earth: The Biography. Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2007. A well done coffee table book as if the common cognitive intellect of Earthkind awakens to witness, with wonder and worry, its cosmic environs, harrowing past, and life’s perilous prognosis.
Stueken, Eva, et al. Did Life Originate from a Global Chemical Reactor? Geobiology. 11/2, 2013. As “bioinformatics meets geochemistry,” astrobiologists from the University of Washington, McGill University, and NASA Exobiology, including William Brazelton and John Baross, describe an early earth scenario that seems primed and favorable for living systems to rise and prosper. Main prerequisites are: energy, organic carbon compound synthesis, catalysis, concentration, magma-hydrothermalism, metamorphic terrains, and more, as if an innate incubator.
Many decades of experimental and theoretical research on the origin of life have yielded important discoveries regarding the chemical and physical conditions under which organic compounds can be synthesized and polymerized. However, such conditions often seem mutually exclusive, because they are rarely encountered in a single environmental setting. As such, no convincing models explain how living cells formed from abiotic constituents. Here, we propose a new approach that considers the origin of life within the global context of the Hadean Earth. We review previous ideas and synthesize them in four central hypotheses: (i) Multiple microenvironments contributed to the building blocks of life, and these niches were not necessarily inhabitable by the first organisms; (ii) Mineral catalysts were the backbone of prebiotic reaction networks that led to modern metabolism; (iii) Multiple local and global transport processes were essential for linking reactions occurring in separate locations; (iv) Global diversity and local selection of reactants and products provided mechanisms for the generation of most of the diverse building blocks necessary for life. We conclude that no single environmental setting can offer enough chemical and physical diversity for life to originate. Instead, any plausible model for the origin of life must acknowledge the geological complexity and diversity of the Hadean Earth. (Abstract)
Tamura, Yoshihiko, et al. Advent of Continents: A New Hypothesis. Nature Scientific Reports. 6/33517, 2016. The entry reports three papers over ten years that quantify how unique is our planetary mantle of one-third mobile land forms amidst oceans over the crustal sphere beneath. This 2016 lead from the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology cites a latest version. Formation and Evolution of the Continental Crust by the University of Grenoble geoscientist Nicholas Arndt in Geochemical Perspectives (2/3, 2013) is an 130 page essay fully available online. And thirdly, Evolution of the Continental Crust by the British earth scientists C. Hawkesworth and A. Kemp in Nature (443/811, 2006).