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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. A Living Gaian Bio-Ecosphere

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.

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)

Envisioning the origin of life in a global context is advantageous because it makes prebiotic chemistry more plausible and because the global context is an inescapable reality. Origin of life research is often discussed in terms of a dichotomy: productive chemical reactions vs. environmental relevance. We have argued that thinking about prebiotic processes in a global context eliminates the dichotomy and opens the possibility that the relevant chemical reactions are also the most productive. (119)

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).


The straightforward but unexpected relationship presented here relates crustal thickness to magma type in the Izu-Ogasawara (Bonin) and Aleutian oceanic arcs. Volcanoes along the southern segment of the Izu-Ogasawara arc and the western Aleutian arc (west of Adak) are underlain by thin crust (10–20 km). In contrast those along the northern segment of the Izu-Ogasawara arc and eastern Aleutian arc are underlain by crust ~35 km thick. According to the hypothesis presented here, rising mantle diapirs stall near the base of the oceanic crust at depths controlled by the thickness of the overlying crust. Where the crust is thin, melting occurs at relatively low pressures in the mantle wedge producing andesitic magmas. The implications of this hypothesis are: (1) the rate of continental crust accumulation, which is andesitic in composition, would have been greatest soon after subduction initiated on Earth, when most crust was thin; and (2) most andesite magmas erupted on continental crust could be recycled from “primary” andesite originally produced in oceanic arcs. (Tamura)

In the Archean, like now, the granitoids that constitute the core of the continental crust formed in subduction zones. Hydrous basaltic magmas from the mantle wedge rose to the base of the crust where they fractionally crystallised or remelted underplated rocks to yield more evolved granitic magmas. From the end of the Archean to the late Proterozoic, the continental crust grew in a series of major pulses, each triggered by accelerated mantle convection. The arrival of large mantle plumes displaced material from the upper mantle, accelerating the rate of subduction and causing a pulse of crustal growth. The Hadean crust was mafic and it underwent internal partial melting to produce the granitic melts that crystallised the Jack Hills zircons. This crust was disrupted by the Late Heavy Bombardment and from then on, since about 3.9 Ga, plate tectonics has operated. (Arndt)

The continental crust covers nearly a third of the Earth's surface. It is buoyant—being less dense than the crust under the surrounding oceans—and is compositionally evolved, dominating the Earth's budget for those elements that preferentially partition into silicate liquid during mantle melting. Models for the differentiation of the continental crust can provide insights into how and when it was formed, and can be used to show that the composition of the basaltic protolith to the continental crust is similar to that of the average lower crust. From the late Archaean to late Proterozoic eras (some 3–1 billion years ago), much of the continental crust appears to have been generated in pulses of relatively rapid growth. Reconciling the sedimentary and igneous records for crustal evolution indicates that it may take up to one billion years for new crust to dominate the sedimentary record. (Hawkesworth)

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