I seem to be running behind, so I’ll just repost an earlier thread on days I don’t get a new post together for Tuesdays. Sorry>
Here is a photo of the whole planet Earth taken from Apollo 17, the last moon mission http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/imgcat/hires/a17_h_148_22727.gif]. At about the same time this was taken the Gaia Hypothesis was beginning to be discussed. For those who have never heard of the Gaia Hypothesis, the short version is that planet Earth is a living entity. It was originally posed mainly as a model through which we could better comprehend both the life processes interacting here on this planet and the whole concept of life. The former has served well to guide environmental policy, or at least thinking. The latter was originally intended to assist us in our efforts to identify life from other planets.
Be that as it may, the Gaia Hypothesis has undergone considerable evolution since first introduced. Many have come to truly regard planet Earth as a single living thing.
Fact of the matter is that we know not what life is. We don’t even know what an individual is. Is a beehive, or a termite nest, or an anthill, an individual or is it the hill, hive, or nest that is the individual? Our concept of “individual” may actually be a large part of our problem in trying to understand “life” itself. We ourselves cannot survive without the support of most of the billions of bacteria that live in our system. We would starve to death without their help.
We have many tests which we believe any life form must pass. But we also have many examples of things which virtually everyone agrees are life forms, but which fail one or more of those tests. I would maintain the Earth passes every meaningful test we can pose for whether something is alive. It is, after all, an object so different from every other life form we know as to humble the imagination. (more…)
In one of my favorite, and most inspiring, movies, Apollo 13, Gene Krantz, the flight director during the emergency confronting that mission, says, “Work the problem, people!”
I recently visited the website of the Birth 2012 movement, led by Dr. Barbara Marx Hubbard. It’s a very laudable attempt to invigorate people to incorporate a new way of thinking about human behavior. Much talk there is devoted to such things as controlling or reducing our pollution, sustainability, and stewardship of the Earth. Good stuff, all.
But the effort is undermined by one glaring problem. Glaring once you recognize it. The future of humanity is what drives everything at the site. That’s typical of virtually all of the current attempts to coagulate a movement based on the large and still growing population of disgruntled environmentalists. The survival and flourishing of humanity is the force behind almost all our expressed concerns.
But, if we want a truly new vision of the world–a true paradigm change–it is exactly to the flourishing of humanity that we must look. The problem is not that we are finding it harder to live with our booming population. The problem is that Gaia is dying because of our population is overwhelming every natural system that keeps Her alive. (more…)
The idea of Gaia as a living being and the beings on her surface as part and parcel of her totality raises the question of what role each species serves in maintaining the homeostasis of the whole. I.e., how is it that each of the parts helps keep the whole alive?
That is how single beings work, after all. It really isn’t correct to think of ourselves as being independent individuals. Keeping us alive is a process far beyond the capability of those cells our embryo began producing in our mother’s womb. We’ve known for many years, for example, that the digestion of the food we eat would simply be impossible were it not for the bacteria that cooperate symbiotically with our intestinal track, eyes, hands, etc. to make the whole process happen.
One of the things that makes life, and especially individual living beings, so very difficult to define is this, one of life’s most perplexing conundrums: no living, complex, being is an island. Each is a vastly complicated system, interdependent upon thousands of other beings for its continued existence as a stable entity.
That stability is what one means by homeostasis, which is one of the major tests for almost everyone’s attempt to define life.
One cannot, of course, explain what role any one critter plays in maintaining the homeostasis of the whole, for such is so deeply interactive with the activities of other critters that claiming sole credit for the contributions one critter makes would be disingenuous. For example, the bacteria, mentioned above are vital, but by itself the bacteria would be incapable of making a significant contribution.
To paraphrase a character from “Shakespeare In Love,” it’s a mystery.
Nonetheless, we can try to speculate just what we humans contribute to the ongoing status of Gaia as a living being. (more…)