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Why the Earth IS alive scientifically - The Gaia Hypothesis and James Lovelocks legacy

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posted on Oct, 14 2012 @ 05:47 PM
James Lovelocks scientific masterpiece, the Gaia hypothesis, stunned the world and divided the scientific community. It proposed that the Earth can regulate it's own atmosphere, and that to interfere with that process would lead to catastrophe.

I would rank the Gaia Theory as being the same category of scientific advance as Darwins theory of natural selection.

For many, Gaia theory was a milestone in understanding the planet, a way of looking at world that not only challenged scientific orthodoxy, but also the way in which science is practiced; a challenge launched not from a school or institution but from one extraordinary individual.

"I think James has two related qualities which go some way to explaining his evolution as one of the most important scientific thinkers of the last century, and the two qualities are individualism and directness of mind. Lovelock can think in straight lines, but he can also think around corners. James ability to think outside the box is precisely due to the fact that he does not recognize the box."

To many Lovelock is a maverick. Certainly he is an outsider. Lovelock insists that minds like his can only work outside the confines of the mainstream scientific establishment. And so for forty highly successful years he has been pursuing science on his own, having abandoned the labs of NASA and British Academia for his garden shed.

Watch the documentary here:

BBC Beautiful Minds

First formulated by Lovelock during the 1960s as a result of work for NASA concerned with detecting life on Mars, the Gaia hypothesis proposes that living and non-living parts of the Earth form a complex interacting system that can be thought of as a single organism. Named after the Greek goddess Gaia at the suggestion of novelist William Golding, the hypothesis postulates that the biosphere has a regulatory effect on the Earth's environment that acts to sustain life.

While the Gaia hypothesis was readily accepted by many in the environmentalist community, it has not been widely accepted within the scientific community. Among its more famous critics are the evolutionary biologists Richard Dawkins, Ford Doolittle, and Stephen Jay Gould – notable, given the diversity of this trio's views on other scientific matters. These (and other) critics have questioned how natural selection operating on individual organisms can lead to the evolution of planetary-scale homeostasis. Lovelock has responded to these criticisms with models such as Daisyworld, that illustrate how individual-level effects can translate to planetary homeostasis, under the right circumstances.

In Lovelock's 2006 book, The Revenge of Gaia, he argues that the lack of respect humans have had for Gaia, through the damage done to rainforests and the reduction in planetary biodiversity, is testing Gaia's capacity to minimize the effects of the addition of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This eliminates the planet's negative feedbacks and increases the likelihood of homeostatic positive feedback potential associated with runaway global warming. Similarly the warming of the oceans is extending the oceanic thermocline layer of tropical oceans into the Arctic and Antarctic waters, preventing the rise of oceanic nutrients into the surface waters and eliminating the algal blooms of phytoplankton on which oceanic food chains depend. As phytoplankton and forests are the main ways in which Gaia draws down greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, taking it out of the atmosphere, the elimination of this environmental buffering will see, according to Lovelock, most of the earth becoming uninhabitable for humans and other life-forms by the middle of this century, with a massive extension of tropical deserts.

To respond to all this Criticism by the mainstream scientists of the time (This part is at 45:00 in the documentary, I can highly recommend that as a starting point), the lone scientist came back with a series of intuitive leaps and connections that most people would always keep separate in their heads. Having single handedly invented the electron capture device, discovered the existence of CFCs in the environment and their harmful causes, he then came up with a model called Dasiyworld to back up his claims and stifle the criticism of Gaia Theory.

To many scientists at the time Gaia theory was an altruistic view of the planet, organisms working in harmony with each other for the benefit of one single larger intelligence, mother Earth, fanciful nonsense. W. D. Hamilton, one of the greatest evolutionary theorists of the 20th century, called the concept of Gaia Copernican, adding that it would take another Newton to explain how Gaian self-regulation takes place through Darwinian natural selection.

In this simulation what he showed was quite simple; Gaia theory did not in fact contradict evolution, in fact Darwinian evolution was a SECONDARY effect that was vital for Gaia theory to work. Daisyworld was a computer simulation, is a hypothetical world orbiting a star whose radiant energy is slowly increasing. Daisyworld is seeded with two varieties of daisy as its only life forms: black daisies and white daisies. White petaled daisies reflect light, while black petaled daisies absorb light. The simulation tracks the two daisy populations and the surface temperature of Daisyworld as the sun's rays grow more powerful. The surface temperature of Daisyworld remains almost constant over a broad range of solar output.

NASA simulation and explanation of Daisy-world:

It took years for the scientists of the time to accept Gaia theory not as a challenge but as an incorporation of current science theories. The trouble with Gaia theory is that it breaks down the barriers between the scientific disciplines by it's very nature (feedback loops between all living Earth systems) and so linked disciplines never considered connected before.

Subjects before thought to behave determinately and linearly were now far more chaotic and interconnected than had been considered before.

Aside from clarifying his language and understanding of what is meant by a life form, Lovelock himself ascribes most of the criticism to a lack of understanding of non-linear mathematics by his critics, and a linearizing form of greedy reductionism in which all events have to be immediately ascribed to specific causes before the fact. He notes also that his theory suggests experiments in many different fields, but few of them in biology, which most of his critics are trained in. "I'm a general practitioner in a world where there's nothing but specialists... science in the last two centuries has tended to be ever-dividing" and often rivalrous, especially for funding, which Lovelock describes as overly abundant and overly focused on institutions rather than original thought. He points out that Richard Feynman not only shared this opinion (coining the term cargo cult science) but also accepted a lack of general cause and effect explanation as an inevitable phase in a theory's development, and believed that some self-regulating phenomena may not be explainable at all mathematically

edit on 14-10-2012 by ZeuZZ because: (no reason given)

edit on 13-9-2013 by alien because: (no reason given)

posted on Oct, 14 2012 @ 05:48 PM
From the more scientific perspective these are two contrasting approaches; that of a holistic perspective and a reductionist one.

The Gaia Hypothesis is nothing more and nothing less than the idea that life creates feedback loops which stabilize the environment around the conditions necessary for that life. The classic example is CO2--as CO2 increases in the atmosphere there are more plants, which draws CO2 out of the atmosphere. This stabilizes the temperature to within a range tolerable to plants. The kelp/urchin/otter thing is another example--the whole system works to keep all the pieces balanced. This is part due to evolution, in that anything that destabilizes the system tends to die (and take numerous other organisms along with it). This partially drives evolution, because it controls the fitness space.

The key concept here is that of emergent properties. Biology is an emergent property of chemistry, which is in turn an emergent property of physics. From a reductionistic standpoint, if we knew the state of all the subatomic particles in a system we should be able to tell which gazelle the lion will eat. However, such a notion is laughably absurd--you simply cannot know the nature of the system by pure reductionistic methods. You have to accept that there's a lower limit to the units in the system, a basic component that cannot be split (not that it CAN'T be split--I've butchered enough chickens to know that they can--but that you can't learn about the system by splitting them up).

This isn't a concept unique to Lovelock. Steven J. Gould said much the same thing in his critique of evolutionary biologists/paleontologists atomizing organisms into their constituent characters and trying to figure out what advantage each character offers the organism. You can't do that--organisms live or die wholesale. The notion of a lobster dying, but "crusher claw with relatively weak dentation" surviving is nonsensical. You've got to look at the organism's position in morphospace as a whole--meaning that the organism, not the trait, is the "pixel" of evolution, as it were (there are exceptions; however, this is the general rule).

The Gaia Hypothesis states, in essence, that the unit of ecology is the planet as a whole. You've got to understand all of the feedback loops and the nonlinear interactions.

The key lesson of Lovelocks life as a scientist is that he does not think in line with any preconceived consensus.

This way of thinking about the way the Earth works will continue help shift the scientific zeitgeist of our time, it's a paradigm shift in how we view our relationship with science and nature.

Gaia theory went from initially being a theory that was reviled to now being a part of the way scientists generally now think.

This is Lovelocks legacy.

Evolving disparate linearized scientific disciplines into globally altruistic connected systems.

Thanks for reading


[PDF] Gaia again M. Karnani, A. Annila / BioSystems 95 (2009) 82–87

[PDF] Scientists Debate Gaia - The Next Century

[PDF] Beyond Gaia: Thermodynamics of life and Earth system functioning Climatic Change, 2003

Relections on Gaia MIT Press

Gaia is a new way of organizing the facts about life on Earth, not just a hypothes is
waiting to be tested. To illustrate the use of the theory in this way, let us go back to
the origins of life some 3.5 to 4 billion years ago. At that time and before life ap-
peared, the Earth was evolving as terrestrial planets do, toward a state that ultimately
would be like that of Mars and Venus—an arid planet with an atmosphere mainly of
carbon dioxide. Early in its history the Earth was well watered, and somewhere on it
there was an equable climate, so that life, once begun, could flourish. When it did
begin, the first organisms must have used the raw materials of the Earth’s crust,
oceans, and air to make their cells. They also returned to their environment their
wastes and dead bodies. As they grew abundant, this action would have changed the
composition of the air, oceans, and crust into an oxygen-free world dominated chem-
ically by methane. This means that soon after its origin, life was adapting not to the
geological world of its birth but to an environment of its own making. There was no
purpose in this, but those organisms which made their environment more comfort-
able for life left a better world for their progeny, and those which worsened their
environment spoiled the survival chances of theirs. Natural selection then tended to favor
the improvers. If this view of evolution is correct, it is an extension of Darwin’s
great vision and makes neoDarwinism a part of Gaia theory and Earth system

edit on 14-10-2012 by ZeuZZ because: (no reason given)

posted on Oct, 14 2012 @ 05:50 PM
edit on Sun Oct 14 2012 by DontTreadOnMe because: (no reason given)

posted on Oct, 14 2012 @ 05:58 PM
Nice thought out thread..! S+F for thee

I have to say personally I side with the Gaia Theory. I think this planet is a living being. And we its children. Its only a matter of time before mainstream science will come to see the same..

OP do you agree with the Gaia Theory..? Or did I miss that in your post... soz

posted on Oct, 14 2012 @ 06:00 PM
A final further comment:

There are two forms of Gaia theory, weak gaia theory and strong gaia theory. The weak gaia theory is pretty much just saying that the earth and the organisms within it are an interconnected system with feedback loops and therefore capable of self-regulating up to a point. Strong gaia theory argues for the system to be considered an organism, and some take it further to talk about an organism with a singular purpose or even consciousness. Weak gaia is just systems theory applied to the earth and makes good sense, while the strong version is woo. Unfortunately a lot of the good points in this work have been rubbished because people associate the good stuff with the strong theory nonsense. My impression is that Lovelock himself drifted over the line a bit himself sometimes, but mostly talked good sense.

"Strong gaia theory argues for the system to be considered an organism, and some take it further to talk about an organism with a singular purpose or even consciousness."

Within gaia theory it's reasonable to assert it shows traits of an organism in its own right. Even attributes that share similarities to conscious entities instincts for survival. Making it a self correcting system, with complex defense mechanisms for its long term survival. That encompass all the earth bound sciences, from biology, natural selection, geology, micro-biology, atmospheric physics, climate change, etc, all working in symbiosis. The complexity and interconnectedness of which we don't currently understand, but should strive to as scientists.

Oliver L. Reiser had also developed a strong version of the Gaia hypothesis as he proposed the earth was a global organism and that human beings act as cells involved with the "embryogenesis" of the earth. Another form of the strong Gaia hypothesis is proposed by Guy Murchie who extends the quality of a holistic lifeform to galaxies. "After all, we are made of star dust. Life is inherent in nature". Murchie describes geologic phenomena such as sand dunes, glaciers, fires, etc. as living organisms, as well as the life of metals and crystals. "The question is not whether there is life outside our planet, but whether it is possible to have "nonlife".

I guess this comes down to how you define nonlife.

posted on Oct, 14 2012 @ 06:02 PM

OP do you agree with the Gaia Theory..? Or did I miss that in your post... soz

My above post sort of clarifies my position ... I'm stuck in the middle of the weak and the strong versions of the Gaia hypothesis and what I agree with.

The weak Gaia hypothesis is pretty much beyond repute. To deny that would truly be to deny ignorance.

The strong Gaia hypothesis is far harder to prove, and at this point is no more than a nice novel idea to be tested in future as we collect more and more data.

posted on Oct, 14 2012 @ 07:54 PM
Beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

It's a shame when threads such as this fail to garner the attention they deserve.

If you speak to another person are you speaking to Gaia?

posted on Oct, 14 2012 @ 08:33 PM
One angle missing from the list of industries which should be working together is the metaphysical or spiritual aspect and the peoples who live already within and cooperatively with the Earth on all levels.

Those people have been minimised in Western society as being less evolved, but perhaps they are actually more evolved since they live within and for the land also, not just themselves. they know to look after the land as a living thing to be respected and they have been shunned for this.

The planet is most deffinately an alive thing imo and self regulating, although I sometimes wonder if scientists and big dirty industry wait for a reaction before confirmation and movement in the right direction, in which case that would include vast losses before they wake up.

Leaving the responsibility in the hands of only scientists is irresponsible for the future generations. It will self regulate but it will be far gentler if it's done together than if we continue to defile our home without conscience and thought.

As the land becomes sicker the people who live on it will also, it is of course connected imo.

posted on Oct, 15 2012 @ 03:01 AM
Absolutely fascinating and well presented OP, thank you.

I read about the Gaia theory/hypothesis (to cover both the weak and the strong) more years back than I care to remember whilst in Uni. I would probably have to put my hand up and say that this is what got me 'thinking outside the box' on all other aspects of life and my own. Always looking at the 'what if' and always testing 'given 'perameters of 'mainstream' thought.

The only thing that concerns me is his geoengineering model....not his idea...but how I can see it has been taken to the skies rather than the oceans as he proposed.

S&F goes without saying

Thank you
edit on 15-10-2012 by angelchemuel because: (no reason given)

posted on Oct, 15 2012 @ 03:34 AM
Earth Itself is a single giant living organism and the main cause of biogenic origin of petroleum.fossils or organic matter from surface of earth has no involvement to produce the oil but these organic matter has just been mixed in past seepage hydrocarbons and whole mixture has been reburied. this is the only reason chances are high to get oil near sediment shows the location of past seepage that has been refilled otherwise these organic matter from surface of earth has nothing to produce it. as one tree is a result of one seed same one planet is a result of one carbonaceous meteoroid(having amino acid ). please observe the following link for more clarifications.
suresh bansal
[email address removed]


SIMILARITIES BETWEEN EARTH AND LOG OF TREE. --- Core Crust --- Mountain Formation --- Plate Techtonics --- Bark & Continents --- Resin Lava

edit on 10/15/2012 by 12m8keall2c because: removed personal contact information

posted on Oct, 16 2012 @ 09:35 AM


Can you speed up this process to fuel cars etc? I'm not sure why you would want to what with greenhouse gasses and other pollutants, but just curious.

SIMILARITIES BETWEEN EARTH AND LOG OF TREE. --- Core Crust --- Mountain Formation --- Plate Techtonics --- Bark & Continents --- Resin Lava

Self similarity is a fascinating subject. You might like the documentary that mentions the Mandelbrot set and chaos theory, I started a thread about it here:

Butterfly - The Secret Life Of Chaos, The Laws of Nature and the Power of Evolution

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