Thursday, May 01, 2008

Gaia Hypothesis: Could Earth Really be a Single Organism?

When you stop to think about it, our planet does act like a huge organism. If you look at the interrelationship between plants and atmospherics, animals and humans, rocks and water, a complex pattern of symbiotic processes seem to complement each other perfectly. Should one system be pushed out of balance by some external force (such as a massive injection of atmospheric carbon dioxide after a volcanic event), other processes are stimulated to counteract the instability (more phytoplankton appear in the oceans to absorb the carbon dioxide in the water). Many of these processes could be interpreted as a "global immune system".

Could Gaia be sentient in some unrecognized sense? If so, how might it communicate (assuming it wanted to)? In David Brin's "Earth," Gaia achieves self-awareness via the electronic nervous system we call the Internet, but perhaps it doesn't need anything so fragile or human-friendly. A global consciousness might manifest in the planet's ambient EM field, in its chemicals, in the molecular architecture of its organisms.


Anonymous said...

Crop circles?

Anonymous said...

In the same way I guess you could make a case not just for our little planet, but for the entire Universe, and all that exists. (We used to call that the "Cosmic Consciousness".)


Anonymous said...

The problem I have with the Gaia hypothesis is that it smacks of semi-religion to me.

Earth Mother? Original faith of Cro-Magnon Man.

Anonymous said...

Mac wrote:
"A global consciousness might manifest in the planet's ambient EM field, in its chemicals, in the molecular architecture of its organisms."

I would add that Earth's sentience might also manifest through its incredibly complex, sophisticated molecular protrusions called human beings. That is 20th-century Jesuit priest Teilhard de Chardin's concept of a "noosphere"--a global sphere of intelligence and consciousness, generated primarily via the field of human minds, that envelops the biosphere ("Gaia"), which in turn envelops the geosphere. We're just as much grown from the Earth as any plants are, but we bring with us a new level of self-awareness, adding something new to the planet that doesn't seem to have been present before.

If the merely biospheric level (Gaia) does have any sentience, I think it would be primarily at the level of sentience displayed by micro-organisms, which is what Lovelock meant when he conceived the Gaia hypothesis. I think the common notion that the incredibly lifelike complexity and interconnectedness of Earth's ecosystem could be a sign of "sentience" arises from a confusion between depth and span (i.e., significance and size). Just because something's bigger, doesn't mean it's more conscious. Consciousness, as Teilhard believed, arose in direct correlation with material complexity, which he dubbed the "law of complexity-consciousness." Given that, I would wager that the human brain (and the system of relationships between human brains) is far more complex than Earth's biospheric ecosystem, which explains why you are intelligent enough to comprehend these words, but a tree or a mountain or a cloud is not.