|Mother Nature Finding her Balance|
Here follows a wonderful article published in The Conversations which follows on from our natural therapies understanding where we know our body has the ability to grow repair and heal itself from the moment of conception.
We need to to discover how to sustain health of body soul & mind, that magic world so brilliantly portrayed in the movie Avatar.
Author: Ian Enting
How can a planet be alive?
In discussing the concept of Gaia, Lovelock now distinguishes:
■ Gaia hypothesis: the original version - the Earth's organisms regulate the physical and chemical components of the earth system so as to maintain the planet as an optimal habitat for life.
After stripping away such baggage, one has to confront the question: is what Lovelock is saying science and mysticism? While Lovelock has used the term "geophysiology" to avoid some of the mystical associations, he notes that all that has been achieved is that the term geophysiology now carries the same suspicion as the name Gaia.
Science can be co-opted by non scientists without undermining its validity.
A powerful argument against the Gaia hypothesis is the assertion (such as that made by Richard Dawkins in The Extended Phenotype) that Gaia cannot arise from Darwinian evolution of life - the planet as a whole is not a unit of selection.
Dawkins can be answered by an anthropic argument (wherein observations of the physical universe must be compatible with the existence of the conscious life that observes it):
■ The emergence of Gaian self-regulation through the course of evolution is allegedly extremely improbable.
For me, one of the most intriguing possibilities is some form of "innate Gaia" - rather than being highly improbable, some degree of Gaian self-regulation is inevitable.
Writing in Nature Tim Lenton has proposed that if:
■ the physical system is stable, and
A theory with gaps is still a theory
For example, the gap in Wegener's account of continental drift was that the continents aren't ploughing through the crust - they are being carried by the crust. The gap in Darwin's argument 150 years ago was the implicit assumption of blending of characteristics, so that new traits would be diluted. Mendel's experiments showed that this is not so. Working out the details has been the work of subsequent generations of population geneticists.
Sometimes a theory, like continental drift, is a good starting point. catface3/Flickr
In Revenge of Gaia, Lovelock quotes William Hamilton: "Just as the observations of Copernicus needed a Newton to explain them, we need another Newton to explain how Darwinian evolution leads to a habitable planet." This echoes Alfred Wegener: "The Newton of [continental] drift has not yet appeared. His absence need cause no anxiety."
To summarise: gaps and discrepancies in a theory imply a case for serious further study, not necessarily a reason to panic and immediately abandon any consideration of the idea.
My interpretation of what Lovelock is proposing as the potential relation between Gaia and humanity is the 20th century concept of "Mutually Assured Destruction" rather than "revenge".
These concerns seem to be based on Lovelock's expectation of a third climate state. The last 500,000 years show an alternation between quasi-stable warm and cold states, flipping on a 100,000 year cycle.
Lovelock (using simple modelling described in Vanishing Face of Gaia) proposes that higher CO₂ will lead to a third, hotter, quasi-stable state. The proposed causal chain is: warming from more CO₂ → more stable oceans, less circulation → less nutrients at surface, so less algal production → less pumping of CO₂ into deep oceans → more CO₂ remains in the atmosphere, locking in the warming.
Lovelock warns that humanity could be going into retreat Bruno Comby
So does it work?
At times Lovelock seems to equate "Gaia" with "earth system science" by asking "would you have bought The Vanishing Face of Earth System Science?" A more substantive question is to ask: "is the (strong) Gaia concept established science?", to which the answer is "not yet, and maybe it never will be".
We come back to the statement that for Gaia "we need another Newton...". Would a complete theory be a matter of filling in the gaps, as 150 years of accumulating evidence has "filled in the details" in Darwinian evolution? Or would the survival of Gaian theory mean morphing into something different, in the way that continental drift morphed into plate tectonics?
My best guess is that if "strong" Gaian theory survives (with or without the name Gaia) it will be through some such similar transformation. The "innate Gaia" implied by negative feedbacks being an "automatic" consequence of an interaction between expanding life and a dissipative physical system may well be part of such a re-synthesis.
Assessing Lovelock's role as a "key thinker" raises the question of whether, regardless of its validity, the Gaia hypothesis has had a positive influence on the development of earth system science. (Lovelock's other contributions to science through instrumentation have been invaluable). If, as I do not, one equates Gaia to current earth system science then the question largely disappears - the implication is that the rest of science has caught up with Lovelock.
My view is that even though "strong Gaia" and probably "innate Gaia" currently lie beyond the boundaries of established science, Lovelock's role in pushing the boundaries of thinking about the earth system has spurred the thinking of many in the emerging earth system science community. This is a valuable legacy, regardless of the ultimate fate of his ideas.
This article is based on a lecture delivered in April 2009 as part of The University of Melbourne series of public lectures on Key Thinkers.
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