The Gaia Hypothesis

The Gaia Hypothesis regards the Earth as a living planet, an evolving organism in itself. This system as a whole is called Gaia, in homage of the mythical Gaia (γαῖα), the primal Greek goddess personifying the Earth, the Greek version of “Mother Nature”.

This hypothesis, formulated by the scientist James Lovelock and co-developed by the microbiologist Lynn Margulis in the 1970s, postulates what the indigenous peoples have known for centuries, that our planet is a self-regulating intelligence – a fully conscious, living being.

The Gaia Hypothesis describes Earth as a system capable of self-regulation and of mantaining, through interactions between all of its physical, chemical and biological components, the characteristics (composition, temperature, pH, etc.) adequate for the presence of life. It asserts that living organisms and their inorganic surroundings have evolved together, through a cybernetic feedback system operated unconsciously by the biota, as a single living system.

In this respect, the living system of Earth can be thought of analogous to the workings of any individual organism that regulates body temperature, blood salinity, etc. As above, so below. The macrocosmos reflected in the microcosmos, all manifestations of the One.

If Gaia exists, the relationship between her and man, a dominant animal species in the complex living system, and the possibly shifting balance of power between them, are questions of obvious importance… The Gaia hypothesis is for those who like to walk or simply stand and stare, to wonder about the Earth and the life it bears, and to speculate about the consequences of our own presence here. It is an alternative to that pessimistic view which sees nature as a primitive force to be subdued and conquered. It is also an alternative to that equally depressing picture of our planet as a demented spaceship, forever traveling, driverless and purposeless, around an inner circle of the sun.
—  Gaia: A New Look At Life On Earth - James Lovelock
The entire range of living matter on Earth from whales to viruses and from oaks to algae could be regarded as constituting a single living entity capable of maintaining the Earth’s atmosphere to suit its overall needs and endowed with faculties and powers far beyond those of its constituent parts…[Gaia can be defined] as a complex entity involving the Earth’s biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and soil; the totality constituting a feedback of cybernetic systems which seeks an optimal physical and chemical environment for life on this planet.
—  James Lovelock
The problem is we don’t know what the climate is doing. We thought we knew 20 years ago. That led to some alarmist books – mine included – because it looked clear-cut, but it hasn’t happened.

— Scientist James Lovelock

James Lovelock, the maverick scientist who became a guru to the environmental movement with his “Gaia” theory of the Earth as a single organism, has admitted to being “alarmist” about climate change and says other environmental commentators, such as Al Gore, were too.

Lovelock, 92, is writing a new book in which he will say climate change is still happening, but not as quickly as he once feared. Read more.


So having worked on a bazillion issues of Dazed, which legendary moment did our editor Rod Stanley pick to talk about?

"Vivienne was passionate and knowledgeable, and James [Lovelock] showed no signs of being surprised to be grilled by one of the country’s leading fashion designers." 

Be sure to stay tuned to @DazedMagazine today for your last chance to win Dazed x Ray-Ban 75th Anniversary Celebration tickets. Or go straight to the tab!

Sobre la teoría de Gaia y el modelo del Mundo de las Margaritas de James E. Lovelock:

A través de su teoría de Gaia y modelos como el Mundo de las margaritas (sobre el cual realicé una presentación durante el último año de carrera), el científico británico argumenta que la vida se hizo presente en abundancia en la faz de nuestro joven planeta ha mantenido de manera inconsciente las condiciones idóneas para el mantenimiento de los diferentes organismos vivos. En otras palabras, la vida ha mantenido la vida. Existe mucha controversia sobre esta afirmación pero las lecciones de estahomeostasis planetaria que sugiere Lovelock son múltiples y muy valiosas. En especial en lo que respecta al impacto del hombre sobre el planeta, por ejemplo a través del calentamiento global. Según James Lovelock la humanidad puede que esté construyendo su propia tumba ya que la Tierra se autorregulará (no se sabe si de forma drástica o gradual) hacia un nuevo estado en el que puede que los hombres y su civilización no estén adaptados.

/vía La Brujula de Ulises

Instead of robots going to war with us and taking over the world, which is the way it’s always portrayed in science fiction, I thought, what happens if we join with them? It’s already happening. I’ve got a pacemaker, which is a very handy device and works like a dream. I’m beginning to regard it almost as part of my body, and don’t think about it. My pacemaker is an old-fashioned one. It has a battery that lasts 10 years and has to be replaced, but already pacemakers are starting to be thought about that use the body system to provide the energy to keep them going. It’s coupled to the physiology of my body more or less completely, and, much more sinister, it has a radio communication with the outside world so that the technician can check it every year to see whether it’s working. This really bothers me, because I can see it’s only a short time before my body’s on the internet and receiving spam. Once you go in for this endosymbiosis with the mechanical world, you’re in for trouble, and we’ve started.
—  James Lovelock

(From a comment on this.)

My own response has evolved. There’s the initial shock of learning how actually bad things are going to be, and it’s only human to react strongly and emotionally to that, especially as a parent.

But it’s important to realize, too, that life will go on. Many people’s grandkids who would otherwise have lived will probably either die or never be born because of climate change; many others will have lives that will be deeply unpleasant. But people will still be here. We’re a weedy species. Like cockroaches and starlings, we won’t vanish. An almost unthinkable number of other species probably will, but humans — at least some humans — will remain. They’ll still fall in love, share special moments, tell stories, laugh… Your grandkids probably have as good a shot at that as anyone’s. So there’s that.

Also, after the Sixth Great Extinction has run its course, a few million years from now, there will be a new flowering of species radiating their way into the vacant niches. And through all that, the silverfish probably won’t even notice, except for there having been a brief and unexplained hiccup of warmth and moisture and starchy book bindings, now passed.

For me it comes down to a choice between despair and hope. Tolkien wrote that “by 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead.” It haunted him, and he spent his life crafting a story to dramatize what he thought about how a person should respond to knowledge like that. Look at Denethor’s actions after he looks in the Palantir, versus Aragorn’s. Or look at Frodo and Sam, and their responses to Galadriel’s Mirror.

That Guardian piece I linked to isn’t giving you Lovelock’s views directly; like the Mirror of Galadriel, The Guardian is dangerous as a guide of deeds. We need to know what’s coming in order to prepare ourselves and to counter those who would mislead. But we also need to appreciate that if things are going downhill the way they appear to be, we should recognize and honor what we have today. I think that’s the point Lovelock was trying to make in that interview, though I’m not sure his interviewer really understood.

If a version of me had lived in the 1840s, and I could go back in time and talk to him, what would I tell him? Would I show him pictures of the carnage of the Civil War? Or tell him uplifting stories about the beginning of the end of slavery? Talk about the bombing of Hiroshima? Or about the landings on the Moon? What would I want him to know about the future? And if he knew what was coming, how would I want him to respond?

I think I’d want him to go bird-watching. I’d want him to walk through the forest listening for the call of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. I’d want him to watch Carolina Parakeets at play, or stand beneath a flock of Passenger Pigeons so huge it blocked out the sun.

Everything dies. Individuals, societies, species: all of us are coming to an end. One day life itself will come to an end. It can be comforting to imagine otherwise, but that’s a fantasy.

Climate scientists and magazine writers (and programmers) aren’t necessarily the best people to advise you on how to process that knowledge. I think poets are a better source. So I re-read Tolkien. Also, thanks to despairoftranslators, I’ve been reading Owls and Other Fantasies by Mary Oliver. God, I love that book.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Sound of the times - the annual Artangel Longplayer Conversation

The annual Artangel Longplayer Conversation invites two cultural thinkers to engage in a discussion inspired by the philosophical premise of Jem Finer’s Longplayer. This year the two thinkers brought together by Artangel are philosopher John Gray and climate-scientist James Lovelock.

The Longplayer, in case you were curious, is a musical composition that began playing at midnight on 31 December 1999 and is intended to play for 1,000 years. It will play without repetition until the very last moment of the year 2999 at which point it will begin again. It can be heard in London at the Trinity Buoy Wharf lighthouse and at a series of other listening posts around the world, as well as globally via a live stream on the internet. The piece was composed for singing bowls - an ancient type of standing bell - which can be played by both humans and machines. It is designed to adapt to unforeseeable changes in its technological and social environments and to endure long-term as a self-sustaining institution.

The piece was created in response to a series of questions about time, artificial life, survival, communication, listening and the unknown future. Artangel say that “Longplayer is composed in such a way that the character of its music changes from day to day and – though it is beyond the reach of any one person’s experience – from century to century. It works in a way somewhat akin to a system of planets, which are aligned only once every thousand years, and whose orbits meanwhile move in and out of phase with each other in constantly shifting configurations. In a similar way, Longplayer is predetermined from beginning to end – its movements are calculable, but are occurring on a scale so vast as to be all but unknowable.”

Past pairings of the Artangel Longplayer Conversation have included Doris Lessing and Laurie Anderson and Alain de Botton and George Soros.

Intelligence Squared are very pleased to announce that we will be partnering with Artangel for this exceptional event. It will be being live streamed at 7pm on April 18.