Entry: The Gaia Hypothesis
Serena Anderlini-D’Onofrio, PhD
1. Introduction: The Epistemic Axiom
The Gaia Hypothesis is a term currently used in scientific discourse to denote a major axiom in post-modern epistemologies. The biota, or sum of atmosphere and biosphere, marks the difference between third planet Earth and its neighbors Mars and Venus. This web of interconnected ecosystem constitutes a sovereign entity that is over four billion years old and has the power to perpetuate itself at the expense of any species that might constitute a threat to its balance and homeostasis. To the woeful surprise of many humans, this sovereign power also applies to our species.
The Gaia Hypothesis is a scientific theory of the pardigmatic order: it shifts the foundation of knowledge that characterizes an age. In this, it can be compared to the cosmological theory that came to be known as the Copernican revolution: a theory that marked the modern era with the interpretation of the Earth as a revolving sphere also in motion around a center outside of itself, rather than a immobile sphere around which everything else revolves. Just like Copernicus’s paradigm accentuates dynamism over stability, so the Gaia Hypothesis accentuates interconnectedness over individuality. Just like modernity is marked by a focus on humankind as a species with a special potential and destiny, so post-modernity is marked by a focus on global ecology and planetary consciousness: sovereign entities with whom human consciousness is free to align or not, at its own risk.
As a scientific theory, the Gaia Hypothesis is associated with two main scientists of the second half of the 20th Century: the independent scientist, ecologist, and futurologist James Lovelock, based in Devon, England; and the late geoscientist, biologist, and university professor at U Mass, Amherst, Lynn Margulis.
Lovelock is responsible for the macrocosmic aspects of the theory: the observation that planetary homeostasis has been maintained overtime at the expense of species or varieties within a species that constituted a threat to the overarching balance of life as a whole; and the diagnosis of Earth as an ailing patient in need of immediate medical attention, due to persistent human abuse. In Lovelock’s perspective, this attention could come in the form of replacing fossil-fuel energy with nuclear energy, which would be exclusively devoted to civil use.
Margulis focuses on the microcosmic aspects of the theory and extrapolates significant global conclusions. Margulis articulates a Gaian perspective on evolution that involves a critique of Darwinian emphasis on selection and competition. The main force that sustains life across time and space is symbiosis and collaboration. Further, Margulis interprets symbiosis as a form of sexual expression that helps to sustain the life of a species that engages in it, much beyond the reproductive intent of any of its individuals. From this perspective, life, consciousness, sex, love started with bacteria about four billion years ago. These prokaryotic unicellular organisms are our first ancestors and our symbionts: namely the smaller organisms that aggregate to form larger and more complex ones like ours. So, based on this axiom, our ancestors bacteria are symbiotic and accustomed to sharing resources of love. They have recreational sex with their neighbors to stay in good health. Since they’ve been around for so long, one might infer that we would probably do well to learn something from them.
To be continuded . . . . come back next week, same time.
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