On Gaia tests whether the hypothesis holds up to scientific scrutiny

Scott K. Johnson reviews On Gaia: A Critical Investigation of the Relationship Between Life and Earth by Toby Tyrrell:

Spiritual groups that hope to attract your interest may exhort you to “Be a part of something bigger than yourself!” But James Lovelock would tell you that you can already check that off your to-do list.

In the early 1970s, Lovelock—with the help of Lynn Margulis—developed the Gaia Hypothesis, which views the Earth and its ecosystems as resembling a sort of superorganism. Lovelock was working for NASA at the time, developing instruments that would aid the Viking landers in looking for signs of life on Mars, so he was thinking about how life interacts with its environment on a planetary scale. And Margulis was famed for her ideas about symbiosis.

This intellectual background led to the idea that organisms are not just passive inhabitants riding a big rock that determined whether they lived or died. Organisms were active participants in the molding of their environment, tweaking and improving conditions as part of a massive, self-regulating system.

In On Gaia: A Critical Investigation of the Relationship Between Life and Earth, University of Southampton Professor Toby Tyrrell sets out to comprehensively put the Gaia Hypothesis to the test, using everything we’ve learned about life and its history on our planet.

Full Story: Ars Technica: On Gaia tests whether the hypothesis holds up to scientific scrutiny

See also:

Creator of the Gaia hypothesis says “enjoy life while you can”

Manuel DeLanda: “Don’t call me Gaia”

JG Ballard: Warrior for Gaia?

Rushing to Paradise

A press release from the BL touting the news contained something that caught my eye. Listing Ballard’s achievements, the Library tells us he “predicted the rise of terrorism against tourists, the alienation of a society obsessed by new technology and ecological disasters such as the melting of the ice caps”.

It was echoed in a tweet, from the Library’s Head of Media Relations, Strategic Marketing and Communications Miki Lentin.

“Ecological crisis, technological fetishism…JG Ballard archive acquired by British Library”

Sort of like Mystic Meg, then.

But is this really true? While disasters recur in Ballard’s fiction, the reason they are so vivid, Shaun again reminds us, is “because it’s what we really wanted all along”. They weren’t ecological predictions, or warnings. They explored our desire for apocalypse. If they predicted anything, it was the media’s desire for eco-porn, and our thirst for the End Times.

The Register: JG Ballard: Warrior for Gaia?

Creator of the Gaia hypothesis says “enjoy life while you can”

Lovelock believes global warming is now irreversible, and that nothing can prevent large parts of the planet becoming too hot to inhabit, or sinking underwater, resulting in mass migration, famine and epidemics. Britain is going to become a lifeboat for refugees from mainland Europe, so instead of wasting our time on wind turbines we need to start planning how to survive. To Lovelock, the logic is clear. The sustainability brigade are insane to think we can save ourselves by going back to nature; our only chance of survival will come not from less technology, but more.

Nuclear power, he argues, can solve our energy problem – the bigger challenge will be food. “Maybe they’ll synthesise food. I don’t know. Synthesising food is not some mad visionary idea; you can buy it in Tesco’s, in the form of Quorn. It’s not that good, but people buy it. You can live on it.” But he fears we won’t invent the necessary technologies in time, and expects “about 80%” of the world’s population to be wiped out by 2100. Prophets have been foretelling Armageddon since time began, he says. “But this is the real thing.”


What would Lovelock do now, I ask, if he were me? He smiles and says: “Enjoy life while you can. Because if you’re lucky it’s going to be 20 years before it hits the fan.”

Full Story: Guardian

Contra: A skeptical look at the economics of nuclear energy from the Nation

Humans Nearly Extinct 70,000 Years Ago

From AOL News:— The human race may have had a brush with extinction 70,000 years ago, two new genetic studies suggest.

The human race may have been nearly wiped out 70,000 years ago, two new studies suggest. The human population at that time was reduced to small isolated groups in Africa, apparently because of drought, according to an analysis published Thursday in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

The report notes that a separate study by researchers at Stanford University estimates that the number of early humans may have shrunk as low as 2,000 before numbers began to expand again in the early Stone Age. "This study illustrates the extraordinary power of genetics to reveal insights into some of the key events in our species’ history," said Spencer Wells, National Geographic Society explorer in residence.

Previous studies using mitochondrial DNA – which is passed down through mothers – have traced modern humans to a single “mitochondrial Eve,” who lived in Africa about 200,000 years ago. The migrations of humans out of Africa to populate the rest of the world appear to have begun about 60,000 years ago, but little has been known about humans between Eve and that dispersal.

The new study looks at the mitochondrial DNA of the Khoi and San people in South Africa which appear to have diverged from other people between 90,000 and 150,000 years ago. Eastern Africa experienced a string of severe droughts between 135,000 and 90,000 years ago. The researchers said this climatological shift may have contributed to the population changes, dividing people into small, isolated groups which developed independently.

Paleontologist Meave Leakey, a Genographic adviser, commented: “Who would have thought that as recently as 70,000 years ago, extremes of climate had reduced our population to such small numbers that we were on the very edge of extinction.” Today more than 6.6 billion people inhabit the planet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Of course, we know the Devil put that evidence in our DNA to trick the True Believers.

(Thanks, Chad.)

Philip Pullman: New Brand of Environmentalism

“[…] Environmentalists need to know something about basic storytelling in order to make their words effective. Samuel Johnson apparently said something I find very useful to remember: “The true aim of writing is to enable the reader better to enjoy life, or better to endure it.” Research is much easier than writing, so the temptation is to shove all the research in. But page after page after page of the stuff goes by and, of course, people stop reading. I suppose the real story, the basic story, the story I would like to hear, see, read, is the story about how connected we are, not only with one another but also with the place we live in. And how it’s almost infinitely rich, but it’s in some danger; and that despite the danger, we can do something to overcome it.

[…] Environmentalists also tell a story about us and ourselves and our place in the universe. In a sense it’s a religious story, because that’s the big question of religion. Why are we here? What is here, what does it consist of? What have we got to do now we are here? What responsibilities does being conscious place on us? And those are questions which the environmental movement, over the past 25 years, and certainly since the global warming issue has come up, has been very much engaged in. What does it mean to us to be conscious of what we are doing to the world? Some people attempt to maintain a state of denial: “It’s not happening”, or “It is happening, but it’s natural and it’s nothing to do with us”, or “It’s happening but we can fix it with technology.” All these are attempts to deny responsibility for it; to deny anything that they might have to do.”

(via Telegraph)

Two Old DeLanda Interviews

I actually thought I’d posted these before, but I can’t find them in the archives anywhere. They are older interviews, but they’re a good introduction to DeLanda.

From the Zero News Datapool:

Don’t call me Gaia. The Gaia hypothesis is a very interesting point. […] Philosophically, it is a terrible mistake. It is a terrible mistake precisely in the neo-materialist sense because it takes the metaphor of the organism, it sees life, living flesh as the most magical thing that happened on this planet. This is of course a chauvinism, a kind of organic chauvinism on our part. It takes the metaphor of the organism and applies it to the whole planet. Now the whole planet is alive, that what Gaia is. Not only do you call it an organism, you also give it a goddess name just to make sure you are ridiculous enough. The way out of this is to think that the planet is indeed something special, but it what Deleuze and Guttari called a body without organs, which is the exact opposite of an organism. It is a cauldron or receptacle of non-organic life, a body without organs. Because it can be alive in the sense of being creative and generating order without having genes or having organs or being an organism. In my view, the very fact that the atmosphere connected with the hydrosphere can generate things like hurricanes and cyclones and all kinds of self-organizing entities means that indeed the planet, even before living creatures appeared, was already a body without organs, a cauldron of creativity, a receptacle of spontaneously emerging order.

And here’s Erik Davis’s interview with DeLanda from Mondo 2000:

I have my shaman there, since I was like 19, this woman called Julietta. She is a direct heir of a long, long line of Mazatec knowledge.

I hate mysticism. I’ve always hated the whole idea of taking psychedelics and then going, “Western science is bullshit, let’s turn to Eastern philosophy.” I always strive to have a materialist explanation for what’s going on. I always thought that matter had much more to it than just this inert stuff that sits here. And now I’m being proved right.

Think about the Game of Life [computer-based cellular automata developed by mathematician John Conway]. At first the rules of interaction of the little cells in an abstract space were so simple that everybody thought it was a game. Then they found ladders and glider-generating guns spontaneously forming. So this tiny, abstract, stupid space all of a sudden began exploding with possibilities.

Grow Your Own House

plant your own house

Those familiar with Paul Laffoley will be excited to see this project:

The Fab Tree Hab — a home literally made from trees, using an ancient technique called pleaching (the art of weaving (and sometimes grafting) trees together to form structures) — was one of the design entries for the Index: awards, emerging from the genius of a crew including MIT architect Mitchell Joachim and our friend, Javier Arbona of Archinect. The project description emphasized consideration of whole systems (and ecosystems) in creating a truly sustainable built environment, rather than a piecemeal approach that could yield uncertain longterm outcomes.

World Changing: Grow Your Own Treehouse and other thoughts on Ecological Architecture

See also: Influences on Archinode’s Fab Tree Hab

Gaians vs Transhumans: Or How to Survive the Crash

Regarding Gaians vs Transhumans, there is really is no conflict and I consider myself to be both. I see no reason why we as children of Gaia shouldn’t be able to survive, prosper and grow, while harmoniously restoring the biosphere to a pre-human paradise. If done right, nanotechnologies are the most environmentally friendly technology that could possibly exist. It is the perfect emulation of life in everyway, while also possessing an evolutionary unfoldment of ever- increasing intelligence. In no time at all, nanotechnology could reverse every “damaging” thing we’ve ever done, while simulataneously bootstrapping life and intelligence to the stars, which is by far holistically, cosmically and universally the most sustainable thing life could ever do. Life is about balance, beauty and harmony, but it is also about evolution, growth and awakening. Let a thousand worlds flourish!

Future Hi: Gaians vs Transhumans: Or How to Survive the Crash

Organic Warfare: Red Dawn of Gaia

We may place ourselves in a situation where vast systems such as the atmosphere, planktons, the oceans and plate tectonics are preserving their own gigantic equilibriums in ways that may impinge upon human existence in yet-unforseen ways. It is a sort of warfare, but without malice or plan; Gaia is just acting to preserve balances and is not aware of us. But civilians in shelled cities die just the same as soldiers.

Full Story: Organic Warfare: Red Dawn of Gaia

Organic Warfare is one of the most interesting new blogs I’ve seen in a long time. From their description: “Evolutionary and biological models and metaphors in modern warfare: from the Afghan war to the Iraq insurgency.”

(via Abstract Dynamics)

Highlife Theory: Examining the Possibility of Life on Earth

I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but this looks promising:

We’ve gotten close before, with the Gaia Hypothesis, but just missed it. The Gaia Hypothesis showed the entire Earth as one large living organism, but failed to show it as an intelligent organism. Highlife Theory shows it as an extremely intelligent organism.

Highlife Theory: Examining the Possibility of Life on Earth

(via Vortex Egg)

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