The Gaia Hypothesis Essay, Research Paper
The Gaia Hypothesis
The Gaia Hypothesis is a hypothesis that was developed by James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis in the late 1970’s. James Lovelock is a British scientist, an atmospheric chemist, and also an inventor with an education in human physiology. Lynn Margulis was a microbiologist during the 1970’s at Boston University. She also originated the theory of the eukaryotic cell arising as a result of endosymbiotic cell capture. This theory is the one that gave her the credibility to advance the Gaia Hypothesis.
Since every hypothesis takes the form of an if/then statement, the Gaia Hypothesis namely is an if/then statement. Summarized the Gaia Hypothesis is “If life regulates the physical and chemical environment of the planet so as to maintain suitable planetary conditions for the good of life itself, then the planet can be thought of as a single integrated, living entity with self-regulating abilities.” (University, p.2). The hypothesis interweaves various explanations of the Earth’s functions as they relate to various philosophical evaluations and scientific rationale.
The hypothesis can be defined through metaphors, religious beliefs, and scientific rationale. The most common metaphor is “The Earth is a single living entity.” (Oceans, p. 1). Lovelock recognizes that this metaphor is a convenient way to organize and explain the facts of the Earth. Plato, a famous philosopher, rationalizes this metaphor by saying ” ‘ We shall affirm that the cosmos, more than anything else, resembles most closely that living creature of which all other living creatures, severally or genetically, are portion; a living creature which is fairest of all and in ways most perfect.’ ” (Charlton, p.3). There are many metaphors that relate to this metaphor. Specifically, one metaphor is that instead of the Earth acting as an entire organism it acts as a single cell. This specific metaphor was originated by Lewis Thomas, a medical doctor. (Oceans, p.2). James W. Kirchner, a scientist, believes that this hypothesis can be compared to the writing of Shakespeare. Shakespeare stated that, ” All the world’s a stage,” and the Gaia Hypothesis states that, “All the world is a living organism.” (Oceans, p.2). Kirchner believes that metaphors inspire fruitful speculation, but that metaphors themselves are untestable.
Lovelock has a separate metaphor for Gaia. Lovelock states that he sees Gaia as being like a tree. ‘A tree that quietly exists, never moving except to sway in the wind, yet endlessly conversing with the sunlight and the soil. Using sunlight and water and nutrient minerals to grow and change.’ (Charlton, p.2). Another metaphor for Gaia is that it has been seen to be like a California Redwood. The redwood’s tissue is 97% dead. The trunk has a thin layer of living organisms spread across its surface, and this is similar to the earth’s lithosphere. The bark is seen to be like the Earth’s atmosphere. The atmosphere is the protective coating on the Earth. The atmosphere protects the Earth like the bark protects the tree. The bark, like the atmosphere, allows the transfer of important gasses, such as oxygen and carbon dioxide. “While much of the Earth may be considered ‘non-living,’ the fact that all of these ‘non-living’ parts are involved to some extent in living processes, suggests that the whole Earth is alive, just like a redwood tree.” (Charlton, p.3).
Another common metaphor is to equate the earth to the human. The oceans and rivers would be like the Earth’s blood. Human blood carries vitamins, minerals, and life as do the oceans and rivers. The atmosphere is like the Earth’s lungs, as it carries the air. It allows for the transfer of gasses and keeps them at an optimum level for life. The land is like the Earth’s bones as it holds up the structure of the Earth and aids in its stability. Without bones a human body would not have any form, it would be similar to a blob. The living organisms are the Earth’s senses as they react to the problems and successes of the water, atmosphere, and land. A human’s senses react to the problems and successes in life. The human senses also react to the physical effects of life not only the emotional.
The Gaia Hypothesis is similar to a thermostat, like the thermostats that are within a human or a household. In a household, we set the thermostat at a comfortable temperature. For our bodies it is 98 degrees, for our house it might be 78 degrees. When the temperature deviates, the heating or cooling system takes over and adjusts the temperature. For our body it is sweating or shivering to raise or lower the temperature as needed. For our house it would be the air conditioning or the furnace to raise or lower the temperature as needed. (University, p.1).
If Gaia is indeed a living organism, then it should have the ability to reproduce. This doesn’t seem true unless one assumes that human beings are the Earth’s reproductive function. Where humans will strive to colonize other planets and in doing so will jumpstart that planet into life. If we are the reproduction of Gaia, then will be able to take our knowledge and create or preserve life on other planets. We should be able to make them habitable when they are not. Another function of man is not only to create, but to destruct. It is seen that “Earth is a single living organism with a will to live.” (p.2). There are two different ways to look at environmental destruction. The first way is by polluting and destroying forests we are similar to a virus. In being similar to a virus, Gaia produces antibodies. Gaia will protect her body “Earth” as any human would protect theirs with antibodies. “Gaia will find a way to counteract our detrimental effects in order to protect her precious planet.” (p.2).
Philosophical reasoning incorporates the metaphor in conjunction with religion. Many scientist are skeptical of the Gaia hypothesis. They believe that it is unscientific because it cannot be tested. Referring to the hypothesis as it relates to modern man being an ailment to the Earth can be viewed religiously. Man has turned his back on Earth as Earth is compared to God. It is the religious goal of man to be united with his deity, therefore, humans will strive to become one with the Earth. “The New Age has completely jumped on the metaphor. It seems like Gaia is their chance to unite science with the beliefs of the ancients.” ( Studentweb, p.1). Almost every tribal culture has developed a concept of “Mother Earth.”
The first of the religious cultures to share their idea of Gaia were the Ancient Greeks. “The Ancient Greeks called their Earth goddess Ge or Gaia. Gaia embodies the idea of a ‘Mother Earth.’” ( Oceans, p.1). The Greeks viewed Gaia as a gentle, feminine type creature. Gaia was very nurturing and mother like. On the other hand, Gaia had a very cruel hand to anyone that crossed her. She was viewed as the creator, the preserver, and the destroyer.
The Hopi religion also had a name for Mother Earth. The Hopi name is Tapaut, which means mother and child. To the Hopi’s the term Tapaut “is symbolized in such a way that explains the Earth as a cycle of life and the rebirth of the spirit.” (Oceans, p.1). The Hindu’s believed in a goddess named Kali. This is their creation of “Mother Earth.” Kali was worshiped for her “power of destruction” and “gift of creation” as related to universal powers. (Oceans, p.1). Kali is also known as the “Black One” and her name means “the Ferry Across the Ocean of Existence.” (Oceans, p.1).
The Gaia Hypothesis can be explained through scientific rationale. As a matter of fact, “ge” in the words geology and geography is taken from the Greek root for Earth. The hypothesis originated through man’s endeavor to discover life on another planet. Scientists measured and compared other planets’ atmospheric gas contents and their proportions to each other. This comparison yielded to the conclusion that life did not exist on planets other than Earth. The reasoning behind this is that Earth’s atmospheric gasses in their proportion are not chemically balanced unless they are constantly being manipulated. Other planets’ atmospheric gasses maintained a balanced proportion. The account for this difference is life. Life was now seen as maintaining the planet versus what was previously rationalized that life adapts to the conditions of the planet. “According to Lovelock, the geophysiologist sees life as a system open to the flux of matter and energy, but that maintains an internal steady-state.” (Oceans, p.3). The Earth’s biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and soil, provide the Earth’s basic components, which work together to maintain precise physical and chemical balance. “Through Gaia, the Earth sustains a kind of homeostasis, the maintenance of relatively constant conditions.” (Oceans, p.1).
There are many scientifically proven facts about the Earth’s functions which respond to the Gaia Hypothesis. One such function is that the Earth maintains a regulated temperature. There is a balanced proportion of water versus land. Water holds in heat the same way that dry land expels it. There is also a balance of dark versus light colors in nature. Dark colors tend to absorb heat and lighter colors tend to repel it. More complexly, as light and heat from the sun accelerate phytoplankton or plants, these phytoplankton create material necessary to formulate clouds. Clouds act as a shade to the sun’s heat. Also, phytoplankton are responsible for the current abundance of oxygen. There was a time when there was almost no oxygen on Earth.
Since the Gaia Hypothesis states that life formulates the planet, this fact deems critical in proving this statement valid. Phytoplankton started the abundance of oxygen which started the abundance of animals. Animals produce methane gas which destroys oxygen and therefore maintains an oxygen balance. All of this life keeps the planet in perfect balance. If the oxygen level were to rise to be above 35%, then fires would occur through lightening and the planet would be a dead fiery mass. All of these factors conclude that the earth maintains regularity through both temperature and oxygen control. “There has been a 25% increase in heat from the sun since life began. But surface temperature has remained approximately constant.” (Charlton, p.3).
Furthermore, the earth maintains its oceans’ salinity. For billions of years the salt content has been stable at 3.4%. Salt marshes and other such evaporating individual bodies of salt water help to filter out the salt and deposits it in beds. It is interesting to note that cells cannot tolerate salt concentrations much above 5% because of the metaphor that the earth is a single cell. Another metaphor that can be explained scientifically is that the earth is a self-recycling center. This can be examined through studying the carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur cycle. These cycles use and reuse the earth’s basic elements of life. Scientifically proven, the earth is self-maintained much like a living organism.
The idea that the earth is self-governing and self-maintaining can be somewhat frightening if one chooses to see this as a power to destroy mankind. “If the Earth is indeed self-regulating, then it will adjust to the impacts of man. However, as we will see, these adjustments may act to exclude man, much as the introduction of oxygen into the atmosphere by photosynthetic bacteria. This is the crux of the Gaia hypotheses.” (Oceans p.2). Even more frightening is to assert that the Earth has a conscious. This has been scientifically reasoned through an experiment and through the process of elimination. The Biosphere II project designed a mechanical version of earth with all of the proportionate essential elements. The project failed and the only missing element conceivable would be that of a conscious. The Gaia Hypothesis allows for this type of reasoning.
If the earth were alive, then it is conceivable to hold a conscience. There are types of reasoning that the Gaia Hypothesis allows. It attempts to explain circumstances that were previously unexplainable by science. Such situations are the alien abductions. These abductions may be perceived as creations of Gaia to remind mankind of who their mother was by giving the abducted a humbling image of the Earth from an outerspace distance. The Earth would be seen as whole and as a living organism. These types of outrageous rationalizations can add to discrediting the hypothesis for many.
However, there are the more solid scientific arguments as stated previously and there are other scientists who have thought of the Gaia Hypothesis in another sense. “James Hutton (1726-1729), who is the father of geology, once described the Earth as a kind of superorganism.” (Oceans p. 1). Also, “A Russian Scientist, Vladimir Vernadsky, introduced the concept of the biosphere. He recognized matter as ‘living’, life as a geological force, and the atmosphere as an extension of life.” (Charlton p. 3). Some scientists may argue that the Gaia Hypothesis is not scientific because it could not be tested. In response to this, Lovelock produced the Daisyworld model.
This model is computer generated and consists of two colored daisies, black and white. First, there is an abundance of black daisies that absorb the sun’s heat. The abundance of black daisies symbolize an abundance of phytoplankton n the Earth. Then, as time proceeds the Earth containing the daisies becomes warmer and the daisies become white to repel the heat. At this point, the black daisies have retreated to the poles where it is cooler and the white ones stay nearer to the equator to repel the heat of the sun. Lovelock developed this model as a response to criticism. The hypotheses holds much room for debate. At its current state it is open for the debate, but after a number of decades, there may be enough evidence to upgrade it to a theory. This would better credit the hypothesis in the scientific community.
The Gaia Hypothesis crosses the fields of philosophy, religion, and science. Much debate has evolved over where the hypothesis is best suited. In all actuality, it perfectly suits them all simultaneously. The Gaia Hypothesis’ quintessential concept is the idea of a balance; therefore, it would best suit a balance of all of these areas. It perfectly connects three formally distinct areas of thought. As the Gaia Hypothesis connects the essential functions of our Earth, it would be seemingly fit to connect it to the three means of explaining life on Earth.
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