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Poetry Prose and Other Words

by Ken Ingham

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The Book

Short Synopsis

Mission Statement

Query Letter

Who is Gaia

My First Encounter with Gaia Theory



Who is Gaia?

Short answer:
Think of Gaia as a living, earthbound
counterpart to God the Heavenly Father.
Belief in God requires faith.
Belief in Gaia, less so.
Both are human constructs.

Gaia, the Primeval Goddess

According to Hesoid's Theogony, Gaia, Greek Goddess of Earth, was the primeval divinity, present at the dawn of creation, maternal ancestor to Zeus, Venus, and all the others: Titans, Olympians, the whole kit and caboodle. She may have preceded monotheism in the human mind. They invented Her before they invented Him. What happened to her? How sad that God the Mother became eclipsed by God the Father. Simply speaking of Him as a father begs the existence of a maternal counterpart. When it comes to defining family values, a mother's views are at least as important and informed as the father's. God the Father is not setting a good example by suppressing his counterpart. It's time to bring her back.

Greek Mythology includes long list of bizarre characters, more elaborate than Downton Abbey or the Holy Bible. How did so many of these stories persist so long in our culture? Why, several thousand years after their initial telling, were they still required reading for anyone seeking erudition? Oh the shenanigans that went on! Greeks had a lot of fun with their religion, certainly more than we are having with what replaced it. And Gaia wasn't the only feminine deity to be suppressed. There were others before her and even some after. Pachamama, for example, earth goddess of the Incans, was nearly wiped out by the Spanish invasion. Why were the Christian conquerors of the new world so disdainful of indigenous religions? Why do they remain so?

Gaia, the Scientific Hypothesis: Earth as Organism

Although intimated earlier by others, the concept of a planetary organism was given scientific credulity by James Lovelock in his widely read 1979 book Gaia: A new look at life on Earth. There he hypothesized that life behaves collectively as if it were part of an integral living organism that actively regulates the composition of its atmosphere, the albedo of its surface, the salinity and acidity of its oceans, all for the purpose of (or at least having the effect of) keeping the planet habitable for life. The idea was given a cool reception by some members of the scientific establishment, but gradually developed some traction and ultimately spurred the growth of a new interdisciplinary field of research known as Earth Systems Science, which studies interactions between Earth's various "spheres": atmosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere, and, most relevant in the context of Gaia, the biosphere. Considering the ways in which some migrating birds are known to semi-circumnavigate, we should also include the magnetosphere.

Consider a single bacterium, that simplest example of a living holon, drifting aimlessly in a saucer of tasteless jello. When it detects a morsel of food, say a sugar molecule, it will immediately swim toward the source of nourishment. It's called chemotaxis. This couldn't happen without a coordinated response from the cell. Dozens of different proteins cooperate to ensure that the flagella all rotate counter clockwise to propel the cell. Another collection of proteins continuously monitors the incoming sugar signals to make sure progress is being made. If not, the molecular motors switch to a clockwise direction, causing the cell to tumble in place, incapable of going anywhere. A few microseconds later, the motors revert to a counterclockwise direction and swimming resumes, in a different, albeit random direction. Trial and error. If the sugar signals are detected more frequently, the cell continues in that direction. All this happens automatically as if directed by some higher authority, but so far, no evidence of such intelligence has been advanced.

Similarly, when a highly complex multi-cellular organism, a human for example, decides to act in some fashion, all of hiser cells and organs must cooperate to enable concerted action. Some actions like walking and breathing, once learned, happen more or less automatically (autonomically), without our conscious attention. Other organisms, social insects for example, cooperate on a still higher level as if of one mind, building hives, gathering food for the community, warding off enemies and swarming as a unit. In those cases also it is not clear that anyone is in charge. There is no physical connection between the brains of the individual insects, yet they coordinate their activities and sometimes even sacrifice themselves for the greater good. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The same is true of Gaia. She is the sum total of all her living constituents, and she is more than the sum of her parts. She is the greatest living holon.

Many of the models used to predict climate change are elaborate extensions of the simple one that Lovelock used as a first test of his ideas. The Gaia Hypothesis has undergone much refinement and is now sometimes referred to as a theory rather than a hypothesis. It remains controversial primarily because of the reluctance of many scientists to appreciate even it's metaphorical value.

Gaia, Mother Earth Metaphor

When Lovelock chose Gaia for the name of his hypothesis/theory, he set in motion her resurrection as a personification of the living Earth, Mother Nature, the web of life, the uber-ecosystem to which all living creatures belong and contribute, sharing DNA, swapping genes, mutating, evolving evermore complexity in response to a steady supply of energy from the Sun. She is the milieu out of which human intelligence evolved (and the glue that can bring us together in our search for existential meaning). Through us Gaia is able to reflect on herself as a “single organic reality” (Thomas Berry). Through us she is able to think and react coherently to events anywhere on her body. Through us she has Mind and Agency, is slowly evolving a conscience, a set of rules to guide us in our efforts to restore and sustain her good health. She is a work in progress, revealed through science and exalted through art. She is the emerging soul of the One Evolving Earth Organism (OEEO). She is geosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, biosphere... and now... she dons the Noösphere like a halo. She is something to believe in, worthy of our respect, suitable for worship. No faith required.


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