New Worlders who’ve scanned some of my previous posts will know that I profess atheism, at least in any Biblical sense… but we’ve also discussed the phenomena of ‘emergence’ and ‘complexity’, some basic understanding of which have only emerged (if you will) in the past few decades… Also intriguing to me are discoveries in the so-called ‘hive behaviours’ of bees, ants and related species, of ‘flocking’ and ‘schooling’ in birds and fish… all surely amazing examples of emergent properties…
In the 1970′s, James Lovelock, formerly a NASA researcher tasked with studying ways of detecting life on Mars, first put forward an idea merging concepts arising from ecological studies and his own intimations of emergence and interaction… an idea he first called ‘Earth Feedback’. Fortunately for us all, his neighbour happened to be the Nobel Prize winning novelist William Golding (‘Lord of The Flies’), who suggested the ancient Greek Earth goddess ‘Gaia’ as a better descriptor… Thus, the ‘Gaia Hypothesis’ was born…
There are really two ways of looking at the ‘Gaia’ idea; what I’ll call the ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ Gaia Hypotheses. I think most educated people would accept the ‘weak’ version, stipulating that an extremely complex ‘web of life’ exists on this planet, and acknowledging that ‘pulling’ on or damaging any one part, even a small one, can have far-reaching and unintended consequences to this ‘web’ as a whole.
But the ‘strong’ form of ‘Gaia’ is downright spooky in its implications! It suggests that there is actually some kind of a ‘field of consciousness’ that somehow permeates our planet (or at least the near-surface) as a WHOLE. That the Earth might actually be able to ‘think’ or ‘feel’ is a step (or several) too far for most researchers, and any so-called ‘proof’ of such a view is extremely tenuous at best! On its face, it sounds like so much ‘New Age’ wishful claptrap! The whole PLANET as a living, conscious organism? Absurd!… Or is it?
Like many denizens of this New Worlds ‘microverse’ ;-}, I’ve read Science Fiction since childhood. My own Dad was an early fan of Asimov and Clarke and Van Vogt… and Stanislaw Lem. And I devoured those books! (Arthur C. Clarke’s “Childhood’s End” went a long way toward defining my (anti) religious outlook)… So no, not so much the shoot-’em-up, giant hideous alien attacking the fetching female stuff (although that can be fun too ;-}), but the stories that put forth real IDEAS. I needn’t list the authors, I trust we all know what we’re talking about here… CONCEPTS!
(I’ll just mention that several of the modern writers’ names start with a ‘B’ ;-})
One novel that predates the ‘Gaia Hypothesis’ but brilliantly foreshadows the relevant concepts is ‘Solaris’ (1961) by Polish writer Stanislaw Lem (1921-2006). ‘Solaris’ was made into an outstanding Soviet film in 1972 (‘Солярис’) and more recently into an rather bad one (which totally misses the point!) in 2002 (starring George Clooney)… See the Russian film, skip the American one! PLEASE! ;-}
But as cinema is wont to do, even Tarkovsky’s film tends to focus on human relationships and feelings (ie: guilt as is perhaps to be expected from the Russians anyway;-}) and they somewhat soft-pedal the hard science and philosophy… So I strongly recommend reading (or re-reading) Lem’s original book. It’s only about 200 pages long…. And dig that original Polish>French>English translation (1970) paperback cover! Psychedelic!:
Without (I hope) giving too much away, central to story is the fact that the entire fictitious planet of ‘Solaris’ is sentient… and, being aware, it curiously tries to probe the minds of its Earthly visitors… to amazing and horrifying result! Thus, well before science had admitted the mere glint of possibility, Comrade Lem was onto the basic ‘Gaia’ concept!
So, just for a moment, I invite you to suspend disbelief and entertain a few wild possibilities:
What If… Bees or Ants, as a collective, were somehow able to achieve actual consciousness? A sort of ‘hive mind’ if you will. We have an inter-communicating mass of thousands or even millions of ‘functional units’… in other words, a very complex NETWORK… is it possible?
What If… the ‘strong’ Gaia Hypothesis is true? What if the Earth somehow ‘knows’ when something is ‘wrong’ and could actually ACT to counter the problem… and What If the ‘problem’ turns out to be US? Homo sapiens?… oops!
And finally, to take the BIG leap, What If… these hypothetical ‘networks’ are not constrained or limited to just our provincial Earth? What If… INTERSTELLAR networks of life, and (since I’m ‘blue skying’ here) even CONSCIOUSNESS actually exist?… What If… beyond our psychological fear of death… there really IS something to that feeling that we (well, some of us) sometimes get that EVERYTHING is interconnected? What If… there is MORE than what we can currently perceive and measure… maybe even a LOT MORE??
Just sayin’… ;-}
What do YOU think?