Musings: Gaia and James Lovelock

This is a supplementary page, consolidating multiple posts on Gaia and James Lovelock. Posts are in chronological order, oldest first.

Lovelock: The Gaia guy (May 8, 2009)
Gaia's evil twin: Is life its own worst enemy? (June 26, 2009)

For a book which builds on the more serious side of Lovelock's ideas, by one of his former students, see my page of Book Suggestions: Lenton & Watson, Revolutions that made the Earth (2011).

Lovelock: The Gaia guy

May 8, 2009

There is a short video of an interview with James Lovelock at the Nature web site, freely available at: Lovelock video.

Borislav offers the following intro to it:

"A very smart interview with a very smart guy. James Lovelock is the man behind a Gaia hypothesis - a perception of all the living creatures and their supporting environment on Earth as one living entity.

The interview begins with a few laughs, but shortly after it starts to get really chilling, as Lovelock coldly and calmly presents his view of probable outcome of human disregard to his living environment."

The occasion is a new book from Lovelock. For an intro to the book, and to a book about him, see the double book review "The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning" by James Lovelock and "He Knew He Was Right: The Irrepressible Life of James Lovelock and Gaia" by John and Mary Gribbin. (The Sunday Times, February 22, 2009.) It is now archived at: archive copy.

As an alternative, the following review of the two books may be useful: Jim'll fix it -- Could James Lovelock really solve the earth's problems? Peter Forbes is almost convinced. (Guardian, February 20, 2009.)

Just a caution, especially for those who do not know of Lovelock... He is a fascinating guy, with provocative ideas. Listen, and engage in his story. But that does not mean he is right.

Gaia's evil twin: Is life its own worst enemy?

June 26, 2009

Borislav sent the following story from New Scientist about the Gaia hypothesis: Gaia's evil twin: Is life its own worst enemy? (New Scientist, June 17, 2009.) It is a good lively story -- not just about Gaia but about the earth and about life. A caution: it starts with some hype, and along the way introduces ideas it later refutes. It covers a lot of ground, and overall does a pretty good job of presenting the issues. But be wary of simple conclusions. Science is about figuring things out, and not about having simple answers at hand. (This article seems to no longer be freely available.)

We had an earlier item about Gaia, more specifically about its creator, James Lovelock. That item is Lovelock: The Gaia guy (May 8, 2009). You can read the items independently.

In the earlier post, I commented briefly, urging caution in thinking about Gaia. Since it has come up again, I feel compelled to again comment. I emphasize, this is my opinion. I have never been a fan of Gaia; it really never made much sense to me. The current article makes that point. However, it is not so simple. First, Gaia is not one simple idea. It has several variations, and the ideas themselves evolve over time -- especially in the minds of Lovelock and other good scientists. Second, Gaia has stimulated public interest. That is good -- though it would have been better if it were better understood. Third, Lovelock himself is a fascinating guy -- a good scientist and a good communicator. I'm not sure Lovelock believes in Gaia. I think a good view is that Gaia has served as a framework for a wide range of scientific work in recent decades. For example, the interconnections between life processes and the nature of the earth have become very clear. Biogeochemistry is now a well accepted field of study. It is one thing to applaud the attention that Gaia has given to these interactions; it is another to suggest that those interactions are fundamentally homeostatic, without limit. Anyway, enjoy the article; it has much to say. Try to follow some of the scientific arguments in it, and beware of one line answers -- to anything.

Borislav responded to that:

Well in general I agree with you. "There's no such thing as a free lunch." Actions of any living creature in biosphere influence other creatures and the biosphere itself; that is undoubtful, but it is oversimplification to put everything in the same basket. On the other hand, The Gaia Theory is a very simple theory that people can relate to and understand to the certain point. For me, Gaia is more of a stimulus for the mind, which can be perceived and accepted easily. Interested individuals later can easily learn more, and develop more precise theories and correlations. Even Einstein needed something to give him wings, and he might also have found something like his Gaia Theory.

I think an important point that we are both trying to make is that science may offer a tentative model of something because it is useful to have a framework. We do not necessarily believe the model; the point is to try it and see if or how well it works. What can happen is that those not involved in the field hear the model but not its context; the model takes on a life of its own. Not so good. Remember, science is based on evidence, and is self-correcting over the long term.

In any case, read the New Scientist article; it is good.

Return to archive page where these items were originally posted:
Lovelock: The Gaia guy (May 8, 2009)
Gaia's evil twin: Is life its own worst enemy? (June 26, 2009)

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