Tuesday 7 December 2010


The Earth is an organism and we're all cells of this organism.

What? The other day someone mentioned this idea to me. At first I was very much puzzled by the concept but slowly, in thinking about it, I became intrigued. Yes, the idea is quite bizarre however could it possibly be true? If it is true, how would anybody prove it? Of course, it is very easy to dismiss such a theory by saying that there is no evidence or there seems to be no evidence. But if you take a moment to think about it, can we really say that it is false? Does a goldfish living in a fishbowl know that he is living in a fishbowl?

The idea of Mother Earth has existed so it seems since the beginning of time. Our ancestors were well aware of the importance of the Earth and knew that everything from the trees and birds to the sea and fish, even life itself depended on it. In Greek mythology, the word refers to Gaia a goddess identified with Mother Earth, otherwise called today the Great Goddess or mother of all living things.

In 1970, British ecologist John Lovelock presented a hypothesis that the Earth is a kind of system that includes all living beings on the planet and that system keeps the planet in harmony. The whole could be regarded as a vast self-regulating body that would maintain the balance of its components in order to support life. Mr Lovelock named his theory the Gaia hypothesis.

In recent decades, this hypothesis has generated much controversy. The fact that Mr. Lovelock used the term "living" when describing the Earth, suggested that the Earth itself was a living being. Despite his explanations ensuring that the word "living" was a metaphor, Mr. Lovelock could not prevent other people from interpreting his works as establishing a vision of the Earth as a true living being. The goddess Gaia has become the personification of Lovelock theories and New Age spiritualism took advantage of the idea of a Living Earth: we are all part of the planet; we're all cells of this planetary organism.

True or false? Obviously, there are many other aspects to the theories of Lovelock but in the simplest terms, even the experts do not agree on the fact or fallacy of ideas of Lovelock. However, it is easy to see that these ideas have captured the attention and imagination of many people whether they are scientists or not.

Imagine: Each of us is a cell of a larger organization. I have often heard of something possible beyond the life we know: something after death, aliens, and the spirit world. However, I never thought of such a concept of a super-organism. It seems amusing to ask the question of whether or not the cells of our bodies are aware of our bodies to which they belong. It also seems amusing to ask the question of whether or not we are aware of an organization or organism to which we belong. I think we would all agree that the cells of our bodies are not aware of our bodies. At least not in the sense we as human beings understand it. We must admit that we are not aware of this supposed super-organism Gaia if it exists.

All joking aside, this idea reminds me of a science fiction story I read long ago. The author suggested that in the future the human race would develop a kind of telepathy, where every brain would be able to interact with the rest. Instead of a race of individual people, we would be able to think together, acting as a single being, a super-being. Hmmm, do I speak of the "Borg" of the television series "Star Trek, the Next Generation"? [chuckles] At the moment, the buzz word of the tech world is "cloud computing" where a bunch of computers work together to provide services. Could we have "cloud thinking"? Hmmm, I am familiar with "cloudy thinking". :-)

Despite these references to science fiction, I do not think the concept of the human race as a whole is as of yet valid. Yes, we have forms of communication: phone, television, the Internet. Yes, we work in groups: teams, companies, cites. Yes, we have systems of government that allows us to act as a more or less coherently. Ha! Okay, maybe the word is not quite "coherently" if I laughingly think of some of the political problems we have, but at least there is some sort of attempt to work together! If I give any credence to Lovelock's idea, I would have to say that this alleged entity is at a very primitive stage of development but can I with a little imagination conceive of the super-organism where we are all cells?

I have not addressed the hypothesis of Lovelock in detail. I leave that to the experts. Yet I find the idea, the human race as an organism, to be an intriguing one. As I mentioned earlier, Lovelock distanced himself from the idea of the Earth as a conscious entity and claimed that his use of the word "living" was a metaphor for a biomass that is trying to maintain some sort of balance which is hospitable to life. If I consider the term organization as a metaphor for all human beings who live, work and exist together, I could put forward that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. There is something, either a concept of an organism or a real organism, which includes humanity and who represents the synergistic entity called the human race.


Wikipedia: Gaia Hypothesis

Wikipedia: James Lovelock


No comments: