February 14th, 2002

Earlier this week, I “coulded” on my fellow humans with my article We Could Save the World about the emergence of GAIA a single organism encompassing all life on planet Earth. I suggested that GAIA’s brain would be created by those life forms capable of thinking — human beings. My metaphor was that like the neurons that serve the body to create intelligence, humans could serve GAIA in a similar role. This article provoked the following comments and thread of discussion.


A CommUnity of Minds Thinks About GAIA

 
Scott Meredith
Timothy wrote, “The more intelligent GAIA is, the more likely she will survive.”
 
So, Gaia “needs” us as neurons, does she ?
 
Seems to me Gaia was doing OK without us neurons for some extended prior time. Only argument along these lines that makes much sense might be the comet defense thing. So – we poisoned the biosphere with nuke waste in order to have the capability to possibly fend off a comet at some future time. Great, we cool neurons should pat ourselves on the back for being so cool.
 
Arthur Noll
We haven’t poisoned the biosphere beyond hope with nuclear waste yet. I think humans have potential to do a lot better than we have with managing things so far, both with regard to each other and to nature. People with a cautious frame of mind have not been running the show to date. But evolution can select more cautious, forward looking types to be far more common than they are at present.
 
Scott Meredith
Arthur said: “I think humans have potential to do a lot better than we have with managing
things so far, both with regard to each other and to nature.”
 
I just think the whole idea of “managing” nature is ridiculous on its face. At best we might learn to get what we minimally need from it with it killing us of vice versa.
 
As for Gaia “needing” us “neurons” to ward off comets, the probability that we could really serve that function is the multiplication product of:
( The probability that our technology would be good enough ) X ( The  probability that the comet threat is really a threat to Gaia overall )
This is likely a very small number, and it must be – estimated only over the span of human life on earth (a small fraction of earth’s time) and balanced against all the damage and extinctions we have caused to get to the point that we can crank out rockets and warheads.
 
Not a great bargain for “gaia” if you ask me.
 
Arthur Noll
Scott, in response to my statement: I think humans have potential to do a lot better than we have with managing things so far, both with regard to each other and to nature. You wrote:
“I just think the whole idea of “managing” nature is ridiculous on its face. At best we might learn to get what we minimally need from it with it killing us of vice versa.”
Ridiculous for the current level of intelligence, yes. I don’t see that a serious attempt has been made. Most people are far too highly self centered to make a real attempt to interact with nature with the idea that both should benefit.
 
Concerning your comment on the probability and value of our protecting GAIA from comets, I think we will have no choice but to do the best we can when the time comes.Things are the way they are.
 
I don’t see “gaia”, as a conscious entity, not in the same sense as we are. In a different sense, nature is far more aware than we are. Does a rock need to do calculations to figure out how to fall? There is a kind of instant awareness of a perfect kind in nature. If nature destroys me, then so it is. If not, I do the best I can according to how it has programmed me, as does everyone. And right now, my programming says to protect my life, to do this I need to protect the life of the natural systems that support me. And that would mean protecting the planet from such collisions. And it means dealing with the people who are now on a collision course with those systems.
 
Tom
Arthur, I agree with your point entirely. However, we need, I think, to begin by demystifying Gaia, so that we neither entertain self- aggrandizing notions about our exalted role as “global brain” nor fall into the reductionist skepticism of putting the word in quotes.
 
Briefly, then, Gaia is not a sentient or conscious organism, nor is she merely a rock that happens to be suitable for life. She is, as ’twere, halfway between these two extremes.
 
She is a solar-powered, self-organizing, self-regulating complex adaptive system. Nothing more, nothing less. Other examples of complex adaptive systems include tightly coupled systems such as cells, organisms, and organizations, and loosely coupled systems such as bacterial mats, ecosystems, and communities. What they all have in common, tightly or loosely coupled, is that they all have a vested interest in maintaining internal order by exporting entropy; all are “purposeful” to the limited extent that they seek to manage their immediate environment so that they may keep on keepin’ on. (In this respect they differ from, say, rocks or waterfalls, that couldn’t give a shit whether they disappear tomorrow, and therefore do nothing to prevent, control, or adapt to change in their environment. Gaia is manifestly adaptive.
 
“Then why do you use the feminine pronoun?” I hear people ask.
 
The same reason sailors did, for their ship. And like the ship which sailors feminized, only more so, Gaia is our support system, our mother, our matrix–and if anything visible deserves to be called “sacred” it is Gaia.
 
But as a complex adaptive system, Gaia does not care whether we live or die. In fact, if she could “prefer” anything, she would probably prefer our speedy demise, simply because our behavior collectively has reduced her resilience and adaptive flexibility–the sole criteria that matter to complex adaptive systems.
 
As to the original piece that prompted this thread–Can we change the world? Buckminster Fuller was indeed a profound visionary in systems design, but he was always politically naive as well–he actually believed that people would abandon their short-term self-interest and do things more intelligently, once they were shown how.
 
If only it were so. Instead, a global corporate oligarchy has emerged, dominated by the oil industry, with an overwhelming vested interest in a plainly nonsustainable status quo–and now they have subverted democracy worldwide, even at the local level (as Bill Moyers’ excellent PBS documentary, “Trading Democracy” so chillingly demonstrated).
 
They have done, and will continue to do, everything possible to prevent truly innovative ideas for alternative energy, alternative design, or alternative lifestyles from ever gaining wide popular exposure. They know that environmental consciousness is bad for business; therefore they have successfully marginalized the environmental movement. So in this light, the likelihood of visionary energy-saving ideas from Bucky Fuller or anyone else ever catching on and spreading rapidly is vanishingly thin.
 
–but not impossible. When a complex system like our global market economy goes into fibrillation and collapse, as now seems immanent, the principle from Chaos theory called “sensitivity to local conditions” kicks in, big time. As things become desperate, a window of opportunity will arise in which vast numbers of people will be suddenly far more receptive to utterly new ways of thinking about everything. Here is our “cubic centimeter of chance.”
 
This is a golden opportunity to launch a self-sustaining, self- replicating, worldwide Gaia movement–calling for a new, inclusive mode of identification with Gaia, our precious web of life, and organizing and empowering people to help each other learn Gaia, teach Gaia, heal Gaia, and create Gaia, building or restoring locally sustainable communities worldwide.
 
This is not a “new religion”–Gaia theory says nothing one way or the other about religious questions such as the existence of God, human sinfulness, salvation, or our ultimate destiny–and it is fully compatible with all existing religions. There are already Gaian Christians, Gaian Jews, Gaian Buddhists, even Gaian Muslims.
 
It is simply an enlightened basis of identification to which everyone can relate, regardless of nationality or religion. Unlike us, Gaia has no knowable “conscious purpose”–but like us, Gaia can get sick and die. And therefore, like us, she can, in theory, be healed. A worldwide Gaia movement can still, in theory, bring about a spontaneous remission of the cancer of the Earth…if only we seize the moment when it arises. And that will be soon.
 
Jivan Vatayan
In response to Tom’s statement:
“She is a solar-powered,. Nothing more, nothing less. Other examples of complex adaptive systems include tightly coupled systems such as cells, organisms, and organizations, and loosely coupled systems such as bacterial mats, ecosystems, and communities. What they all have in common, tightly or loosely coupled, is that they all have a vested interest in maintaining internal order by exporting entropy; all are “purposeful” to the limited extent that they seek to manage their immediate environment so that they may keep on keepin’ on. (In this respect they differ from, say, rocks or waterfalls, that couldn’t give a shit whether they disappear tomorrow, and therefore do nothing to prevent, control, or adapt to change in their environment. Gaia is manifestly adaptive.)”
Here are some words that I use to more accurately describe my understanding of this mystery of reality.
 
The term I use for Gaia is “The Ecodiversity Lifeform”.
 
A word similar to the concept of self-organizing, self-regulating complex adaptive systems is the one I call “organismic integrity”.
 
———————
 
RNA and DNA are discreet units of information that introduce a drive for purpose into the World. When these units of purpose connect and feedback to each other and to rest of the World they form systems of organismic integrity that futher elaborate living integrities. In this view, shortly after viruses elaborated into bacteria and became a world-wide phenomena, the Ecodiversity Lifeform came into being (circa 3.9 bya).
Tom wrote: “As to the original piece that prompted this thread–Can we change the world? Buckminster Fuller was indeed a profound visionary in systems design, but he was always politically naive as well–he actually believed that people would abandon their short-term self-interest and do things more intelligently, once they were shown how.”
Fuller was ecologically naÔve (and perhaps ecologically dangerous) as well. His proposal for the Amazon rainforest was to tear it down and make it into a city.
Tom wrote: “They have done, and will continue to do, everything possible to prevent truly innovative ideas for alternative energy, alternative design, or alternative lifestyles from ever gaining wide popular exposure. They know that environmental consciousness is bad for business; therefore they have successfully marginalized the environmental movement. So in this light, the likelihood of visionary energy-saving ideas from Bucky Fuller or anyone else ever catching on and spreading rapidly is vanishingly thin.”
People are supporting systems and unconsciously and consciously acting together (con-spiring) in pursuit of narrow short-term goals that degrade and destroy the system of life they live inside of (The Trance). We have come to depend upon the rewards and cultural momentum of an extremely dysfunctional incentive system in order to thrive. More ever, fewer and fewer people have any decision-making input in the system that increasingly is primarily rewarding fewer and fewer people. While doing so our way of living systematically externalizes responsibility from the eco and social catastrophe it is driving.
Tom wrote: “This is a golden opportunity to launch a self-sustaining, self- replicating, worldwide Gaia movement–calling for a new, inclusive mode of identification with Gaia, our precious web of life, and organizing and empowering people to help each other learn Gaia, teach Gaia, heal Gaia, and create Gaia, building or restoring locally sustainable communities worldwide.”
Some years ago I formulated a set of seven principles* – called the EarthSelf Responder that nest human understanding within the web of life.
 
*(3 on the mystery of reality of the Ecodiversity Lifeform, 1 on the dysfunctionality of the human trance and three on how to break the trance.
Tom wrote: “This is not a “new religion”–Gaia theory says nothing one way or the other about religious questions such as the existence of God, human sinfulness, salvation, or our ultimate destiny–and it is fully compatible with all existing religions. There are already Gaian Christians, Gaian Jews, Gaian Buddhists, even Gaian Muslims.”
I see the word religion in terms of its roots which relate to “re” and “ligio”. The “ligio” comes from word roots that imply a cord, or tie or binding and suggests that which you are connected to and bonded to. The “re” refers to once again which suggests a refocusing on what we are bonded to. Our ways of identifying the experience of existence come through a sense of the body, emotion, story mind and the integrated deeper connection of all three of these (spirit). This sense of bonding (religio) and spirit need not be a formalized religion in order to function as such. Many of us are bonded to other worldviews, family, nation-state, careers, ideologies, sports and so on, and these can function as prime values and ways of bonding to the World – religions.
Tom wrote: “It is simply an enlightened basis of identification to which everyone can relate, regardless of nationality or religion.”
If an enlightened basis of identification is to become real and effective (Earth as Self) it may have to function as a primal bonding to existence – religion.
Tom wrote: “Unlike us, Gaia has no knowable “conscious purpose”–but like us, Gaia can get sick and die.”
Our knowable conscious purposes are stories that we tell ourselves. The basis for these stories comes from our ability to tell them, combined with our evolutionary background and our social conditioning.
 
Humans are symbolically oriented to languages that articulate concepts. When we see ourselves (reflect) internally on the workings of this symbolic articulation we call it consciousness.
 
The actuality is that that so-called consciousness is but the tip of a vast iceberg of unconscious awareness.
 
Given that assumption, it is therefore reasonable to assume that the human sense of purpose is primarily an unconscious vehicle. Realizing this we can give a most certain respect to whatever we can discern of the unconscious purpose of the living system we are inside of.
 
Timothy Wilken
Tom, I enjoyed your post in response to Arthur’s comments. I imagine we would find ourselves in agreement on many subjects. However, I think you and some of my other readers may be missing a fundamental truth in your analysis. You wrote:
Briefly, then, Gaia is not a sentient or conscious organism, nor is she merely a rock that happens to be suitable for life. She is, as ’twere, halfway between these two extremes.
Without life, Gaia IS merely a rock. It is only LIFE, that makes Gaia “a solar-powered, self-organizing, self-regulating complex adaptive system”.
 
We humans are a form of LIFE! This is a fact of reality paramount to understanding ourselves. And, yet this fact is so pervasive and constant that it rarely enters our consciousness. Our clear and distant superiority to all other forms of life have made it easy for us to neglect our biological basis. As we have seen ourselves different and superior to all other forms of life, we have missed the point . While we differ from plants and animals, we share their aliveness – we are still forms of life – we are still living organisms –we are still living systems .
 
When we examine ourselves scientifically, we discover that humans are living systems, and it follows therefore that our powers and our problems will be those of life. If we are to create a safe and comfortable future for ourselves and our children, we must understand our connection to life. Our life connection is not only relevant, it is the crucial factor in determining a safe passage through the current human crisis.
 
We are clearly the most powerful form of LIFE. We were created by GAIA. We are cells in body of GAIA. She has a purpose for us. The problem is we humans are unAWARE of our identity as LIFE. Tom, when your wrote:
But as a complex adaptive system, Gaia does not care whether we live or die. In fact, if she could “prefer” anything, she would probably prefer our speedy demise, simply because our behavior collectively has reduced her resilience and adaptive flexibility–the sole criteria that matter to complex adaptive systems.
You are demonstrating my point. GAIA created humanity. She absolutely needs humanity to accomplish her purpose. What is her purpose? I don’t know. I am only a cell in her body. But, I absolutely believe she has a purpose and I imagine that purpose involves action beyond our solar system.
 
In the present stage of GAIA’s evolution humanity is acting like a CANCER. We are destroying the body of GAIA as certainly as any CANCER destroys the body of a human or animal patient. In medicine today, we know that cancer cells are just cells that have lost their identity with the body — lost the awareness of their connection with the body. Today the humans cells of GAIA are mostly cancer cells. Tom, later you wrote:
As things become desperate, a window of opportunity will arise in which vast numbers of people will be suddenly far more receptive to utterly new ways of thinking about everything. Here is our “cubic centimeter of chance.”
 
This is a golden opportunity to launch a self-sustaining, self- replicating, worldwide Gaia movement–calling for a new, inclusive mode of identification with Gaia, our precious web of life, and organizing and empowering people to help each other learn Gaia, teach Gaia, heal Gaia, and create Gaia, building or restoring locally sustainable communities worldwide.
To take advantage of this “window of opportunity”, we will have to be prepared. We will have needed to increase our AWARENESS. This is the moment when we will need to think and act as synergans.  We must stretch our skin around the entire earth.  The body of GAIA is all of LIFE. We must extend our senses to monitor all our fellow cells — all humanity, all animal life, all plant life, all mineral life. We must develop empathy for all of LIFE.
 
Jivan Vatayan
In response to Timothy’s statement:
“You are demonstrating my point. GAIA created humanity.”
In my opinion, Gaia or The Ecodiversity Lifeform does not create life. On the contrary, life creates The Ecodiversity Lifeform.
Timothy wrote: “She absolutely needs humanity to accomplish her purpose.
It is the basic units of the web of life that are needed to create a planetary organismic integrity and its resultant drive and elaboration. For the Ecodiversity Lifeform to maintain integrity she fundamentally needs the Astro-geophysical engines that drive the processes of life. Then she needs the “Bacterial Super-organism” (includes all prokaryotes) that is the foundation of Life. To sustain the elaboration of diversity and resilience that maintains Her Ecodiversity she plainly does not need “humanity (which) is acting like a CANCER”.
 
Timothy Wilken
 Jivan Vatayan wrote:
Gaia or The Ecodiversity Lifeform does not create life. On the contrary, life creates The Ecodiversity Lifeform.
 Yes, I can agree that LIFE is primal to GAIA. I mis-spoke. I should have said: NATURE created humanity.
 
I could have stated my point more carefully. GAIA is a new organism that is currently self-organizing. In that self-organization she is using all of Nature’s products — the Earth itself, bacteria–single celled plants, single celled animals, plants, animals, and humans to create herself.
 
GAIA is the next evolutionary stabilizing endpoint. Just as plants were an earlier evolutionary endpoint, and animals were an earlier evolutionary endpoint, and yes even we humans were an earlier evolutionary endpoint. 
 
Within our human bodies are organs which are primal to our body as a whole. Within those organs are tissues which are primal to the organs. Within those tissues are cells which are primal to the tissues. Within those cells are molecules which are primal to cells. Now as a biologist and physician, I know that life begins at the molecular level of organization of Nature.
 
(Living Systems Theory by James Grier Miller)
 
But there are stages of process that are primal to LIFE. LIFE is not primordial. Within the molecules that form the cells of our bodies are atoms which are primal to molecules. Within those atoms there are particles which are primal to atoms. Within those particles are gravitationally trapped light which is primal to particles.
(Theory of Process by Arthur Young)
 
Jivan next wrote:
GAIA  plainly does not need “humanity (which) is acting like a CANCER”.
I would agree that if humanity continues to act as a cancer then GAIA will die. Humans (the potiential neurons of GAIA) are so intelligent that they are dangerous. They remain dangerous as long as they fail to develop the awareness for their role as the brain and mind of GAIA.  They are presently killing the body of GAIA, and will continue to do so if our awareness does not expand.
 
GAIA is still a fetus. She had not yet been born. This is my fundamental point. The Earth and all LIFE presently on the Earth represent the tissues and organs of GAIA. But GAIA as a thinking, self-conscious, automonous, reproductive capable organism is not yet born. She is still self-organizing.
 
GAIA will be stillborn without a Time-binding class of life. It does not have to be human as we know it, but it does have to be intelligent. Without this intelligent form of life there will be no GAIA.
 
Now we humans may seem flawed, but I don’t think that is really the case. I think we are just ignorant of our proper role in Nature, and thinking we are the end product. So we live on the surface of Nature but not in Nature. I don’t think humanity was a mistake. Nature invented us. We are the current end product of 3.5 billion years of synergic evolution. The next end product is GAIA.
 
The neurons are no more important than any other cell in the body. But they are a critical component.
 
The whole is more than the sum of the parts.
 
We humans would not be more important than any of the other components GAIA, but as the current Earth evolved intelligent Time-binding Class of Life, we are the only candidate for the role of neurons in GAIA’s brain.
— — — 
 
The conclusion of most if not all on the AlasBabylon Yahoo Group is that humanity cannot solve our impending Fossil Fuel crisis. I agree. However, I am sure that GAIA could. 
 
Thanks to the readers at AlasBabylon for reading my article and creating this thread.

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