September 5th, 2008
The following words are an excerpt from a new book in preparation.

The Gaian Paradigm

Bill Ellis

The Foundation
For some 2000 years or more civilization has been ruled by a social paradigm on which all Aspects of the EuroAmerican cultures are based — the “dominator paradigm.”  In the past 2 decades a new social paradigm has been emerging  that could have the most profound and fundamental impact on human civilization since humanids first came down from the trees.   The old paradigm placed humans in a purposeful universe created  by some superormal power for the domination and use by man.  The new paradigm we’ll call “A Gaian Paradigm.” It suggests a spontaneously self-organizing universe in which humanity is but one of the created interdependent webs of being.

The Dominator Paradigm
The “dominator paradigm,” has had a long evolution.  It grew from the Jewish creation myth that held that the earth was created for the use of and domination by man.  It was strengthened by Greek philosophy with its postulate that “Man is the measure of all things.”  The early Church held that a “chain of being”  put man at the top of a hierarchy with only a few celestial beings above. Below were women, children, other races, animals, plants and the Earth, each there to serve and be dominated by the rungs above.  The “dominator paradigm”  was stamped in the minds of Europe by the thousand-year Inquisition that burned some one million people, mostly women, at the stake for believing in Earth as our creator.  It was spread to the East by the crusades that destroyed “infidel” humans, cities and nations.  During the Age of Colonization and Discovery it  was perpetuated and made worldwide by the sword (technology), the cross (Christianity), and the flag (nationalism).  Newton’s clockwork concept of that cosmos, and Darwin’s theory of evolution were interpreted to “prove” the  validity of the dominator paradigm.  It was fixed in our secular moral system by the acceptance of Adam Smith’s economy that claims that human
“self-interest,” competition and materialism should, and does, dictate all human actions.  This abomination as the essence of humanity now rules the world.

The Gaian Paradigm
A Gaian paradigm not only has many roots but can be, and is becoming, the underpinning of a new global network of cultures replacing the now dominant and domineering man-centered industrial cultures.  The new cultures will be, like all cultures, holistic unified coherences of interdependent components — religion, economics, social and others.  The emergence of the Gaian paradigm is resulting in a deep fundamental transition of our world view, our social institutions and  our lifestyles.  The need for this transition is being made obvious by the growing numbers of  dangers inherent in  industrialism.  And the transition is  happening, and being made real  in the introduction of many positive and creative  social innovations. This  millennium is being looked upon as a time of radical and fundamental change.  Minds are opening to new ideas.  People are looking for new  actions.  It is in this spirit of a hopeful, deep, fundamental  social transformation  that this book is addressed. These are the concepts we’ll explore in the next few chapters.

Foundations for a Gaian Paradigm
Many basic scientific observations led to this new scientific/social paradigm.  The advancement of the Gaia theory, the establishment of Chaos and Complexity theories, and new concepts of evolution were among them. The observation that biological evolution did not progress as Darwin predicted by a series of minute changes which led over time to the emergence of new species.  Rather, biological evolution happened in quantum leaps.  Major biological changes and new species are created in relatively short periods of time after long periods of stability.  This observation was designated by Stephen Jay Gold as “punctured equilibrium.” James Lovelock, a scientist working for NASA, observed that the biosphere of the Earth was radically different from all other planets.  It  stayed amazingly constant within ranges which supported life.  Lynn Margulis, a microbiologist, at the same time was studying the evolution of microorganisms over the billions of years before animals appeared on the face of the earth.  She found that life forms were interdependent.  Life was able to exist on Earth because of a symbiosis among all life forms and the geological Earth.  Everything was interdependent with everything else.  Life created its own biome.  Lovelock and Margulis proposed that the whole Earth was a self-organized, self-supporting ecological system  At the suggestion of a neighbor of Lovelace, William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies, they termed this living Earth system Gaia, after the Greek Earth goddess. A theoretical understanding of how Gaia, or in fact any system, might spontaneously self-organize came from other fields of science including mathematics, physics and particularly computer science.  Chaos and Complexity theories made possible by computer modeling have moved science beyond the limits imposed by linear mathematics, algebra and calculus.  Study of the transition of order into chaos, or chaos into order, and the formation of complex systems from simpler ones has opened a whole new area for science.  Two particular breakthroughs in the field are relevant to the Gaia concepts. “Self-organizing criticality” is an idea proposed by Brookhaven National Laboratory physicist, Per Bak.  His first computer model representing self-organizing criticality was of a pile of sand.  As you pour grains of sand on a spot it slowly builds into a stable inverted cone.  As you continue pouring the cone becomes unstable until sand slides and avalanches restore a new larger stable cone.  He showed that biological evolution occurred in such bursts.  Simple entities formed more complex systems, which remained stable until internal pressures built up and caused a rapid reorganization.  There seems to be a law of nature, self-organizing criticality, by which new forms come into being. “Autocatalysis,” developed by Stuart Kauffman at the Santa Fe Institute, is another concept which provides a theoretical base for the evolution of Gaia.  Autocatalysis holds that systems of biological entities may promote their own rapid transition into different forms.  Kauffman uses the simple example of the slippery-footed fly and sticky-tongued frog.  The mutation of slippery footedness gave no environmental advantage to the fly until the mutation of the sticky-tongued frog. Only then did Darwin’s survival-of-the-fittest come into play.  Networks of potential mutations may develop and remain dormant until triggered by an environmental change or another phenomenum that brings on the avalanche of transition.  Autocatalysis, linked with-survival-of-the-fittest. explains how complex organs like the eye, or new species emerge. Self-organizing criticality and autocatalysis are among the scientific concepts that show how biological entities self-organize in quantum-like leaps from simple cells to linked complex networks of cells, organs, plants and animals.  More than that, physicists like Lee Smolin and Nobeli Laureate Murray Gellmann, have extended self-organizing back to the beginning of time at the Big Bang, suggesting that the same principle may apply to the self-organizing of fundamental particles into atoms, atoms into molecules, and molecules into galaxies, solar systems, planets, and life.  At the same time economists like Nobel Laureate Kenneth Arrow, Brian Arthur, and Jon Holland have extended the new paradigm in the other direction, to include economics, social organization, and human consciousness. This new scientific/social paradigm suggests that people have no superior divine mandate within a universe created for them.  They are not independent of, above or beyond the natural world in which they are imbedded.  They do have the unique ability to understand, through science, the laws that govern them, to envision future worlds, and to co-create those future worlds within the laws of science. 

Cyberspace and the Networked Universe
“Everything is connected to everything else” is one way of stating the Gaian Paradigm.  It is a fact of science, and is a social mindset.  But it is more than those, it is a fact of technology.  “Networking” was identified by John Naisbit in Megatrends as one of the  major new trends of the century.  As he saw it, it was a social and political trend.  It was made possible by the railroad, the automobile, the telegraph,  and the telephone. Each of these technologies made the Earth smaller and put people in more rapid and reliable touch with one another.  The real quantum jump in networking is only now before us.  Computers and the Internet are providing a challenge that has hardly been explored.  Cyberspace is a global phenomenon providing humanity the opportunity to work globally in real time.  This takes networking well beyond  the concept about which Naisbitt wrote only a few years ago, or the concept of transnational networking which was the root of the formation of TRANET, the organization with which I’ve been working since, 1976.

The Gaia Hypothesis, the theories of chaos and complexity, the Gaian concepts, and the computer technologies which now face us grew independently of one another.   But they form a unity.  They in themselves are an example of the self-organizing principle which shapes all of cosmic evolution.  Together they make up the Gaian Paradigm.  They challenge us to prepare ourselves for an avalanche of social, political and economic change in the years ahead.  This millennium is evolving radically differently from man-centered paradigm which has dominated the past 2000 years.

Bill Ellis is a retired science policy consultant who worked at the National Science Foundation, UNESCO, and The world Bank. He left the rat race 30+ years ago to volunteer at alternative and transformational networks with TRANET: a networking journal on Cooperative Community Economics.

You can access to the whole of which the above words are a part at:

Comments are closed.