The Gaia hypothesis formulated by James Lovelock in the late 1960s presents the notion that our planet is a single self-managing organism which regulates the conditions necessary for life. After its publication in James Lovelock’s book “Gaia: A new look at life on Earth” it revolutionized the perspective of Earth as a “living being” and opened up new areas of research and academic endeavours. Though the hypothesis holds no actual scientific merit, it does provide a unique outlook on humans’ interactions and impacts on the Earth’s physical resources/ processes. The name Gaia is used as reference the ancient Greek goddess, who personified the Earth as “Mother Nature”. [1] Lovelock defined Gaia in 1969 as a:

“Complex entity involving the Earth’s biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and soil; the totality constituting a feedback or cybernetic system which seeks an optimal physical and chemical environment for life on this planet.”[2]

This explains that the Earth’s biosphere acts in accordance with homeostatic feedback. In which the Earth responds to stresses and alterations to its biosphere by adjusting other conditions to maintain life; similar to Le Chatelier’s principle of dynamic equilibrium. For example the burning of trees, emits CO2 which is recycled via other trees, which enables them to grow and provide seeds for more trees to grow. This theory is contrary to the “Goldy-Locks” theory which postulates that our existence is the result of Drake’s equation; an almost incalculably small fractal probability which allows for suitable living conditions for human beings. The theory further warns that the more humans drastically impact and damage the Earth’s biosphere, the more severe the Earth will respond to counter-balance it. The theory attempts to account for relative stabilities in temperature, atmosphere composition and ocean salinity as Earth’s conscious effort to do so.

After Lovelock’s publication of his novel in 1969, it was ignored by a majority of the scientific community for close to a decade. It was also ridiculed by well-recognized scientists such as Ford Doolittle, Darwin and Gould. [3] They discredited the Gaia hypothesis as some kind of neo-pagan “new age religion” and classified it as teleological (philosophical study of design and purpose); which had been already ridiculed by the scientific community a decade earlier. Mr. Lovelock openly accepted criticism from his peers and attempted to remove the condescending slander of teleological thinking associated with his theories, stating “Nowhere in our writings do we express the idea that planetary self-regulation is purposeful, or involves foresight or planning by the biota” [4]. Mr. Gould criticised Lovelock’s theory as being extremely vague, only providing an allegorical explanation of Earth’s progression. Gould asserted that Lovelock failed to describe any actual physical system on Earth that is purely regulated through homeostasis. He furthered criticized that Lovelock could not provide connections between Earth’s physical processes and gave that he gave the very unscientific conclusion that “the various mechanisms may never be known” [5]. Even Lynn Margulis, the coauthor of the Gaia hypothesis, recanted her original arguments of homeostasis and a decade later elaborated that the processes discussed in the original hypothesis were homeorhetic (similar flow); the composition of Earth’s atmosphere and other aspects are regulated around certain levels of stability similar to homeostasis, but these levels of stability changed over time. She concluded that that the Earth had no intentions of preserving any organisms within its biosphere or ensuring their comfortable existence.[6] Today, the Gaia hypothesis has skeptics and followers from both spectrums of the scientific community, holding annual conferences to further develop and modify Mr. Lovelock’s initial theorem.

Although it does hold some pragmatic basis in equilibrium stability, the Gaia hypothesis is a rather outlandish theory. First the basis of the hypothesis, ascertains that the Earth is actually regulating itself in a homeostasis mannerism to create viable living conditions. This idea of Earth maintaining stability to be hospitable to life has no validity at all. Time and time again, countless organisms have gone extinct with Earth’s climate changes; evolution and adaption being the key factors in our survival. As Lynn Margulis emphasized, the stability of the Earth fluctuates with time and it follows a flow which is not regulated through any actual homeostasis processes. This hypothesis presented by Mr. Lovelock presents Earth is an incredibly complex entity composed of a multitude of interconnected systems, but the symmetry which they achieve is not deliberate. If something disrupts this system, other proponents of Earth will inevitability change as well; we only see these changes as being hospitable for life because we remain the products of these new equilibrium shifts. Even in Lovelock’s autobiography “Homage to Gaia” he presented a new version of his hypothesis which explained “Earth’s biological systems did not intentionally or the complex balance in the environment that life needed to survive.” [7] The fact that this modification has been introduced by the author of this hypothesis severely damages the creditability of its original thesis and arguments. Also as mentioned by countless scientists, there is no real way to measure Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis by researching and developing a controlled experiment. For this reason alone it fails to meet the standard scientific methodology needed to be considered a theory and remains a hypothesis, which is also a fallacy because it is not testable by any protocol. The hypothesis is an interesting perspective in which to view our planet but is for the most part merely pseudoscience.


[1] Joseph Fontenrose, Python: A Study of Delphic Myth and its Origins, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1959; reprint 1980

[2] Joseph Fontenrose, Python: A Study of Delphic Myth and its Origins, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1959; reprint 1980

[3] “Gaia: Climate.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 13 Feb. 2010 <http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Gaia_hypothesis%20>

[4] Lovelock, James (1995). The Ages of Gaia: A Biography of Our Living Earth ISBN 0-393-31239-9

[5] Gould S.J. (June 1997). “Kropotkin was no crackpot”. Natural History 106: 12–21. http://libcom.org/library/kropotkin-was-no-crackpot.

[6] Margulis, Lynn (March 1979). “The Gaia Hypothesis: Fact, Theory, and Wishful Thinking”. Climatic Change 52 (4): 391–408. doi:10.1023/A:1014237331082. <http://seismo.berkeley.edu/~kirchner/reprints/2002_55_Kirchner_gaia.pdf>

[7] Lovelock, James (2006), interviewed in How to think about science, CBC Ideas (radio program), broadcast January 3, 2008. The Revenge of Gaia

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