In the 1960’s, a British atmospheric scientist by the name of James Lovelock was hired by NASA. The National Aeronautic and Space Administration was interested in having him study the prospect of life on Mars, comparing its habitability to Earth. In the process of his studies, Dr. Lovelock experienced an insight that may prove to be more important to Earth in the long run than anything involving Mars. In fact, what he realized might change the way that many of us relate to our home planet.
When Dr. Lovelock compared Earth to other planets, it occurred to him that earth might be more than simply a home to many life forms including us humans. He realized that Earth itself might be a life form, much akin to other communal organisms. Strange as it seems, he has been able to make an eloquent case for earth being a mega organism. While this concept may at first be a little hard to swallow [and indeed was greeted with some derision when he first proposed it], it might grow on you if you let it. He named this largest of all life forms "Gaia” after the Greek goddess who drew the living world forth from chaos.
Dr. Lovelocks first book "Gaia: a New Look at Life on Earth” sketched out his hypothesis and his second book "The Ages of Gaia” refined and elaborated on it. In the years since these books were published, the concept of Gaia has been seriously debated by scientists, theologians, environmentalists as well as philosophers. Needless to say, the idea has found favor among many, including of course, those who see our planet as "Mother Earth”.
For us as individuals, the concept of Gaia can pose some challenging questions about our relationship to other humans as well as all life on the planet. If you and I are more like the cells in a larger organism than independent individuals, where should our responsibilities lie? Should we serve ourselves first, or should we first consider the greater body that we are a part of? What should be our relationship to other living parts of this greater body? In terms of this larger, older, wiser organism of which we may be a part, are we good for Gaia or are we some sort of blight that will be forgotten over time?
The concept of being an integral part of some larger whole casts a long shadow over the idea of individuality, and it may create difficulties for some. Many eastern philosophies have at their foundation, the belief that "we are all one” and thus have an easy time with Gaia. The same is true for numerous ancient and indigenous cultures that tend to see the earth as mother. Modern western culture with its more "individual” focus seems to be somewhat at odds with the principle of Gaia. The degree of control we have gained over our environment has left a lot of us with the impression that we are separate and independent from it. We tend to speak of the environment as if it is something outside of ourselves, as if there’s us and then there’s the environment. Dr. Lovelock might say that we are to the environment as fish are to water, take away the water and there aren’t any fish.
The concept of Gaia lends strong support to the process of thinking globally and acting locally. At the root of this process is an understanding that our every action has consequences well beyond our immediate surroundings. Operating from this understanding, we consider our activities not only in terms of ourselves, but in terms of all that we are connected to. More than our words, our individual actions will determine whether we are to live in symbiosis with Gaia or to feed off of her.
Dr. Pepperdine is the owner of Southcare Chiropractic in Nanaimo, Call 755-1554.