Gaia — being of a living Earth

by Dr Daniel Christian Wahl. Excerpt from the Worldview Dimension of Gaia Education’s online course in Design for Sustainability

“The Gaian understanding of the world — that which speaks of the encompassing earth not as a machine but as an autopoietic, living physiology — entails an embodied, participatory epistemology. As the earth is no longer viewed as a machine, so the human body is no longer a mechanical object housing an immaterial mind, but rather a sensitive, expressive, thinking physiology, a microcosm of the autopoietic Earth.”

— David Abram (1991, p.71)

David Suzuki talks with James Lovelock about the origins of his “Gaia” hypothesis, which suggests that the Earth is one organism. From the documentary series “The Sacred Balance”, produced by Kensington Communications (
James Lovelock is an independent scientist, environmentalist and futurologist, best known for proposing the Gaia hypothesis, which postulates that the biosphere is a self-regulating entity with the capacity to keep our planet healthy by controlling the chemical and physical environment; Lynn Margulis was an American biologist, best known for her contributions to the endosymbiotic theory, a theory to explain how symbiotic relationships between organisms of often different phyla or kingdoms are the driving force of evolution; In her book Biomimicry, Janine Benyus names an emerging discipline that seeks sustainable solutions by emulating nature’s designs and processes. (Image left, image middle, image right)

“[The] evolution of organisms [is] so closely coupled with the evolution of their physical and chemical environment that together they constitute a single evolutionary process, which is self-regulating. Thus the climate, the composition of the rocks, the air, and the oceans are not just given by geology; they are also the consequences of the presence of life. Through the ceaseless activity of living organisms, conditions on the planet have been kept favourable for life’s occupancy for the past 3.6 billion years.”

— James Lovelock (2000, p.25).

Dorian Sagan; Evolution moves towards cooperation at higher levels of integration; Elisabet Sathouris (image left, image middle, image right)

“Instead of projecting a universe of mechanism without inventor, assembling blindly through particular, atomic and molecular collisions a few of which came magically to life and further evolved by accidental mutations, I propose that there is reason to see the whole universe as alive, self-organizing endless fractal levels of living complexity as reflexive systems learning to play with possibilities in the intelligent co-creation of complex evolving systems. I propose that it is actually more reasonable to project our life onto the entire universe than our non-living machinery, which is a derivative of life, a truly emerging phenomenon, rather than a fundamental one. I propose that it is possible to create a scientific model of a living universe, and that such a model is not only scientifically justified but can lead to the wisdom required to build a better human life on and for our planet Earth … Toward that end, I propose:

The scientific definition of reality should be the collective human experience of self, world and universe as inner and outer worlds perceived from individually unique perspectives. (We have no other legitimate basis for creating cosmic models.)

Consciousness (awareness) shall be axiomatic for the simple and obvious reason that no human experience can happen outside it.

Formal experiments have as their purpose the creation of publicly shareable models of reality that permit common understanding and prediction.

Autopoiesis (continuous self-creation) shall be adopted as the core definition of life. Since galaxies, stars, planets, organisms, cells, molecules, atoms and sub-atomic particles all fit this definition, this implies that life is the fundamental process of the cosmos, a self-creating living whole with self-creating living components in co-creative interaction.

Nature shall be conceived in fractal levels of holons in holarchy, holons defined as relatively self-contained living entities such as those listed in d) and holarchy defining their embeddedness and co-creative interdependence on energy, matter and information exchange.”

Elisabet Sahtouris


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