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Gaia Theory

Adapted from Coming Back to Life

Insights from systems theory transform our perceptions of our planet. James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis studied the chemical balances of our atmosphere and discovered that they are maintained within the narrow limits necessary for life, by self-regulating processes. These are the hallmark of a living system.

Thankfully, Lovelock did not call this hypothesis, soon to become a theory, the "hypothesis of self-regulative processes of the biosphere" or something which would have made it much more respectable to his fellow scientists. Instead he listened to his friend, novelist William Golding, who suggested he call it Gaia for the early Greek goddess of the earth, thereby catching people's poetic imagination. Like the Apollo photo of Earth from space, this image of Earth as a whole living being has transformed the way many of us now think of our planet home. No longer a dead rock we live upon, the Earth is a living process in which we participate. Earth, as a home for life, is a being that we can both harm and help to heal. Earth takes on a presence in our consciousness, not unlike the presence of gods and goddesses in the lives of our early ancestors.

(For further reading on the Gaia theory, see Animate Earth, Stephan Harding (Green Books, Ltd), The Global Brain: Speculations on the Evolutionary Leap to Planetary Consciousness, Peter Russell (J.P. Tarcher, Inc.), Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, J.E. Lovelock (Oxford University Press), Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Evolution from our Microbial Ancestors, Lynn Margulis and David Sagan (Allen & Unwin).