Scientists Debate Gaia
The Next Century
400 pp., 9 x 11 in, 109 illus.
- Published: August 29, 2008
- Publisher: The MIT Press
- Published: August 13, 2004
- Publisher: The MIT Press
Scientists Debate Gaia is a multidisciplinary reexamination of the Gaia hypothesis, which was introduced by James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis in the early 1970s. The Gaia hypothesis holds that Earth's physical and biological processes are linked to form a complex, self-regulating system and that life has affected this system over time. Until a few decades ago, most of the earth sciences viewed the planet through disciplinary lenses: biology, chemistry, geology, atmospheric and ocean studies. The Gaia hypothesis, on the other hand, takes a very broad interdisciplinary approach. Its most controversial aspect suggests that life actively participates in shaping the physical and chemical environment on which it depends in a way that optimizes the conditions for life. Despite initial dismissal of the Gaian approach as New Age philosophy, it has today been incorporated into mainstream interdisciplinary scientific theory, as seen in its strong influence on the field of Earth System Science. Scientists Debate Gaia provides a fascinating, multi-faceted examination of Gaia as science and addresses significant criticism of, and changes in, the hypothesis since its introduction.
In the book, 53 contributors explore the scientific, philosophical, and theoretical foundations of Gaia. They address such topics as the compatibility of natural selection and Gaian processes, Gaia and the "thermodynamics of life," the role of computer models in Gaian science (from James Lovelock's famous but controversial "Daisyworld" to more sophisticated models that use the techniques of artificial life), pre-Socratic precedents for the idea of a "Living Earth," and the climate of the Amazon Basin as a Gaian system.
A superb collection covering what has become a major scientific field. It marks the evolution of the Gaia hypothesis, from a warm and fuzzy, flowers-in-the-hair concept with vaguely religious connotations, to a well-defined and increasingly quantitative theory. The papers in this book show that the theory is becoming applicable to problems of the real earth, such as deforestation, global warming, and desertification.
Paul D. Lowman, Jr., Laboratory for Terrestrial Physics, Goddard Space Flight Center, author of Exploring Space, Exploring Earth
As Lovelock neatly argues in his own essay, even in her finery Gaia was never any more fanciful than her archfoe, the selfish gene. This volume amply shows how she has earned her place in conventional science.
This is a stimulating, up-to-date account of one of the most far-reaching modern ideas connecting biology and geology.
Jared Diamond, Professor of Geography, University of California, Los Angeles, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel