A Philosophical Exploration of THE Gaea PRINCIPLE
Are Planets Living Organisms?
Perhaps my favorite moment in Philosophy class this semester happened organically during a class discussion.
We were discussing environmental challenges, specifically the threat of global warming and its associated climate change. We started off discussing the refusal among many Americans to accept the science on global warming. One reason offered by a student for rejecting the science is that the problem seems so daunting and overwhelming that it’s more comforting to assume that the science is wrong. The conversation then revolved around the awesome realities of changes in global climate, the possible and probable consequences and the costs and the sacrifices that are becoming increasingly necessary if we are to avoid the worst predictions.
At one point some students suggested the prospects of leaving the Earth and establishing a new home on another planet like Mars. This is, of course, a classic response to hardship…get away from it. But how do we escape global hardship? Well, we leave the globe and go to another globe.
Weeeelllllll….that’s easier to say than it is to do. The problem is Gaea.
Who’s Gaea and why does she want to mess with us?
Gaea is a principle, sometimes referred to as the Gaea Theory or Hypothesis. The Gaea Principle postulates that the Earth is a living organism in and of itself and all organic and inorganic matter on the planet, including human beings, is integrated into this living organism much like cells are integrated in our bodies.
This is an interesting speculation, but how does this apply to human beings living on another planet? It means that such a transition would be much more difficult than we thought. Human beings are integrated into the Earth biome in so many multifaceted ways. Our bodies are literally balanced to earth’s mass and gas pressure. The human body is evolved the be dependent upon everything from the nutrient composition of the soil and oceans to the chemical composition of the atmosphere to the very electromagnetic spectrum filtered to the earth. Even the microbiome, the bacteria, the microflora is integrated into our health and life. Disconnecting from the many nuanced variables will have negative consequences of which we cannot even account.
Transporting ourselves to, say, Mars, means severing the thousands of tendrils that bind us to Gaea without any way of integrating biologically to an alien ecosystem.
So then the prospects of terraforming Mars came up. What if we can transport enough biological material from the Earth to Mars to create or to transform the planet into a viable biome for human life? Theoretically that is possible, albeit a very complicated prospect.
Well, let’s say we can do this. Let’s say we can send enough organic and inorganic material from Earth or elsewhere to turn Mars into a stable, self-sustaining biome conducive to human life. What does that mean to the Gaea Principle. What does that mean if we define the Earth as its own integrated living organism.
Indeed, it furthers the nature of the Gaea Principle. Might we define this as an example of planetary reproduction? Much like human beings are a composite of the biological inheritance of the mother and father, so a terraformed Mars, or any other planet for that matter, would constitute a hybrid of Earth elements and that of the host planet. We’ll have the reproduction of Gaean life in which human beings and our spaceships–spaceships which are, after all, composed of Earth materials–act as the gametes spreading the necessary genetic information to a receptive host.
Philosophically we could posit that human existence, human evolution, is part of what is on our scale a long process of planetary life.
This is the stuff philosophy is for.