Could a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon have an effect on the monsoon season in Indonesia? Gaia theorists have an answer.
In the 1960s, NASA research scientist James Lovelock was studying the atmosphere of Mars for signs of life when he had an insight. A planet’s biosphere and its physical components are closely integrated.
For life to exist, a planet requires a complex system of “homeostasis”—a tendency toward a stable state of equilibrium between all of its interdependent elements in order to meet the conditions that make life sustainable.
In Lovelock’s opinion, “Life regulates the Earth’s atmosphere and climate to keep it habitable. It is as simple as that.”
Life plays a role in maintaining the Earth’s surface temperature, keeping its seas from becoming too saline and recycling methane gas that enters the atmosphere.
Lovelock has spoken of “the Earth’s capacity to cure itself,” referring to the interconnectedness of all things as “a single complex feedback system.” In fact, he initially called his idea the “Earth Feedback Hypothesis.”
However, author William Golding, a neighbor of Lovelock’s who wrote Lord of the Flies in 1954, suggested naming the theory after “Gaia” and it stuck.
According to ancient Greek mythology, Gaia was the original goddess of the Earth. She was mother to the gods of the heavens and seas. The mountains and all mortal creatures were also her children, as were the Furies, her divine daughters that punished crimes at the behest of victims.
Mother Earth knew how to take care of herself.
Gaia Theory expands on that simple premise, stating that living organisms and their inorganic surroundings have evolved together. They are, in fact, one single living system that regulates the chemistry and conditions of Earth’s surface in an “automatic” manner.
Whatever happens in one part of the world is connected to what happens in another, sometimes imperceptibly, but nonetheless related to the whole.
So when a butterfly takes off in the depths of the Amazon, its influence on the wind patterns of the world may be minute, almost beyond imagination, but it is making a contribution to homeostasis.
The same is true of humans, of course, and our impact on the environment can be much more noticeable.
Alfablue, September 2013