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The Gaia paradigm: Earth as a living planet

A Cognitive shift as a driver to break away from anthropocentrism in order to embrace a Planet Earth Mindset (II)

This article was published first in on Medium on Mar 27, 2020.

“Earth is not a platform for human life, it’s a living being, we’re not on it but part of it. Its health is our health”. Thomas Moore

It is common knowledge, that since immemorial times, some humans, for any reason, started to see the outside world of their minds, as an object to use for their benefits. And based on the short time and space perspective of their brains in those times, humans couldn’t see and think beyond their own eyes could see.

Besides that, any non-living object from nature was considered, for those group of humans, inanimate and with no purpose or value to the living entities like humans.

 

For me, it is one of the reasons that group of humans started to develop an anthropocentrism way of thinking. Obviously, in those immemorial times, the impact on the well-being of the planet as a whole, was imperceptible.

At the same time, there were other group of humans, represented mainly by indigenous groups all across the world, which views were opposed to the explained above. Those Indigenous groups practiced a culture and a way of life in synchronicity with the rhythms of nature, hence, of the planet earth. They view all their surroundings as an animate Earth.

During the last few centuries, this view has been accelerated when the scientific reductionism started to be shared by people from “science”. We know now that today, most of humanity has developed an anthropocentrism way of thinking, just see the current state of the planet earth.

Before continuing with more information, I don’t pretend to diminish the importance of the development of science in humanity in some ways, in terms of the well-being of humans. The subject in discussion is the view and negative effect of the scientific reductionism in nature in current times, a view of human as separate from nature, and human beings as the most important entity in the universe.

There are few examples from the last few centuries that gave us the perception of the world as a “collection of objects”. These following stories from influential phisolophers of the scientific revolution are a clear explanation of this view.

Francis Bacon: his works are credited with developing the scientific method and remained influential through the scientific revolution. Bacon has been called the father of empiricism. His works argued for the possibility of scientific knowledge based only upon inductive reasoning and careful observation of events in nature.

Francis Bacon on Man’s Aspirations:

“Further, it will not be amiss to distinguish the three kinds and, as it were, grades of ambition in mankind. The first is of those who desire to extend their own power in their native country, a vulgar and degenerate kind. The second is of those who labor to extend the power and dominion of their country among men. This certainly has more dignity, though not less covetousness. But if a man endeavor to establish and extend the power and dominion of the human race itself over the universe, his ambition (if ambition it can be called) is without doubt both a more wholesome and a more noble thing than the other two. Now the empire of man over things depends wholly on the arts and sciences. For we cannot command nature except by obeying her”

Rene Descartes: he laid the foundation for 17th-century continental rationalism. Descartes was also one of the key figures in the Scientific Revolution. In this manner, Descartes proceeds to construct a system of knowledge, discarding perception as unreliable and, instead, admitting only deduction as a method.

One of descartes popular quotes:

“I have described the Earth and the whole visible Universe in the manner of a machine”.

Those initial views from Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes, were the base of modern science, that in one way, gave the world material improvements in terms of well-being for humans, which we still have today.

However, in other ways, and as commented before, this scientific reductionism has also given us an inanimate earth view to be subjected to manipulation in benefit of the human being.

So, I come back to the mindset of those groups, mainly indigenous groups, that had a view of an animate earth in all of their surroundings.

There have been indigenous groups that have been kept isolated from that scientific reductionism, and still today, have an animate view of nature. For millennia, those indigenous groups have elevated their minds in a “Planet Earth Mindset”. They have seen all living and non-living things, as part of a whole entity.

During the last century, there have been people from rational perspectives that have reach the view of an animate earth, as Thomas Berry quoted:

“The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects”.

The below analysis from the ecologist Aldo Leopold, put things in perspective. Leopold was influential in the development of modern environmental ethics. His ethics of nature and wildlife preservation had a profound impact on the environmental movement, with his ecocentric or holistic ethics regarding land. In his work on Animate Earth, Aldo Leopold wrote:

“It is at least not impossible to regard the earth’s parts — soil, mountains, rivers, atmosphere etc, — as organs or parts of organs of a coordinated whole, each part with its definite function. And if we could see this whole, as a whole, through a great period of time, we might perceive not only organs with coordinated functions, but possibly also that process of consumption as replacement which in biology we call metabolism, or growth. In such case we would have all the visible attributes of a living thing, which we do not realize to be such because it is too big, and its life processes too slow”.

Other influencer, the founder of deep ecology movement, Arne Naess, raised the awareness of the value of things.

In one of his experience in the mountains, Arness had an immersed moment of deep thinking, which Stephan Harding, one of the founding members of Schumacher College, wrote in his beautiful analysis of the term Deep Ecology. In below words, Stephen made a powerful insight:

“He experienced the ecosystem as a great being, dignified and valuable in itself. It must have been a moment of tremendous liberation and expansion of consciousness, of joy and energy — a truly spiritual or religious experience. His narrow, manipulative wildlife manager’s mind fell away. The mind which saw nature as a dead machine, there for human use, vanished. In its place was the pristine recognition of the vast being of living nature, of what we now call Gaia”

“All life has intrinsic value, irrespective of its value to humans”. Arne Naess

And that takes us to the “Gaia” term, Earth as a living planet, the earth as a whole living entity. The Gaia Theory, was developed in the 1970s by a chemist, his name, James Lovelock, and co-developed by the microbiologist Lynn Margulis.

The Gaia hypothesis, also known as the Gaia theory or the Gaia principle, proposes that living organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a synergistic and self-regulating, complex system that helps to maintain and perpetuate the conditions for life on the planet”.

In Greek mythology, Gaea (or Gaia), the primordial earth or mother goddess was one of the deities who governed the universe before the Titans existed.

In below analysis , we can see the interdependence of processes:

“All natural processes help to get a balance and at a level that most lifeforms can tolerate. These processes are not thought to be conscious ones, or to favour any one life form over another. Gaia theory simply maintains that Earth’s natural cycles work together to keep the Earth healthy and support life on Earth.”

In Gaia terms, “all living and non-living components on earth work together to promote life”. That’s a profound and powerful insight to influence us to have a mindful approach of our actions and their impacts in planet earth.

We can also analysise the term ecosystem and its impact of keeping the earth alive:

An ecosystem is a biological environment consisting of all the organisms living in a particular area, as well as all the nonliving (abiotic), physical components of the environment with which the organisms interact, such as air, soil, water and sunlight. Ecosystems are functional units consisting of living things in a given area, non-living chemical and physical factors of their environment, linked together through nutrient cycle and energy flow.

Ecosystem services are “fundamental life-support services upon which human civilization depends,”i and can be direct or indirect. Examples of direct ecosystem services are: pollination, wood and erosion prevention. Indirect services could be considered climate moderation, nutrient cycles and detoxifying natural substances. The services and goods an ecosystem provides are often undervalued as many of them are without market value.

In recent years, Nasa has published “The most complete view of Global biology to date”. In the article, “Our Living Planet From Space”, they show images based on 20 years data from NASA satellites that have continuously and globally observed all plant life at the surface of the land and ocean. As Nasa states in its Living Planet data:

“NASA satellites can see our living Earth breathe”.

So, above scientific insights, which have come from a holistic current of approaching science, and no in the scientific reductionism approach mentioned previously, are in line with the indigenous wisdom view of an animate earth.

When we see, think and feel our surroundings and the whole planet earth as an alive entity, which all living and non-living things interact among them to support life, we can have a mindset to truly live in harmony with nature, with planet earth. It is an state of mind where all of our actions are done in respect to the planet and no to get a benefit of it for us as a global community.

I would finish with the Interbeing term from Thích Nhất Hạnh. It is worth to read all below four paragraph to have a deep view of this concept, a truly relationship of interdependence between living and non-living things:

“Interbeing: If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. “Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter-” with the verb “to be,” we have a new verb, inter-be. Without a cloud and the sheet of paper inter-are.

If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact, nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger’s father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way, we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.

Looking even more deeply, we can see we are in it too. This is not difficult to see, because when we look at a sheet of paper, the sheet of paper is part of our perception. Your mind is in here and mine is also. So we can say that everything is in here with this sheet of paper. You cannot point out one thing that is not here-time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything co-exists with this sheet of paper. That is why I think the word inter-be should be in the dictionary. “To be” is to inter-be. You cannot just be by yourself alone. You have to inter-be with every other thing. This sheet of paper is, because everything else is.

Suppose we try to return one of the elements to its source. Suppose we return the sunshine to the sun. Do you think that this sheet of paper will be possible? No, without sunshine nothing can be. And if we return the logger to his mother, then we have no sheet of paper either. The fact is that this sheet of paper is made up only of “non-paper elements.” And if we return these non-paper elements to their sources, then there can be no paper at all. Without “non-paper elements,” like mind, logger, sunshine and so on, there will be no paper. As thin as this sheet of paper is, it contains everything in the universe in it.”

The Gaia paradigm is one of the cognitive shifts I am presenting as part of a Planet Earth Mindset.

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