Gaia and Philosophy
BY DORION SAGAN AND LYNN MARGULIS
ILLUSTRATIONS BY ANICKA YI
In the 1970s, microbiologist Lynn Margulis and atmospheric chemist James Lovelock developed the Gaia theory. Embracing the circular logic of life and engineering systems, the Gaia theory states that Earth is a self-regulating complex system in which life interacts with and eventually becomes its own environment
Gaia describes a living Earth: a body in the form of a planet. For billions of years, life has created an environment conducive to its continuation, influencing the physical attributes of Earth on a planetary scale. An idea with precedents in natural science and philosophy for millennia, Gaia resonates with the ancient magico-religious understanding that all is one: as above, so below.
Fusing science, mathematics, philosophy, ecology and mythology, Gaia and Philosophy, with a new introduction by Dorion Sagan, challenges Western anthropocentrism to propose a symbiotic planet. In its striking philosophical conclusion, the revolutionary Gaia paradigm holds important implications not only for understanding life's past but for shaping its future.
Lynn Margulis (1938–2011) was an interdisciplinary evolutionary biologist, author and educator. She was the primary intellectual force in the 20th and early 21st century responsible for the acceptance of the role of symbiogenesis (of archaea and bacteria) played in the evolution of the eukaryotic cells (cells with nuclei) that became plants, animals, and fungi. She also, by underscoring the roles of gas-exchanging bacteria, helped turn James Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis that the reactive gases of Earth's atmosphere were physiologically regulated by life away from thermodynamic equilibrium, into a full on theory. Her books, often written in collaboration with her son Dorion Sagan, include Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Evolution from Our Microbial Ancestors (1987), Mystery Dance: On the Evolution of Human Sexuality (1991) and Slanted Truths: Essays on Gaia, Symbiosis, and Evolution (1997).
Writer and ecological philosopher Dorion Sagan is author or coauthor of twenty-five books, translated into fifteen languages, including Danish, Japanese, Turkish, Catalan, and Basque, on topics ranging from evolution of the biosphere to the thermodynamics of ecosystems to programmed aging. He was called an “unmissable modern master” by New Scientist; Nobel laureate chemist Roald Hoffman called his cowritten Into the Cool “fascinating,” and anthropologist Melvin Konner, writing in The New York Times, said of his-coauthored Microcosmos that “this admiring reader of Lewis Thomas, Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould has seldom, if ever, seen such a luminous prose style in a work of this kind.” His current interests include poetry and experimental literature. With Carl Sagan and Lynn Margulis, his parents, he is coauthor of the entries for both ‘Life’ and ‘Extraterrestrial Life’ in the Encyclopedia Britannica. His current projects include poetry, a story collection, and a “metabiography” on his parents’ early romance and connected sciences.
Anicka Yi (born 1971 in Seoul, South Korea) is a conceptual artist whose work lies at the intersection of fragrance, cuisine and science. She is known for installations that engage the senses, especially the sense of smell, and for her collaborations with biologists and chemists. Yi lives and works in New York City.
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