Gaia theory – Earth as a living system

Gaia theory, named after the Greek Earth goddess, is a combination of hypothesis about the planet as a self-regulating living system. James Lovelock is credited with the publication of the first modern scientific article on the Gaia hypothesis in the New Scientist, he also recently published an article in The Independent where he speaks of his latest book The Revenge of Gaiaand warns of the danger of global warming. The philosophical predecessors to Gaia theory include Lewis ThomasTeilhard de ChardinBuckminster Fuller. The most common criticism of Gaia theory is the charge that it is teleological.

Although Gaia theories may seem controversial, the study of the inter-relationships between various life forms and their environment (ecology), homeostasis, and emergent properties are established and accepted.

The attempt to grasp the inter-relationships that exist among all of the components of the biosphere, oceans, geosphere and the atmosphere as an Earth ecosystem is a challenge for the human mind, but the need for scientific hypotheses is evident in an age when we attempt to take responsibility for our effect on the planet.

[Photomedia Forum post by T.Neugebauer from Mar 30, 2006 ]

Definition of a system

There are many definitions of what a system is, I like Mario Bunge’s definition:

“A system is a complex object every part or component of which is connected with other parts of the same object in such a manner that the whole possesses some features that its components lack – that is emergent properties” (Bunge 1996: 20).

Examples of emergent properties of a system: structure or history of social system. Examples of emergent properties of a component (i.e., part would not possess property if were independent or isolated): role, civil right, scarcity, price (Bunge 1996: 20).

quotes from: Bunge, Mario Augusto. Finding Philosophy in Social Science. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1996.

In my understanding of open systems, its components are continuously changing with their environment. Open systems have the emergent property of continuous exchange (input/output) of their components with the environment. Ludwig von Bertalanffy argues that open systems reach states of equilibrium within and through this interaction with their environment. Closed systems are isolated from their environment. Is mathematics a closed system?

[Photomedia Forum post by T.Neugebauer from Jan 10, 2007]

Systems intelligence and interdependent arising

The concept of systems intelligence has been described by Raimo P. Hämäläinen and Esa Saarinen, researchers at the Systems Intelligence Research GroupSystems Analysis Laboratory of the Helsinki University of Technology. It is an attempt to formulate an applied systems thinking.

Esa Saarinen and Raimo P. Hämäläinen, argue that systems intelligence is a set of higher-level cognitive capacities, that are not explained by Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, or Daniel Goleman’s emotional intelligence. Gardner provided others that are not explained: common sense, metaphorical capacity and wisdom. Saarinen and Hämäläinen define systems intelligence as

intelligent behaviour in the context of complex systems
involving interaction and feedback. A subject acting with Systems Intelligence engages
successfully and productively with the holistic
feedback mechanisms of her environment. She
perceives herself as part of a whole, the influence of
the whole upon herself as well as her own influence
upon the whole. By observing her own
interdependence in the feedback intensive
environment, she is able to act intelligently.

source: Systems Intelligence – Discovering a hidden competence in human action and organizational life (PDF)

Systems Intelligence as described here seems to me to be an attempt at an industrial application of the Buddhist doctrine of dependent co-arising, Pratītyasamutpāda, the belief that “phenomena arise together in a mutually interdependent web of cause and effect”.

[Photomedia Forum post by T.Neugebauer from Jan 10, 2007]

von Bartalanffy and biological systems

Ludwig von Bartalanffy ponders on the difficulties in trying to apply the 2nd law of thermodynamics to living biological systems. This law implies that entropy increases over time in physical systems.

Biological systems, however, are recognized as maintaining a continual state of flux. Never stationary or fixed in chemical or thermodynamic equilibrium, its components are constantly altered by metabolic events.

A system compensates for its deterioration by importing and processing energy. It attains dynamic equilibrium– between its own improbable state and the surrounding environment (Bertalanffy, 1968b, pp. 46-48; General Systems Theory. New York: George Braziler, 1968.)

[Photomedia Forum post by T.Neugebauer from Jun 20, 2006  ]