In the 1970s, the chemist James Lovelock proposed the Gaia Hypothesis, named after the Greek Earth Goddess, Gaia. The Gaia Hypothesis proposed that life on Earth is a self-regulating system involving the biosphere, the atmosphere, the hydrosphere, and the pedosphere (skin of soil and living organisms), all of which are intimately integrated as an evolving complex system.
Wider research proved the original hypothesis wrong, in the sense that it is not organic life alone but the whole Earth system that is self-regulating. However, the hypothesis has been modified and elaborated enough and there have been enough predictions made and confirmed that the Gaia Hypothesis has become the Gaia Theory, which now holds that the Earth system as a whole seeks a physical and chemical environment optimal for contemporary life.
Acceptance of the Gaia Theory has become so widespread that, in 2001, a thousand scientists at the European Geophysical Union meeting signed the Declaration of Amsterdam, starting with the statement “The Earth System behaves as a single, self-regulating system with physical, chemical, biological, and human components.”
Originally, many Earth scientists strongly criticized the Gaia Hypothesis, suggesting, among other things, that it involved a teleological explanation (rather than the type of mechanico/deterministic explanation favored by traditional science). Lovelock responded that “Nowhere in our writings do we express the idea that planetary self-regulation is purposeful, or involves foresight or planning by the biota.”
The Earth Is Alive
However, maybe Lovelock hasn’t gone far enough. It seems possible to simplify and strengthen the Gaia Theory if we take the strong form of the Anthropic Principle seriously, which asserts that the universe must be compatible with conscious life, which means that it is most likely that the universe is a living place that contains a spectrum of consciousness.
From this perspective, we can reformulate the Gaia Theory as “The Earth is alive and behaves in a purposive fashion with a type of consciousness in order to pursue an environment optimal for life.”
The proposed consciousness of the Earth would clearly be located at a place on the consciousness spectrum that is different from ordinary human consciousness or human consciousness as augmented by the technologies of traditional science. But there is significant evidence that people who train their consciousness, e.g. Yogis and Taoists in the Eastern metaphysical tradition, can reach and participate in wider portions of the consciousness spectrum, and, in some cases, touch the unique form of consciousness that is manifested by the Earth.
However, the Eastern maps that have emerged from this participation have tended to lack the useful corrective of systematic external observation (the central purview of Western science) and they, by and large, have not provided us with a future oriented philosophy powerful enough to orient and guide us through the great transformation that is taking place right now.
However, if it is true that it is possible to connect with the consciousness of the Earth, then we may be able to find ways to partner with the Earth in accomplishing the One Purpose of Planetary Philosophy, i.e. the evolution of a higher order living system within which the human species takes its place furthering and being furthered by the life of the Earth. The question then becomes, how do we do this?