Systems thinking, Gaia and the Hot Age

I am reading James Lovelock’s The Vanishing Face of Gaia. I like his phrase the “Hot Age”. It may or may not come but it is more evocative than “global warming”. But that is not really what I want to raise here. His main thesis, that the earth is a living thing, an organism, that has self regulatory systems is not so much a mystical idea and a metaphor, but the basis of ecology, of systems, a science. The failure to see systemically is at the core of so much reductive scientific inability to see clearly. I see it in mental health, but here he puts it all beautifully as it relates to the planet, and science as a whole, the problem is that …

as the consequence of most American scientists, in their straightforward successful and reductionist way, seeing the Earth as something that they could improve or manage; they seemed to see it as no more than a ball of rock moistened by the oceans and sitting within a tenuous sphere of air… They do not yet see the Earth as a live planet that regulates itself.

They tail to see that because the Earth was colonized by life at least three and a half billion years ago, its temperature and surface composition have been set by the preferences of whatever organisms
made up the biosphere. This was true in the cold of the ice ages, it is true now, and will be true in the heat of the hot age soon due. Of course the physics and chemistry of the air are important in the
understanding of climate, but the manager of climates is and has always been Gaia, the Earth system of which the biosphere is a part. The disastrous mistake of twentieth century science was to assume
that all we need to know about the climate can come from modelling the physics and chemistry ofthe air in ever more powerful computers, and then assuming that the biosphere merely responds passively to
change instead of realizing it was in the driving seat. Because we acknowledged the leadership of America in science, most of the world took its mistaken view as true.

Page 14 in the 2009 penguin edition.

It is interesting that he sees computer modeling as a problem as well. It has led to us not trusting scientists. The small bits of data they can “prove” has impact means forfeiting seeing the whole.

He is thinking Earth, Gaia, but I am much more familiar with looking at systems such as groups and the psyche. Being able to see repeating patterns in the various holons is an art that is not easily proved, but the basis for the science from the inside.

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