Although the myriad life forms, processes and natural cycles of the Earth have been thoroughly studied and documented, the question of a pattern of patterns, or a metapattern, that would make the entirety of life com-orehensible continues to elude us. The most far-reaching, yet credible the-orv to date, to our way of thinking, comes from the brilliant research of Drs. Lvnn Margulis of Boston University and James Lovelock of England. Cal-ed the Gaia hypothesis, after the Greek goddess of the Earth, it suggests that the Earth together with its surrounding atmosphere constitutes a con tinuum, an entity which, taken as a whole, exhibits many of the properties of life.1 There it hangs in the blackness of space, like a great, luminous, pulsating cell in and on which, in Dr. Lovelock's words:
The entire range of living matter on Earth from whales to viruses and from oaks to algae could be regarded as constituting a single living entity capable of maintaining the Earth's atmosphere to suit its overall needs and endowed with faculties and powers far beyond those of its constituent parts.'2
Formally defined, Gaia may be considered, again in Dr. Lovelock's words:
... as a complex entity involving the Earth's biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and soil; the totality constituting a feedback of cybernetic systems which seeks an optimal physical and chemical environment for life on this planet.3
The maintenance of relatively constant conditions by interacting, active control processes may be conveniently described by the term "homeo-ostatis"—meaning those coordinated physiological processes which maintain most of the steady states in a living organism. The Gaia hypothesis sees the Earth as maintaining homeostatic conditions with the biota actively seeking to keep the environment optimal for life. Dr. Lovelock postulates:
... the physical and chemical condition of the surface of the Earth, of the atmosphere, and of the oceans has been and is actively made fit and comfortable by the presence of life itself. This is in contrast to the conventional wisdom which held that life adapted to the planetary conditions as it and they evolved their separate ways.
Such a concept, whether we choose to regard it as scientific fact or as metaphor, is arresting to the modern mind, schooled to think of itself as apart from process and the organic workings of the natural world. The thought that the world around us is alive and continuous with us and through us in ways far more profound that we can know, comes as something of a shock to urban-bred cultures. Whether the Gaia hypothesis is eventually borne out in all aspects, its message is best summarized in a phrase of New Age teacher and visionary David Spangler, "We live in Being." Or, as Stewart Brand once paraphrased Bob Dylan, "In Gaia we're all 'tangled up in blue.'" Trying to fathom and adjust to such a concept is a little like waking from a dream to find that the dream is true. This living entity, made up of billions of interlocking, mutually interdependent, non-
Iiiij:'U\es surrounds us, contains us, and yet is one with us. Such evi-tr"-< - i a metapattern confronts the human intelligence with questions of m intelligence or mind. Gaiais hypothesized as being a cybernetic sys-
t- r ~k-i i;cii( systems are considered intelligent to the extent that they . ^ . e a correct answer to at least one question. Dr. Lovelock's most strik-_ example of Gaia's cybernetic capability for self-correction is that of the _en content of the atmosphere, which is twenty-one percent, the safe :-rr limit for life. He states:
The range of atmospheric oxygen over which fires can take place yet be so devastating as to threaten all standing vegetation is fifteen to ••• ent\ -five percent by volume. It is therefore tolerably certain that at-"spheric oxygen has never ranged beyond these bounds in the last sc\ eral hundred millions of years. This is a truly remarkable feat of reg-:ia;ion. for in the previous ninety percent of the Earth's history the pE r.as risen by at least ten units but is now held precisely constant.5
. -el t regulation is protection against the twenty-five percent increase v <un's luminosity since the Earth had its beginnings. The oxygen con-t the atmosphere, it seems, is regulated so as to be optimal for the ^ii entitv, for life on Earth as a whole. Furthermore, analysis of the car-< cles. including atmospheric carbon dioxide and nitrogen cycles, also concurrent, interlocking examples of self-regulation. There is a t -ecology to the cycles that is extraordinary. These are just two illustra-■■> ' >i the complexity and durability, ingenuity, and elegance characteris-: Gaia. the Earth, co-evolving with and inseparable from life. As Greg-Bateson remarked, "Insofar as we are a mental process, to that same ex-•. t must expect the natural world to show similar characteristics of
Ironically and surprisingly, although it is more than ten years since : • .aia hvpothesis was first published, it seems not yet, as Dr. Lovelock ~ -ctt ruefully observed, to have set orthodox science on fire. He spec-r- that perhaps this is because while science swallows the intricacies of •::utv and of genetics, it has never been comfortable with whole systems. --. r reds the circular and recursive logic of whole systems is alien to most - 7 "lists. Stewart Brand in the Summer 1983 issue of the CoEvolution Quar-.i-ked editorially, "Why should people who are really worried about .-renewable resources and irreversible damage to the environment take "lie notice of a well thought-out optimistic message?"7 We suspect that
- _t matter of mental habit, and of time. The existing world view has been in place for a long time and is only slowly beginning to change. The importance of the Gaia hypothesis to a science of design lies not as a precise tool, or a blueprint, but as a profound multidimensional paradigm for the designs, a meta-model, a basis for thinking about how the world works within which to frame more concrete questions about design.
The relevance of the Gaia hypothesis in the context of our work is as both working premise and metaphor. It is a fundamental premise that all our design must be understood as having as its matrix a living entity that is profound and complex beyond present comprehension. It is a metaphor in the sense that religion or world view is always a metaphor-an attempt to understand and maintain a connection with the larger life which, ironically, we can only understand partially—through a glass darkly. By all the measurements available to us, however, scientific investigation, meditation, and the evidence of sensory experience, the Gaia theory is the only concept sufficiently sound to use as the foundation for subsequent newly emerging precepts of ecological design.
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Do we really want the one thing that gives us its resources unconditionally to suffer even more than it is suffering now? Nature, is a part of our being from the earliest human days. We respect Nature and it gives us its bounty, but in the recent past greedy money hungry corporations have made us all so destructive, so wasteful.