Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth

By James Lovelock | Go to book overview

3 The recognition of Gaia

Picture a clean-swept sunlit beach with the tide receding; a smooth flat plain of golden glistening sand where every random grain has found due place and nothing more can happen.

Beaches are, of course, in reality seldom absolutely flat, smooth, and undisturbed, or at least not for long. The golden reaches of sand are continually resculptured by fresh winds and tides. Yet events may still be circumscribed. We may still be in a world where change is no more than the shifting profile of the wind-swept dunes; or no more than the ebb and flow of the tide, creating and erasing its own ripples in the sand.

Now let us suppose that our otherwise immaculate beach contains one small blot on the horizon: an isolated heap of sand which at close range we recognize instantly to be the work of a living creature. There is no shadow of a doubt, it is a sand-castle. Its structure of piled truncated cones reveals the bucket technique of building. The moat and drawbridge, with its etched facsimile of a portcullis already fading as the drying wind returns the grains to their equilibrium state, are also typical. We are programmed, so to speak, for instant recognition of a sand-castle as a human artefact, but if more proof were needed that this heap of sand is no natural phenomenon, we should point out that it does not fit with the conditions around it. The rest of the beach has been washed and brushed into a smooth carpet; the sand-castle has still to crumble; and even a child's fortress in the sand is too intricate in the design and relationship of its parts, too clearly purpose-built, to be the chance structure of natural forces.

Even in this simple world of sand and sand-castles there are clearly four states: the inert state of featureless neutrality and complete equilibrium (which can never be found in reality on Earth so long as

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Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Gaia - A New Look at Life on Earth i
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • 1 - Introductory 1
  • 2 - In the Beginning 12
  • 3 - The Recognition of Gaia 30
  • 4 - Cybernetics 44
  • 5 - The Contemporary Atmosphere 59
  • 6 - The Sea 78
  • 7 - Gaia and Man: The Problem of Pollution 100
  • 8 - Living Within Gaia 115
  • 9 - Epilogue 133
  • Definitions and Explanations of Terms 143
  • Further Reading 147
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