Building Gaia

6 thoughts
last posted Feb. 7, 2016, 7:16 a.m.
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The "Gaia hypothesis" is an interesting notion that broadly entails conceiving of a planet and its biome as an aggregated entity:

Evidence to date suggests that the Gaia hypothesis isn't particularly useful for understanding the historical evolution of life on Earth.


However, the possible aspect of the Gaia hypothesis that most fascinates me is comparing it to biological evolution and in particular changes in the speed of information transfer within and between organisms.

In particular, we can consider:

  • cases where information handling is purely local reflex, with no long distance information transfer
  • cases where information transfer is purely chemical, taking place at the speed of chemical relocation (e.g. ant trails, endocrine systems)
  • cases where information transfer is pressure based, taking place at the speed of movement of vibrations (e.g. echolocation, audible warning signals in social animals)
  • cases where information transfer is electrical, taking place at the speed of light (e.g. visual signalling, neural systems)

The title of this stream then comes from noticing the parallels between those changes in the speed of communication within and between organisms, and considering how the development of human society has impacted the speed of information and material transfer between different parts of the world, to the point where dysfunctions in human social mechanisms can now have a clearly measurable impact on the planet as a whole (e.g. acid rain, coral bleaching, the ozone hole, anthropogenic climate change)



  • Animals (including humans and various other beasts on land, but most noticeably aquatic and avian animals in the water and in the air) can and do travel long distances, bringing different microbiomes to different parts of the planet
  • Humans have dramatically accelerated the speed of this movement, first through ships, roads, and railways, and later through the development of aircraft
  • The rise of radio communications, the telegraph and the subsequent rise of the internet has then even more dramatically increased the speed with which information can move around the planet

This means that things get weird if you pose the following hypothesis:

  • the Gaia hypothesis is not true now, but could potentially become true in the future
  • human transportation networks are a candidate implementation for Gaia's endocrine system
  • human communication networks are a candidate implementation for Gaia's nervous system
  • the conscious practice of the scientific method is a candidate implementation of self-reflective loops within that nervous system

That's not a particularly good scientific hypothesis (since it isn't testable except in hindsight), but it's still a fun speculation to ponder :)