Sunday, April 18, 2010

Gaia's Zits -- or Of Lice and Men

Suppose we live on a sentient being?

It's not a new idea. There's James Lovelock's and William Golding's Gaia Theory (Earth as a single organism), and books by Asimov, Orson Scott Card, the Helliconia trilogy, and many more. That doesn't mean that "it" cannot be "done" again.

We've all spoken of "Mother Earth", or "Mother Nature" but, I wonder, would a planet be male or female or hermaphrodite or a barren neuter?

The Earth breathes. It breaks out. Its skin crawls and wrinkles and shifts. It has warm flashes and cold spells. Frozen, liquid filled, life bearing comets might or might not be compared to spermatozoa... should I compare planets to giant clams in the oceans? A star's life cycle might be compared to that of the mythical phoenix.

Before the eruption, I was developing a thought about the arrogance of mankind, not merely politicians at Kyoto or Copenhagen, but of all of us to think that we have changed or could change the climate. It is true that a sufficient overpopulation of fleas can kill a dog. I accept that. But, I think we're more of the order of lice.

Entertaining gateway page to information about headlice

Fascinating piece on how volcanoes have shaped human history

If you look at the cross-section of an animated volcano, you may be struck by its similarity to a pustule

I've no idea if a host's acne outbreak is disastrous for headlice, but volcanic eruptions are potentially very serious for humans.

In Europe it is feared that the eruption of Eyjafjallajoekull will set off one of the Earth's most dangerous volcano systems: Katla, and perhaps Hekla. It sounds counter intuitive, but if the weight of a glacier keeps an icy lid on a volcano, and that glacier is melted, then there could be a chain reaction.

 "Eyjafjallajokull has blown three times in the past thousand years," Dr McGarvie told The Times, "in 920AD, in 1612 and between 1821 and 1823. Each time it set off Katla." The likelihood of Katla blowing could become clear "in a few weeks or a few months", he said.

Lovelock's initial hypothesis 

James Lovelock defined Gaia as:

a complex entity involving the Earth's biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and soil; the totality constituting a feedback or cybernetic system which seeks an optimal physical and chemical environment for life on this planet.
FictionA number of works of fiction use the Gaia hypothesis as a central part of the plot. In two of his science fiction novels, Foundation's Edge (1982) and Foundation and Earth (1984), Isaac Asimov describes the planet Gaia as one on which all things, living and inanimate, are taking part in a planetary consciousness to an appropriate measure. In Asimov's story Gaia strives for an even greater superorganism that it calls Galaxia, and that comprises the whole galaxy.

See more at Wikipedia

PS, Rusty's link to his tongue-in-cheek blog on a similar topic is

All the best,
Rowena Cherry



  2. Thank you, Rusty.

    Sometimes, though, the cure is worse than the original illness. I understand that Twitterers in Britain have been tweeting that it was cash they wanted from Iceland, not sulphurous clouds.

  3. The disruption caused by the ash cloud brings to mind the much more devastating effects of the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa (in Indonesia). Average global temperatures fell as much as 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit and didn't completely return to normal until 1888. The sky was darkened for years.

    Which makes me think of the still more cataclysmic disaster in the backstory of S. M. Stirling's PESHAWAR LANCERS. In the late 19th century of that alternate history, a comet or small asteroid passed close enough to Earth to cause a global darkening that plunged the world into a winter lasting several years. By the time the climate returned to normal, large areas of the planet had been nearly depopulated, the few survivors reverting to savagery, while those who lived in or escaped to more temperate regions suffered major technological setbacks. The novel takes place a little over 100 years after these events. It's my favorite of Stirling's books.

    Back to volcanoes, I can imagine a series of eruptions on a Krakatoa scale having a catastrophic, long-term effect on the climate; however, it seems unlikely that any number or severity of volcanic events could affect the Earth's rotation.

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