Gaia Has Desires

the Desire of Gaia is to give birth to a family of living worlds

In my last post, I explained that the above line is entirely metaphorical. I said, “Gaia is not a person in any sense. She does not have desires in any straightforward sense. The new living worlds will not emerge from her birth canal as baby worlds in any sense.” There is one wiggle-word nestled in amongst my words that forms the basis of this post: “straightforward”. This word implies that there is a sense in which Gaia has desires.

Let me unpack that for you. We know that humans have desires. But as naturalists, we must accept that our desires are determined by our natures. Your current desires are naturally explicable as an expression of your current state. There is a pseudo-mechanical causal chain between your state (the positions and energies of the atoms that make up your body and especially brain) and your behaviours. Desires are data-objects in the information processing part of that causal chain.

But the actions of a plant (growing toward the Sun for example) are also determined by a pseudo-mechanical causal chain running between its state and its behaviours. And there are data-objects in the information processing part of that causal chain. For example, the amount of light received by one or the other sides of a plant are stored in the form of auxin concentration and may even be transmitted from one part of the plant to another. Our data objects are more complex, more abstract and more symbolic. But nevertheless, if you define “desire” broadly enough, you could describe plants as having, for example, a desire to grow toward the Sun.

I would never claim, based on current evidence, that the desires of plants are as complex, abstract or symbolic as our own. Gaia’s desires, I assume, are even less complex, less abstract and less symbolic. But the actions of Gaia, as a whole are also determined by a pseudo-mechanical causal chain in which there are data-objects. For example, one of Gaia’s actions, which she has performed over and over in very different circumstances, is to evolve species with the ability to move into new, unoccupied, but less bio-friendly environments.  

Gaia seems to have begun in the oceans. Certainly she spent much of her youth almost exclusively as aquatic creatures. But she moved onto land, not just once but many times, until she had diverse ecosystems on land. At first, she stayed near sources of water and she avoided freezing cold habitats. But, over time, she developed more and more species who specialized in living in dryer and colder places until she covered almost the entire Earth in a rich layer of Life.

Gaia’s body is made up of all of the many diverse living organisms on the Earth. The information in our bodies is largely contained in the interactions between our cells, particularly our brain cells. The information in Gaia’s body is largely contained in the interactions of these various creatures with each other and the environment; predation rates, prey concentrations, mate concentrations, occupied and unoccupied shelter site concentrations, environmental conditions. These are the data-objects that mitigate Gaia’s “thoughts” or “desires”. I put these two words in quotes because, despite the popular conceptions of James Lovelock’s hypothesis, the idea that Gaia has actual complex, abstract, symbolic thoughts is not generally accepted.

However, again, if we define thought and desire broadly enough then we can say that Gaia has thoughts and desires, that the data-objects that inform her actions, are primitive simple forms of what we call desires in humans.

But, if Gaia’s body is made up of all of the many diverse living organisms on the Earth, then, as living organisms, we are each a part of her body. And just as you expect the cells in your body to serve you, we may feel that it is our role to serve Gaia. The only way to serve Gaia is to understand her desires such that we can strive to satisfy them.

We are called to serve Gaia.
We who answer this call,
Dedicate ourselves to Gaia.
We join together,
In a network of practice,
To align our thoughts, words, actions, habits and character
With her highest aspirations.

2 thoughts on “Gaia Has Desires

  1. Thanks for the post Eric!

    I was confused by this line:

     despite James Lovelock, the idea that Gaia has actual complex, abstract, symbolic thoughts is controversial

    Despite what?

    1. I have encountered a lot of people who think that the Gaia Hypothesis actually invokes a world mind. I meant to dispel that idea but you are correct that it was not clear. I have edited it slightly.

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