Oh, dear! I did in fact get "carried away" in my earlier post. (Interesting metaphor that allows me to deny responsibility, eh?)
What I had intended specifically to mention was in reference to a posting on the 3quarksdaily site today, April 5th, in which there is a video from a science conference that took place a year ago on Darwin's birthday at the University of Southern Arizona. It is worth watching, for some really heavily qualified scientists, including at least two Nobel prize winners, were responding to questions about the nature of life and our knowledge of it.
In the event, my own interest was piqued by the almost knee jerk negative reaction by several of the participants, including Richard Dawkins, to a question about the Gaia hypothesis. Lovelock's hypothesis was specifically rejected as a whole by several, because it claimed for Gaia the character of an organism. Now, it is true that Lovelock did so characterize it, but my suspicion is that he did so in order to alert the general public to their own role in constituting a part of that system, and thus, I suppose, accepting some responsibility for their own part in contributing to its development. Clearly, this was strategically a serious error on his part, because it immediately enables people to put the theory into a box labelled "flakey new age nonsense," as a number of the panel members did in fact do. Thank goodness for the one panel member (Chris McKay, a scientist from NASA), who pointed out the solidity of the scientific basis of Lovelock's work, and its long term significance to our understanding of the interacting elements that together constitute our reality on earth. I was particularly glad (not only because he was from NASA) but because he almost exactly re-stated the position that Lynn Margulis took on this very issue in the last chapter of her book Symbiotic Planet. Margulis makes it pretty clear that the use of the word "organism" was a ploy on the part of Lovelock with which she disagreed. One could also speculate, I suppose, that Lovelock was enamored by the lovely metaphor of a Goddess world that is so powerfully evoked by William Golding's suggestion of the word "Gaia." Ironic, isn't it, that Dawkins and those others could not extend to Lovelock the same "poetic" licence that Dawkins had so eagerly allowed himself in The Selfish Gene so many years before?
Enough! More again soon.
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