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Gaia

Gaia

Pre-Olympian Greek earth goddess, worshiped as mother of all. She mated with her son Uranus and bore Titans, the Cyclops, and Hectoncheires. Worship of Gaia continued after the rise of the Olympians, and she was regarded as a powerful influence in marriage, healing the sick, and divination. She was represented as a gigantic female form. Earlier cultures also had religious concepts of a great earth goddess.

The concept of Gaia as earth goddess has been revived in New Age ecological and mystical beliefs. On September 6, 1970, Otter G'Zell, founder of the Church of All Worlds, one of the early modern Neo-Pagan organizations, had a vision of the unity of the Earth's planetary biospherea single organism. He shared the vision with other church members and wrote about it in 1971 in the periodical he edited, The Green Egg.

Atmospheric biochemist James E. Lovelock had a very similar idea at somewhat the same time and through his books Gaia (1979) and The Ages of Gaia (1988) emerged as the leading proponent of this modern Gaia hypothesis of the earth as a living organism. His books propose a dynamic interaction between life and environment, with earth regulating life, and life regulating earth, virtually a single self-regulating entity.

The controversial aspect of Lovelock's concept is the extent the earth may be regarded as a living organism in which life and environment form one dynamic interacting whole. Although not unsympathetic to modern environmentalism, Love-lock proposes a broader frame of reference, and in The Ages of Gaia states: "At the risk of having my membership card of the Friends of the Earth withdrawn, I say that only by pollution do we survive. We animals pollute the air with carbon dioxide, and the vegetation pollutes it with oxygen. The pollution of one is the meat of the other." The Gaia hypothesis has stimulated New Age and Neo-Pagan veneration of Gaia as a living earth goddess and become an integral part of the revival of goddess worship in the last two decades.

The modern Gaia hypothesis was earlier prefigured by such writers as Gustav Fechner (1801-1887) and Francis Younghus-band.

Sources:

Derrey, Francois. The Earth is Alive. London: Arlington Books, 1968.

G'Zell, Otter. Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. London: Oxford University Press, 1979.

. "Theogenesis: The Birth of the Goddess." Green Egg 21, 81 (May 1, 1988): 4-7, 27.

Olson, Carl. The Book of the Goddess, Past and Present. Philadelphia: J. P. Lippincott, 1983.

Pedlar, Kit. Quest for Gaia. UK: Sovereign Press, 1979.

Stein, Diane. The Women's Spirituality Book. St. Paul, Minn.: Llewellyn Publications, 1987.

Younghusband, Sir Francis. The Living Universe. London: John Murray, 1933.

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Gaia

Gaia

In Greek mythology, the goddess Gaia represented the earth. Also called Gaea or Ge by the Greeks and Terra or Tellus by the Romans, she was a maternal figure who gave birth to many other creatures and deities. Gaia was the child of Chaos, an early deity who produced the gods of the underworld, night, darkness, and love. Gaia gave birth to Uranus, who represented the sky; Pontus, the sea; and Oure, the mountains.

Gaia had numerous other children who appear in a variety of myths. She mated with her son Uranus to create gods, including the Titans, and giants such as the Cyclopes. She was also the mother of Aphrodite*, Echo, the Furies, and the serpent that guarded the Golden Fleece. When Gaia's son, the Titan Cronus*, had children, Gaia and Uranus warned him that one of his offspring would challenge and defeat him. Cronus therefore swallowed each child at birth. However, his wife, Rhea, managed to trick him and save the youngest one, Zeus*.

Gaia is mentioned in Virgil's Aeneid * and the Theogony * by the Greek poet Hesiod. She was widely worshiped at temples in Greece, including the shrine of the oracle at Delphi*. The Greeks also took oaths in Gaia's name and believed that she would punish them if they failed to keep their word.

See also Aeneid, the; Cyclopes; Delphi; Echo; Furies; Golden Fleece; Titans; Uranus; Venus; Zeus.

deity god or goddess

underworld land of the dead

x

Titan one of a family of giants who ruled the earth until overthrown by the Greek gods of Olympus

oracle priest or priestess or other creature through whom a god is believed to speak; also the location (such as a shrine) where such words are spoken

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Gaea

Gaea (jē´ə), in Greek religion and mythology, the earth, daughter of Chaos, both mother and wife of Uranus (the sky) and Pontus (the sea). Among Gaea's offspring by Uranus were the Cyclopes, the Hundred-handed Ones (the Hecatoncheires), and the Titans. To Pontus she bore five sea deities. Because Uranus had imprisoned her sons she helped bring about his overthrow by the Titans, who were led by Kronos. She was worshiped as the primal goddess, the mother and nourisher of all things. The Romans identified her with Tellus.

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Gaia

Gaia in Greek mythology, the Earth personified as a goddess, daughter of Chaos. She was the mother and wife of Uranus (Heaven); their offspring included the Titans and the Cyclops.
Gaia hypothesis the theory, put forward by the English scientist James Lovelock (1919– ) in 1969, that living matter on the earth collectively defines and regulates the material conditions necessary for the continuance of life.

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Gaia

Gaia (Gaea) In Greek mythology, mother goddess of the Earth. Wife (and in some legends, mother) of Uranus, she bore the Titans and the Cyclopes.

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Gaia

Gaiaacquire, admire, afire, applier, aspire, attire, ayah, backfire, barbwire, bemire, briar, buyer, byre, choir, conspire, crier, cryer, defier, denier, desire, dire, drier, dryer, dyer, enquire, entire, esquire, expire, fire, flyer, friar, fryer, Gaia, gyre, hellfire, hire, hiya, ire, Isaiah, jambalaya, Jeremiah, Josiah, Kintyre, latria, liar, lyre, Maia, Maya, Mayer, messiah, mire, misfire, Nehemiah, Obadiah, papaya, pariah, peripeteia, perspire, playa, Praia, prior, pyre, quire, replier, scryer, shire, shyer, sire, skyer, Sophia, spire, squire, supplier, Surabaya, suspire, tier, tire, transpire, trier, tumble-dryer, tyre, Uriah, via, wire, Zechariah, Zedekiah, Zephaniah •homebuyer

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Gaia

GAIA

GAIA theory was first proposed by the English scientist James Lovelock in 1979 to explain how and why, as life appeared on the planet and grew abundant, its evolution and the earth's evolution merged into a single dynamic system he called Gaia. Lovelock was aware that this was the Greek name for a primordial cosmic goddess who was also a primal earth deity. He used the name and has continued to use it, in spite of criticism from some scientists, because of its metaphoric power. It conveys, he says, the idea of a superorganism composed of all life tightly coupled with the air, the oceans, and the surface rocks. By the end of the 1980s there existed sufficient evidence, models, and mechanisms to develop the theory further through transdisciplinary scientific research in cooperative projects between those working in such apparently disparate fields as practical ecology, ocean science, evolutionary biology, biochemistry, geology, and climatology.

Continuing this research, Lovelock and others have shown that Gaia self-regulates at a global scale through life-environment interactions, and that as a result the earth has remained in a habitable state over billions of years. The theory suggests that its habitability results from three intrinsic properties and one extrinsic property of living organisms. First, all organisms alter their environment by taking in free energy and excreting high-entropy waste products in order to maintain a low internal entropy. Second, organisms grow and multiply, potentially exponentially, thus providing an intrinsic positive feedback to life (the more life there is, the more life it can beget). Third, for each environmental variable there is a level or range at which the growth of a particular organism is maximum. Extrinsically, the fact that organisms both alter and are constrained by their environments in these ways means that feedback between life and its environment is inevitable.

In 2001 more than one thousand scientists signed the Amsterdam Declaration on Global Change, which states: "The Earth System behaves as a single, self-regulating system comprised of physical, chemical, biological and human components." This view sees the earth as a unified whole and humans as organic members of the entire community of life on earth. There is no question of human life being external to or independent of the planetary system's self-regulatory functioning, or of its common environmental resources, climatic variables, or ecosystem constraints. That being so, we need to take account of how we rely on and use those resources and adapt to those constraints. As Lovelock himself says, perhaps the greatest value of Gaia theory lies in its metaphor of a living earth. This reminds us that we are part of it and that human rights are constrained by the needs of our planetary partners.

Some religious implications follow from perceiving the earth and ourselves in this way. First, whatever is deemed sacred or holy in life cannot be separated out in any absolute sense from whatever we understand as the whole of existence. It may instead be seen as the internal transcendence of every living being. But as that cannot be divorced from the environment that supports life or from the interactions in which each being is connected with all others, so we cannot reduce the sacred to any one manifestation of being but must extend the concept to the whole dynamic system of relationships between God and the world. Lovelock says that Gaia, like life, is an emergent phenomenon, one that is comprehensible intuitively but difficult or impossible to analyze by reduction. Similarly, sacredness is an emergent property of life, one that cannot be analyzed reductively by separating it out or cutting it off from the interactions of daily life.

Second, if we accept that our species evolved in the same way as every other species, we cannot assume that we were created at a particular moment in time outside the processes or flow of evolution. Neither can we claim absolute privileges for our species in respect of our use of the earth's material resources. Nor can we assert that we alone know, through some divine revelation extraneous to or cut off from daily life, how our species began or what will happen to us at the end of time. Practically, we cannot assume that the earth and its resources evolved and now exist solely for our use.

Gaia theory therefore raises critical questions about the anthropocentrism of major Christian doctrines where they infer that: (1) the earth was created solely for our sake, so that its creatures and resources exist primarily for our benefit; (2) the revelation of God is fully contained in human words addressed to and historically recorded by humans; (3) death was brought into the world as punishment for one man's sin rather than being an evolutionary necessity; or (4) the life and death of Jesus is solely "for" human salvation from sin and death.

It also puts in question the traditionally vertical nature of hierarchical Christian imagery. This places God above angels, men, and women in descending order of value and importance, so that the earth and its creatures are presumed created in a position of subservience to human beings because they are of less value to God. The metaphoric power of the religious language of dominance based on this valuation system authorizes human domination over the entire household of life and claims it in God's name. The intrinsic value and sacredness of the more-than-human world in the sight of God is implicitly negated or at best reduced.

The practical effects of such claims to human exceptionalism are now evident in the exploitation through industrialization and technologization of the earth's resources. The scale of their extraction and the extent of their use and consequent waste far outstrip that of their natural replacement or disposal. Seen within the context of a relational understanding of human interactions with the environment, and of human rights constrained by those of our planetary partners, the implications of this exploitation for social justice are far-reaching.

The implications are of particular concern to four classes of people singled out in the documents proceeding from the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development as being most at risk from environmental degradation, most vulnerable to its effects, and most powerless to do anything about it: women, children, indigenous peoples, and the poor. Yet the dominant free-market model of development and continuing growth presupposes that the resources needed to sustain it are and will be available, and that thanks to science and technology, together with the spread and improvement of education, we shall be able to hand on a better global situation than the one we inherited. The presupposition behind this expectation is, of course, that the global biophysical environment will sustain this growth. Numerous research projects into the health of that environment, however, show precisely the opposite. Decline in fish stocks and freshwater supplies are well-publicized examples. The fact too that many of the poorest human communities live in battle zones, or are refugees from territories devastated by war, offers them little hope of redress for the loss of their pastures and access to clean water.

Yet human interdependence within Gaia means that we are all in some way implicated in and diminished by the contemporary expansion of militarist regimes and the consequent destruction of biodiversity and loss of material resources. Arms industries today use the chemical, physical, and biological resources of the planet to produce sophisticated weapons through the expenditure of billions of dollars and massive amounts of human energy. In 1994 the amount of weapons available was computed at twenty thousand kilograms of explosive for every person on the planet. By the year 2000 the available weapons-grade plutonium was the equivalent of a million atomic bombs. This waste of planetary resources is compounded by the fact that such weapons exist solely to destroy life and its support systems within Gaia.

Commitment to as nonviolent a lifestyle as possible is, therefore, an obviously appropriate response to a deepening understanding of the single, self-regulating planetary system within which we belong. Religions such as Jainism and Buddhism have made a nonviolent ethic an inherent and coherent part of a religiously inspired worldview. Now, Gaia theory is reminding Christians that Jesusbelieved by them to be the authentic revelation of Godtaught love of enemies, forgiveness, and nonretaliation for insults. He claimed that God has a direct interest in sparrows and in each flower of the field, was renowned for healing bodies, and died on a cross erected by military power, his own body pierced and broken after death by military weapons.

If, therefore, as Lovelock asserts, we each contribute, according to our kind, to the continuous and consistent relationships between organisms and their environments that constitute the support system of all life on earth, the adoption of as nonviolent a lifestyle as possible is a positive contribution to Gaia from a religious, ethical, and scientific perspective. This nonviolence is more than the negation of violence. It is a rational and spiritually powerful commitment to living in a way that asserts the sacredness of Gaia.

See Also

Ecology and Religion; Evolution; Goddess Worship; Nonviolence.

Bibliography

Bunyard, Peter, ed. Gaia in Action: Science of the Living Earth. Edinburgh, 1996. A collection of papers from leading scientists and authors, based on a series of international conferences on Gaia, that seeks to define what the theory means in terms of their own disciplines.

Lenton, Timothy M. "Gaia and Natural Selection" Nature 394 (1998): 439447. Addresses the question of how organisms alter their material environments and how their environment constrains and naturally selects organisms.

Lovelock, James E. Gaia: The Practical Science of Planetary Medicine. London, 1991. Draws attention to the similarity between Gaian and physiological self-regulation.

Lovelock, James E. Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. Oxford, 1995. Second revised edition of the 1979 book in which Lovelock proposed the Gaia theory.

Lovelock, James E. The Ages of Gaia: A Biography of Our Living Earth. Oxford, 1995. Second revised version of the 1988 edition; gives the background to new fields of research in Gaia theory.

Lovelock, James E. "The Living Earth." Nature 426 (2003): 769770. Reviews the development of Gaia theory from its beginnings as part of NASA's planetary exploration program.

Potts, Grant H. "Imagining Gaia: Perspectives and Prospects on Gaia, Science, and Religion." Ecotheology: The Journal of Religion, Nature, and the Environment 8, no. 1 (2003): 3049. Analyzes Gaia in relation to the writings of James Lovelock, Anne Primavesi, and Oberon Zell.

Primavesi, Anne. Sacred Gaia: Holistic Theology and Earth System Science. London, 2000. Develops the scientific and religious implications of the theory and presents a coherent theology rooted in awe at the sacredness of the whole earth system.

Primavesi, Anne. "The Wisdom of Gaia." Irish Journal of Feminist Studies 4, no. 2 (2002): 1631. Considers Gaia as a project of contemporary wisdom that embodies the body politic and planetary, human, and more-than-human, and therefore open to women's ways of knowing.

Primavesi, Anne. Gaia's Gift: Earth, Ourselves, and God after Copernicus. London, 2003. Continues the exploration of human relationships with the earth in the light of the ideological revolution set in motion by Copernicus, Darwin, and Lovelock.

Ruether, Rosemary. Gaia and God: An Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing. London, 1993. Reviews from an eco-feminist perspective three classical creation stories that shaped the biblical and Christian tradition: the Babylonian story, the Hebrew Story, and the Greek (Platonic) story.

Volk, Tyler. Gaia's Body: Toward a Physiology of Earth. New York, 1998. An introduction to the field of earth physiology that examines long-term trends in the earth's evolution and humanity's role in Gaia.

Anne Primavesi (2005)

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Gaia

Gaia

Introduction

The word Gaia incorporates several varied concepts about planet Earth, how it is organized, and how it has evolved. Over the last few decades, research on Gaia theory, once derided by many as unscientific, has been influential in bringing together scientists from disparate fields such as geochemistry, biology, and atmospheric physics in order to promote new understanding of Earth's systems, especially regarding natural and anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change.

All recent scientific definitions of Gaia theory include the assumption that Earth is a self-regulating entity that promotes life. As the creator of the Gaia hypothesis, British chemist, medical researcher, and atmospheric scientist James Lovelock, states that Gaia is a complex system, “organisms and material environment coupled together,” that continues to evolve. He adds: “Unless we see the Earth as a planet that behaves as if it were alive, at least to the extent of regulating its climate and chemistry, we will lack the will to change our way of life and to understand that we have made it our greatest enemy.”

Historical Background and Scientific Foundations

The Gaia hypothesis was first formulated by Lovelock in the late 1960s, and published in 1972. His neighbor, British author William Golding, suggested the term Gaia (from the Greek personification of Earth, and the goddess that followed Chaos) as an alternative to Lovelock's “cybernetic system with homeostatic tendencies.”

The Gaia hypothesis is often oversimplified as merely the idea that Earth (or Gaia) is a living planet. Lovelock actually 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.” In other words, life on Earth and the non-living parts of the planet form a giant system that includes the effects of living things, climate, and the composition of the atmosphere and oceans. These components change to maintain Earth's system in its present state of equilibrium, producing the optimal conditions for life.

Lovelock's initial hypothesis met with scientific skepticism and was criticized for circular reasoning (because Earth is hospitable for life, Gaia exists, and because Gaia exists, there is life on Earth), and its lack of testable hypotheses, although it became popular as an environmental and philosophical concept. In the 1980s and 1990s, however, several conferences, clarifications, and modifications moved the Gaia hypothesis toward its more recent and more scientifically robust position as the Gaia theory. Today, many scientists also categorize different studies using Gaia theory as strong Gaia or weak Gaia, depending on how pervasive they see the importance of life in modifying Earth, and whether purpose or directionality is involved, as some strong Gaian arguments assert.

American microbiologist Lynn Margulis has been one of the scientists engaged in defining, popularizing, and applying Gaia theory. Margulis defines symbiosis as organisms of different species living together in physical contact, and credits her student Greg Hinkle as coming up with the explanation that “Gaia is just symbiosis as seen from space.” Margulis goes on to clarify the best-accepted scientific basis for Gaia theory, noting that “Gaia is neither vicious nor nurturing in relation to humanity; it is a convenient name for an Earth wide phenomenon: temperature, acidity/alkalinity, and gas composition regulation. Gaia encompasses the series of interacting ecosystems that compose a single huge ecosystem at the Earth's surface.”

Impacts and Issues

An important model demonstrating the feedback mechanisms that are crucial to Gaia theory is Daisyworld, which was introduced in 1983. Daisyworld simulations first illustrate a simple planet containing two species of daisies with different albedo (the amount of light they reflect). As the simulation progresses, quantities of dark and light colored daisies spread, covering the planet, and the climate on Daisyworld changes until it reaches homeostasis. Recent Daisyworld simulations include many different species, diseases, and more environmental factors. All demonstrate that life (or at least a model of life) may alter its environment to an optimal state, as the Gaia theory proposes.

As understanding positive and negative feedback in complicated systems (involving atmosphere, plant and ocean life, soil, and anthropogenic factors) is critical to understanding climate change, Daisyworld is an important teaching tool for contemporary research. As the American physicist Lawrence E. Joseph points out, Gaia is also “a brilliant organizing principle” for promoting the interdisciplinary work that is now essential for understanding climate change and other global environmental issues.

Much of the current research on the systems that make up Earth (or Gaia) is incorporated by the emerging field of Earth System Science (ESS). Many scientists acknowledge that Earth System Science owes a historic and scientific debt to Gaia theory, and argue that the philosophical focus of Gaia theory actually provides a more holistic and humanistic alternative for scientific research than ESS does, which some scientists argue could be better suited for the current climate crisis.

WORDS TO KNOW

ALBEDO: A numerical expression describing the ability of an object or planet to reflect light.

BIOSPHERE: The sum total of all life-forms on Earth and the interaction among those life-forms.

FEEDBACK: Information that tells a system what the results of its actions are and thereby alters future actions.

HOMEOSTASIS: State of being in balance; the tendency of an organism to maintain constant internal conditions despite large changes in the external environment.

HYPOTHESIS: An idea phrased in the form of a statement that can be tested by observation and/or experiment.

SYMBIOSIS: A pattern in which two or more organisms live in close connection with each other, often to the benefit of both or all organisms.

Gaia may continue to prove most important, however, as a vehicle for scientists to convey their work on Earth's complex systems to non-scientists. As anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson notes, “It may be that many people, possibly all people, can only think about complex wholes—think holistically—by using aesthetic or religious energy…. Gaia is the supersystem. It is intellectually irresistible.”

See Also Albedo; Atmospheric Chemistry; Atmospheric Structure; Baseline Emissions; Biodiversity; Biogeochemical Cycle; Biomass; Biosphere; Carbon Cycle; Carbon Dioxide (CO2); Carbon Dioxide Concentrations; Carbon Sinks; Chlorofluorocarbons and Related Compounds; Climate Change; Feedback Factors; Oceans and Seas; Simulations.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Books

Harding, Stephan. Animate Earth: Science, Intuition, and Gaia. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2006.

Joseph, Lawrence E. Gaia: The Growth of an Idea. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990.

Lovelock, James. Gaia:A New Look at Life on Earth. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Lovelock, James. The Revenge of Gaia: Earth's Climate in Crisis and the Fate of Humanity. New York: Basic Books, 2006.

Margulis, Lynn. Symbiotic Planet: A New View of Evolution. New York: Basic Books, 1998.

Margulis, Lynn, and Dorion Sagan. Slanted Truths: Essays on Gaia, Symbiosis, and Evolution. New York: Copernicus, 1997.

Schneider, Stephen H. Scientists Debate Gaia: The Next Century. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004.

Periodicals

Kerr, Richard A. “No Longer Willful, Gaia Becomes Respectable.” Science 240 (1988): 393.

Lovelock, James E. “Gaia as Seen Through the Atmosphere.” Atmospheric Environment 6, no. 8 (1972): 579–580.

Lovelock, James E. “Hands Up for the Gaia Hypothesis.” Nature. 344 (1990): 100–102.

Watson, Andrew, and James Lovelock. “Biological Homeostasis of the Global Environment: The Parable of Daisyworld.” Tellus 35B (1983): 284–289.

Web Sites

Bice, David. “Gaia: Biospheric Control of the Global Climate System.” Carleton College. < http://www.carleton.edu/departments/geol/DaveSTELLA/Daisyworld/gaia.htm> (accessed November 4, 2007).

“Earth System Science: Gaia and the Human Impact.” Crispin Tickell, October 18, 2007.< http://www.crispintickell.com/page123.html> (accessed November 7, 2007).

“The Gaia Theory: Model and Metaphor for the 21st Century.” The Gaia Theory Conference 2006, October 16, 2007. < http://www.gaiatheory.org/> (accessed November 4, 2007).

Sandra L. Dunavan

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Gaia

Gaia

Nationality/Culture

Greek

Pronunciation

GAY-uh

Alternate Names

Terra, Tellus (Roman)

Appears In

Hesiod's Theogony, Ovid's Metamorphoses

Lineage

None

Character Overview

Also called Gaea or Ge by the Greeks and Terra or Tellus by the Romans, she was a maternal figure who gave birth to many other creatures and deities. Gaia arose from Chaos (pronounced KAY-oss), the period of emptiness and disorder that came before the gods. Her body was the Earth itself. She gave birth to Uranus (pronounced YOOR-uh-nuhs), who represented the sky; Pontus (pronounced PON-tus), the sea; and Oure (pronounced OO-ray), the mountains. Gaia was also the mother of Aphrodite (pronounced af-ro-DYE-tee), Echo (pronounced EK-oh), the Furies , and the serpent that guarded the Golden Fleece.

Major Myths

Gaia appears in many myths about the early creation of the world and the gods. Her son and husband Uranus was not happy with the children she bore him, including the Cyclopes (pronounced sigh-KLOH-peez) and the Titans , so he forced them into the deep recesses of the Earth, which were also Gaia's bowels. Gaia convinced the youngest Titan, Cronus (pronounced KROH-nuhs), to overthrow Uranus and free her children from within her bowels. When Cronus had children, Gaia and Uranus warned him that one of his offspring would challenge and defeat him. Cronus therefore swallowed each child at birth to prevent their betrayal. However, his wife, Rhea (pronounced REE-uh), managed to trick him and save the youngest one, Zeus (pronounced ZOOS). Zeus later overthrew Cronus with the help of Gaia.

Gaia in Context

The myth of Gaia illustrates the places men and women held in ancient Greek and Roman society. Gaia, the female goddess, is the ultimate beginning to all things; this reflects the woman's place as the one who gives birth. However, after giving birth to the sky, ocean, and other gods, the male god of the sky takes control of the heavens. This reflects the fact that men ruled nearly all matters of formal society in ancient Greece and Rome. It is important to note that, despite her lack of ruling power after the time of creation, Gaia is a driving force behind the overthrow of the male gods Uranus and Cronus.

Gaia was widely worshipped at temples in Greece, including the shrine of the oracle at Delphi. The Greeks also took oaths in Gaia's name and believed that she would punish them if they failed to keep their word.

Key Themes and Symbols

In Greek mythology , the goddess Gaia represented the earth, and she is often associated with plants and the soil. She was one of the most fundamental symbols of creation, and is sometimes pictured with a large, rounded belly symbolizing fertility. An important theme found in myths about Gaia is rebellion. Gaia convinces Cronus to rebel against Uranus in order to help her. Later, Gaia is instrumental in Zeus's rebellion against and overthrow of Cronus. In recent times, Gaia has endured as a symbol for Earth.

Gaia in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

Gaia is mentioned in Virgil's Aeneid , Hesiod's Theogony, and many other ancient works. In art, she was usually depicted as a woman half-risen from the ground. The name Gaia has been used in many science fiction works as the name of an Earth-like planet, and she has also appeared as a character in Marvel comic books. The goddess Gaia has also inspired an idea known as the Gaia hypothesis, which theorizes that all parts of the Earth, both living and nonliving, function together as if the entire planet were a single giant organism. This idea has been embraced by many environmentalists looking to maintain a balance between nature and human development.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

Using your library, the Internet, or other resources, research the Gaia hypothesis. What are the main points of the hypothesis? What changes do supporters suggest that humans make in order to maintain balance on the planet? What elements of the ancient Greek myth of Gaia can be found in this modern view?

SEE ALSO Aeneid, The; Cyclopes; Delphi; Echo; Furies; Golden Fleece; Titans; Uranus; Zeus

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Gaia

GAIA

First articulated by the British chemist James Lovelock in the 1970s, the Gaia hypothesis (named for the Greek goddess who personified the earth) proposes that the biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and surface rocks make up a single, self-regulating, homeostatic system (Lovelock 1979). Key observations that Lovelock used in support of Gaia include the long-term stability of chemical disequilibria in the atmosphere and oceans despite both high fluxes of many chemicals within the earth system, and the fact that these persistent (in some cases for billions of years) yet nonequilibrium conditions are particularly well-suited for life as it has evolved. To Lovelock, the implication of these and related observations is that the biosphere must actively modulate the chemical make-up, temperature, pH, and other attributes of the earth system in order to maintain conditions under which life can flourish. In particular, the composition of the atmosphere must be regulated by the biosphere to maintain near-optimal concentrations of chemicals such as hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen.

Lovelock and his followers have promoted Gaia as an integrative framework for the study of the earth system. It raises scientific questions and demands experiments that would not be recognized under the traditional disciplinary and reductionist regimens dominant in the earth and environmental sciences. Gaia is thus not only an attempt to specify a unifying framework for the operation of the entire earth system, but also an explicit critique of the existing organization of knowledge inquiry.

Gaia has had little effect on research agendas, however, and the number of working scientists willing to be associated with the hypothesis is small—perhaps less than a dozen. Critique of the hypothesis focuses on three lines of argument. Gaia is said to be tautological because it asserts that life exists under exactly those conditions that are suitable for life. It is said to be teleological because it implies that the earth system must have evolved according to a design concept. And it is said to be trivial because, even so, Gaia adds little to existing knowledge about feedbacks among physical, chemical, and biological processes (Kirchner 2002). In response it is argued that Gaia is an emergent phenomenon that cannot be understood through traditional, disciplinary, and reductionist cause-and-effect reasoning. Lynn Margulis, a forceful advocate of Gaia, suggests: "The Gaian viewpoint is not popular because so many scientists, wishing to continue business as usual, are loath to venture outside of their respective disciplines. At least a generation or so may be required before an understanding of the Gaia hypothesis leads to appropriate research" (Margulis and West 1997, p. 223).

But it remains to be seen if the type of interdisciplinary synthesis that Gaia demands is even possible. Interdisciplinarity founders not just on the administrative boundaries between disciplines, but also on the differences in subject, method, time and spatial scales, types of data, definition of problems, and criteria of proof among various disciplines. These differences cannot easily be transcended or reconciled. This disunity of science is not entirely capricious, but in part reflects the richness and diversity of nature. How actually to move from reductionism and disciplines to Gaian synthesis remains far from clear.

Indeed while the need for interdisciplinarity is accepted by many scientists, strategies in the early twenty-first century—exemplified by the construction of highly complex, mathematical models aimed at simulating the coupled ocean-ice-atmosphere system—are still essentially reductionist in nature, building a story from first principles and supporting bodies of observational data. Gaia's claim is that such approaches can no more yield a comprehensive understanding of the earth system than a mapping of synapses can reveal the workings of an individual's consciousness.

Thus at least at this point in the evolution of science and society, Gaia's greatest impact may be largely metaphorical. On one level this metaphor may continue to challenge science to engage nature more synthetically, just as the Cartesian metaphor of nature as a clockwork helped to advance the cause of reductionist science. But on a broader, societal level Gaia has already been embraced as a cautionary symbol of the earth's complexity, interconnectedness, and inscrutability. Wrote Václav Havel, "Our destiny is not dependent merely on what we do for ourselves but also on what we do for Gaia as a whole. If we endanger her, she will dispense with us in the interests of a higher value—that is, life itself" (Havel 1998, p. 171).

DANIEL SAREWITZ

SEE ALSO Earth; Earth Systems Engineering and Management; Ecology; Environmental Ethics; Environmentalism.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Havel, Vaclav. (1998). "The Philadelphia Liberty Medal." In The Art of the Impossible. New York: Fromm International.

Kirchner, James W. (2002). "The Gaia Hypothesis: Fact, Theory, and Wishful Thinking." Climatic Change 52: 391–408. A spirited scientific (as opposed to espistemological) critique of the Gaia hypothesis.

Lovelock, James E. (1979). Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. Oxford: Oxford University Press. The most complete treatment of the hypothesis, by its creator.

Margulis, Lynn, and Oona West. (1997). "Gaia and the Colonization of Mars." In Slanted Truths: Essays on Gaia, Symbiosis and Evolution, ed. Lynn Margulis and Dorian Sagan. New York: Copernicus.

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