“All through my boyhood I had a profound conviction that I was no good, that I was wasting my time, wrecking my talents, behaving with monstrous folly and wickedness and ingratitude–and all this, it seemed, was inescapable, because I lived among laws which were absolute, like the law of gravity, but which it was not possible for me to keep.”
–GEORGE ORWELL, A Collection of Essays
By Alex P. Vidal
NEW YORK CITY — In a follow up to his ground-breaking book Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, James Lovelock, an independent scientist and inventor, describes, for both scientists and non-scientists, his new theory of evolution.
He explains how the appearance of life on Earth nearly four billion years ago irreversibly changed our planet so that life and the material Earth evolved together as a single system, Gaia, and not separately as conventionally taught.
Lovelock explains his inspirational Gaia theory in detail and outlines the history of the Earth from a geophysiologist’s point of view, from the first signs of life in the Archean to the present day.
He also warns us of the damage man is causing to natural ecosystems as well as the physical threats of greenhouse gases and depletion of the ozone layer to our planet.
In a forward note, Dr. Lewis Thomas, editor of The Commonwealth Fund Book Program, emphasizes that “most working scientists have an awareness and respect for the history of the fields in which they labor, but what they generally have in mind is a series of endeavors strung through the volumes of their specialized journals that are still held in the library stacks–not at all the much longer stretch of time and work that professional scholars would require for a proper history of science.”
According to Thomas, it is not that researchers have short memories, but that “they learn and retain only the events that set their fields atremble in the first place.”
“And for most of science these days, perhaps all of it, the great changes that launched this century’s vast transformation of human knowledge began within this century, or at least seemed to,” Thomas explains. “The modern postdoctoral student in a laboratory engaged in molecular biology, for instance, feels no dependence on generations of forebears more than 20 years back.
“The contemporary physics may track their ideas back almost a century, to the beginnings of quantum theory, but it is the concepts emerging in only the past decade that are regarded as the real history. The cosmologists are out on totally new ground, looking in amazement at strange, unanticipated kinds of space and time, making educated guesses at phenomena far beyond the suburban solar system or the local galaxy, even speculating about universe bubbling out at the boundaries of this one.”
The editor believes that “we are, quite literally, in a new world, a much more peculiar place than it seemed a few centuries back, harder to make sense of, riskier to speculate about, and alive with information which is becoming more accessible and bewildering at the same time. It sometimes seems that there is not just more to be learned, there is everything to be learned.”
He points out that “this is far from the general public view of the matter, as reflected in the science sections of newspapers and newsmagazines. The non-scientific layman tends to take technology to be so closely linked to science as to be the center of the enterprise. The progress of science and that of technology seem to be all of a piece–machines, electronics, computer chips, Mars landing, nonbiodegradable plastics, the ozone hole, the bomb, all the rest of what now looks like twentieth century culture.”
What is so clearly seen is the newness of the scientific information itself, the strangeness, and, where meaning is to be discerned, the meaning, Thomas stresses. “There is a great difference between the intellectual product of modern science and the various technologies that are sometimes (nothing like as frequently as the public might guess) derived from that product.”
The books in this series represent an attempt to clarify this distinction, as well as to provide a closer look at what goes on in the minds of scientists as they go about their work, says Thomas.
He concludes: “The book by James Lovelock describes a set of observations about the life of our planet which may, one day, be recognized as one of the major discontinuities in human thought. If Lovelock turns out to be as right in his view of things as I believe he is, we will be viewing the Earth as a coherent system of life, self-regulating, self-changing, a sort of immense organism.
“This is not likely, in my opinion, to lead directly or indirectly to any specific piece of new technology to be put to use, although it may very well begin to influence, in new and gentler ways, the other sorts of technology we might be selecting for use in the future.”