Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


MEEHAM CRIST’S ARTICLE “Our Cyborg Progeny,” The London Review of Books, January 7, 2021, is thought-provoking, enlightening, and entertaining. Even by LRB standards, at 4634 words it’s a lengthy piece. However, Crist’s discussion of the book Novacene and its author James Lovelock provided me with an excellent introduction to the Gaia concept and the fellow who proposed it. Here, in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow, are tidbits gleaned from this LRB article.

Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence, by James Lovelock, MIT Press, 2019.

Proposer of Gaia and More. James Lovelock is perhaps best known for proposing the Gaia hypothesis, that the Earth functions as a self-regulating system. However, this is only one of his achievements. In 1957, Lovelock invented the electron capture detector. He used this device in the late 1960s to identify the widespread presence—and danger—of chlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere. This eventually led to the Montreal Protocol, finalized in 1987, a global agreement phasing out ozone-layer-depleting substances such as CFCs.

James Ephraim Lovelock, CH CBE FRS, Hertfordshire-born 1919, English scientist, environmentalist, and futurist.

Lovelock worked with NASA in developing instrumentation analyzing extraterrestrial atmospheres and planetary surfaces. In the 1970s, this work led him and evolutionary theorist Lynn Margulis to propose the Gaia hypothesis. As described in Wikipedia, this hypothesis “proposes that living organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a synergistic and self-regulating complex system that helps maintain and perpetuate the conditions for life on the planet.”

Still a Hypothesis. Wikipedia continues, Gaia “was initially criticized for being teleological and against the principles of natural selection, but later refinements aligned the Gaia hypothesis with ideas from fields such as Earth system science, biogeochemistry, and systems ecology.”

Image from NASA.

LRB reviewer Meehan Crist is writer-in-residence in biological sciences at Columbia University. She writes of Gaia, “This idea has new resonance in a time of climate crisis, and in Novacene, James Lovelock, the man who proposed the Gaia hypothesis (and who turned a hundred in 2019), has set down some thoughts about the possible future of life on this rapidly warming planet.” 

Crist describes many aspects of Lovelock’s refined thinking on Gaia: “Since 2006, Lovelock has written a string of variously apocalyptic books warning about the dire consequences of our present path for life on Earth – The Revenge of Gaia (2006), The Vanishing Face of Gaia (2009) and the slightly less dystopian A Rough Ride to the Future (2014). Novacene continues in this vein, but also offers up an oblique Hail Mary for the future of life: Gaia will save us. Sort of.”

Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll reveal Lovelock’s “Hail Mary” pass. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2021 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: