Science

Have scientists solved the "Gaia puzzle"?

Have scientists solved the "Ga...
A team of researchers has proposed two mechanisms as a potential solution to the "Gaia puzzle"
A team of researchers has proposed two mechanisms as a potential solution to the "Gaia puzzle"
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A team of researchers has proposed two mechanisms as a potential solution to the "Gaia puzzle"
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A team of researchers has proposed two mechanisms as a potential solution to the "Gaia puzzle"

With so many things that needed to go right, and so many things that could have gone wrong, the very fact that you're reading this – in fact, your very existence – is the result of innumerable strokes of luck. Scientists have long sought an explanation as to why stable conditions on Earth have persisted long enough for life to evolve over millions of years. Now a team has hit upon two mechanisms, "sequential selection" and "selection by survival alone," as a possible solution to this "Gaia puzzle."

The Gaia hypothesis, (aka the Gaia theory or Gaia principle), is the idea, first proposed by James Lovelock in the 1970s, that the life-supporting conditions of our planet are maintained through a self-regulating synergistic system created by the interactions between living organisms and their inorganic surroundings. Scientists have wondered how, in the face of threats such as a brightening sun, volcanoes and meteor strikes, such a complex system might work to keep the planet in a prolonged state in which life can evolve.

According to a team led by researchers at the University of Exeter, the answer could lie with what's known as "sequential selection." In this form of global environmental regulation, life or systems that destabilize the environment tend not to last long and result in extinctions and further change until a stable state emerges that tends to persist. This stability, in turn, gives the system more time to acquire additional persistence-enhancing traits – a process called "selection by survival alone."

"We can now explain how the Earth has accumulated stabilizing mechanisms over the past 3.5 billion years of life on the planet," says Professor Tim Lenton, from the University of Exeter. "The central problem with the original Gaia hypothesis was that evolution via natural selection cannot explain how the whole planet came to have stabilizing properties over geologic timescales. Instead, we show that at least two simpler mechanisms work together to give our planet with life self-stabilizing properties."

Dr James Dyke, from the University of Southampton, who contributed to the research, added, "As well as being important for helping to estimate the probability of complex life elsewhere in the universe, the mechanisms we identify may prove crucial in understanding how our home planet may respond to drivers such as human-produced climate change and extinction events."

The team's paper appears in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

Source: University of Exeter

16 comments
Rustgecko
The problem for human-beings is that we may be part of a destabilising system, and are therefore earmarked to be wiped out.
Lucke
Thant brings the point when atmosphere changes from high CO2 and low O2 to the reverse. That was "the change" and never got back...
Don Duncan
Rustgecko: We are responsible for our survival, unlike other species. We are the only species that intelligently, by abstract reasoning, reconfigure our environment for better or worse.
Politically, the majority indirectly choose a destructive social system based on violence, not reason. The public throws away their sovereignty by granting it to a ruling elite and their bureaucrats/LEOs. This creates an unstable, chaotic social/political system that leads to domestic strife (dog-eat-dog, social/political polarization) which benefits only the "deep state", but only in the short term. Eventually, all empires, all civilizations, have crumbled, due to the use of violence as the political paradigm.
A new paradigm of reason and voluntarism is needed to stabilize and civilize. Then we can stop the wars, the legalization of immorality by laws that violate rights, and the exploitation of the many by the few.
AdamJasper
The “Gaia Puzzle” is not a valid scientific problem, it’s barely science fiction. The question of how our planet maintains equilibrium has been answered since Darwin. As for the question of how our planet maintained favourable conditions long enough for us to evolve, the answer is simple: luck; if Earth had not done so, we simply would not be here to contemplate our bad fortune (see “Anthropic Principle”).
Why is this being presented as new science?
Lardo
"With so many things that needed to go right, and so many things that could have gone wrong, the very fact that you're reading this – in fact, your very existence – is the result of innumerable strokes of luck."
Or..... the result of an Omniscient Creator.
The truth is, we don't really KNOW. Both theories require some faith.
Neil Farbstein
Brilliant theory. Probably correct.
Mzungu_Mkubwa
@Lardo, I'll take it one step further and state that the prophecy enumerated in Romans 1:18-23 has fully come to fruition. "Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory..."
Expanded Viewpoint
Then how about this take on the situation at large? What if WE are really the creator of the world each of us lives in, and we interact with the worlds that others create? This handily explains why we see thousands if not millions of layers of strata in a cliff side! Some great god in the "sky" did not make the mountains that way on a whim or caprice, but through the eons of time flooding waters moved dirt from one place to another. Every time that a bacterium is not killed by some kind of chemical concoction, it evolves into a form that is resistant and even immune to it. When a seed from a hybrid plant is exposed to radiation, it reverts back to its last successful form. Why is that? What are all of these various mechanisms that are in operation and where did they come from? How about from US?? Reality, what we deem to be real, is the result of a broad group agreement stretched out over time.
Randy
JRosen
It takes so much faith to believe in this, and much less faith to believe in a divine Creator, Who set the heavens and the earth in motion. This is like saying: "I have all these little parts, so I'll throw them up in the air, and when they land, they be a working watch! Oh it didn't fall into a working watch... then I'll have to keep trying a be-jillion times until it does.
"For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse." Romans 1:20
BrianK56
All we have to do is look around. All systems are linked and if too many are disturbed at one time humans will be extinct and earth will repair and repopulate with the next species. The position of the earth is beyond human control and self sustaining.