Most of us sense that the Earth is more than a sphere of rock with a thin layer of air, ocean and life covering the surface.
We feel that we belong here as if this planet were indeed our home. Long ago the Greeks, thinking this way, gave to the Earth the name Gaia.
In those days, science and theology were one and science had soul. As time passed this warm relationship faded. The life sciences, no longer concerned with life, fell to classifying dead things.
Gaia was stolen from theology to become no more than the root from which the disciplines of geography and geology were named.
For the one who is looking without seeing, the Earth is just earth, nothing else.
Now at last there are signs of a change. Science becomes holistic again and rediscovers soul, and theology, moved by ecumenical forces, begins to realise that Gaia is not to be subdivided for academic convenience and that Gaia is much more than just a prefix.
The new understanding has come from going forth and looking back to see the Earth from space. The vision of that splendid white flecked blue sphere stirred us all.
It even opens the mind’s eye, just as a voyage away from home enlarges the perspective of our Love for those who remain there.
The first impact of those voyages was the sense of wonder given to the astronauts and to us as we shared their experience vicariously through television, but at the same time the Earth was viewed from outside by the more objective gaze of scientific instruments.
They showed our planet is made of the same elements and in much the same proportions as are Mars and Venus.
We now see that the air, the ocean and the soil are much more than a mere environment for life; they are a part of life itself. The air is to life just as is the fur to a cat or the nest for a bird.
There is nothing unusual in the idea of life on Earth interacting with the air, sea and rocks, but it took a view from outside to glimpse the possibility that this combination might consist of a single giant living system and one with the capacity to keep the Earth always at a state most favorable for the life upon it.
An entity comprising a whole planet and with a powerful capacity to regulate the climate needs a name to match. It was the novelist William Golding who proposed the name Gaia.
Gladly we accepted his suggestion and Gaia is also the name of the hypothesis of science which postulates that the climate and the composition of the Earth always are close to an optimum for whatever life inhabits it.
The evidence gathered in support of Gaia is now considerable but as is often the way of science, this is less important than is its use as a kind of looking glass for seeing the world differently, and which makes us ask new questions about the nature of Earth.
If we are all creatures great and small, from bacteria to whales, part of Gaia then we are all of us potentially important to her well being. We knew in our hearts that the destruction of a whole ranges of other species was wrong but now we know why.
No longer can we merely regret the passing of one of the great whales, or the blue butterfly, nor even the smallpox virus.
When we eliminate one of these from Earth, we may have destroyed a part of ourselves, for we also are a part of Gaia. We do indeed belong here. The Earth is more than just a home, it is a living system and we are part of it.
We look without seeing, forget things in seconds, and are all pretty sure we are way above average.
An average human looks without seeing, listens without hearing, touches without feeling, eats without tasting, moves without physical awareness, inhales without awareness of odour or fragrance, and talks without thinking. – Leonardo da Vinci