• An early Gaian
IxD inspira-tion: the first
image of earth
taken by a
of these relations is what distin-guishes a particular ecosystem.
While an ecosystem (such as a
swamp) may survive without some
of its usual constituents (frogs),
there is a tipping point at which
an ecosystem ceases to exist as an
entity because a critical level of
loss or change is reached, destroying the pattern of relations that
make up the dynamic whole.
From a Gaian perspective,
ecosystems are entities with
nested and interrelated PRA loops.
Interestingly, this view includes
nonentities like minerals, not
because they have their own PRA
loops, but because they may be necessary elements in the collective of
relations that form the ecosystem
itself. Lovelock had the same view
in terms of the non-living elements
of Gaia. Like Russian dolls, ecosystems themselves are entities nested
within one another, all the way up
to the scale of Gaia itself, and probably beyond.
September + October 2011
an entity, and a particular group of
water striders inhabiting a specific
territory can be seen as an entity
as well. Conversely, a plastic bottle
floating down the same stream
does not qualify as an entity, even
though it can be made to perform
actions, because it has no PRA loop.
In humans, of course, PRA loops
are infinitely more complex, elaborate, and interrelated. In conscious
or intentional behaviors, the representation may involve processes
of logic, analogy, and so on. As in
the classic Eames film Powers of
Ten [ 11], we may move up the scale
to aggregates of humans. The PRA
loop helps to elucidate how groups
and organizations can constitute
entities: human ecosystems.
Ecosystems as entities. The science of ecology is a field within the
larger purview of biology. Ecologists
study the relations among heterogeneous entities (and nonentities)
that constitute systems that are
distinct and reliant on a particular
set of (dynamic) relations among
their elements. The overall pattern
Reframing Gaian Relations
Ecology suggests that biologically
living creatures cannot easily be
separated from non-living materials at the level of an ecosystem.
Similarly, technology cannot easily
be separated from the living beings
that extrude it. At least since that
first proto-hominid picked up a
rock and bashed somebody with it,
all bets have been off for strictly
biological models of evolution. Our
tool-making ability—an extrusion
of our particular intelligence—has
made humans as a species able
to act with increasing magnitude
through extensions of human perception and agency.
Technology is not the other.
Discourse and literature typically
default to a colloquial positioning
of technology as an “other.” Yet,
remembering that photo of Earth
from space, one can see there is
nothing on this shining blue ball
that is non-Gaian; even the aster-
oids that have embedded deposits
of nickel deep into Earth’s crust are
now part of the grand ecosystem.
Technology has been invented by
entities as diverse as crows, rac-
coons, and marine mammals.
Like Vernadsky’s and de Chardin’s
“noösphere” [ 12], our technologies
are extrusions of ourselves, and
thus also of Gaia. Joseph Campbell
described our first view of the Earth
from space as “the first time the
Earth was able to look back on itself
through the eyes it had grown in
human beings” [ 13].