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The Gaia Hypothesis: Science on a Pagan Planet (Science-culture) [Hardcover]

Michael Ruse

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Book Description

18 Oct 2013 Science-culture
In 1965 English scientist James Lovelock had a flash of insight: the Earth is not just teeming with life; the Earth, in some sense, is life. He mulled this revolutionary idea over for several years, first with his close friend the novelist William Golding, and then in an extensive collaboration with the American scientist Lynn Margulis. In the early 1970s, he finally went public with the Gaia hypothesis, the idea that everything happens for an end: the good of planet Earth. Lovelock and Margulis were scorned by professional scientists, but the general public enthusiastically embraced Lovelock and his hypothesis. People joined Gaia groups; churches had Gaia services, sometimes with new music written especially for the occasion. There was a Gaia atlas, Gaia gardening, Gaia herbs, Gaia retreats, Gaia networking, and much more. And the range of enthusiasts was-and still is-broad. In The Gaia Hypothesis, philosopher Michael Ruse, with his characteristic clarity and wit, uses Gaia and its history, its supporters and detractors, to illuminate the nature of science itself. Gaia emerged in the 1960s, a decade when authority was questioned and status and dignity stood for nothing, but its story is much older. Ruse traces Gaia's connection to Plato and a long history of goal-directed and holistic-or organicist-thinking and explains why Lovelock and Margulis' peers rejected it as pseudoscience. But Ruse also shows why the project was a success. He argues that Lovelock and Margulis should be commended for giving philosophy firm scientific basis and for provoking important scientific discussion about the world as a whole, its homeostasis or - in this age of global environmental uncertainty - its lack thereof. Melding the world of science and technology with the world of feeling, mysticism, and religion, The Gaia Hypothesis will appeal to a broad range of readers, from students and scholars of the history and philosophy of science to anyone interested in New Age culture.

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"It is difficult to believe that yet another book on Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution could add anything new or contain any surprises. Michael Ruse's book is an exception on all counts. Darwin scholars and the general reader alike can learn from it." -David L. Hull, Nature "Useful and highly readable.... Skillfully organized and written with verve, imagination, and welcome touches of humor." -John C. Greene, Science"

About the Author

Michael Ruse is the Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy and director of the Program in the History and Philosophy of Science at Florida State University. He is the author or editor of nearly thirty books, including Science and Spirituality and The Darwinian Revolution, the latter published by the University of Chicago Press.

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a complete analysis, with warm insights and critical perspectives 11 Nov 2013
By Nigel Kirk - Published on
Ruse offers a comprehensive description of the Gaia Hypothesis, the evolution of relevant scientific and philosophical thinking, and the background and affiliations of the major players, in particular James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis. As Ruse examines the movements of mechanism, organicism, hylozoism and others, his authorship of many books on the philosophy of science, especially biology, facilitates drawing more broadly from other topics as they relate to the Gaia Hypothesis. His specific descriptions of the "dramatis personae" are warm and insightful. It sets up the tension between the neo-Darwinists and the holists, and Ruse does not pull any punches in his analysis of these people and their interactions. Although I was aware of the different movements in scientific thinking and the tensions that can exist, Ruse certainly opened my eyes to the level of these tensions, their impact on progress, especially in biology, and the interplay between factions across recent decades and centuries before that. An extra benefit of Ruse's considerable authorship on topics relating to philosophy and science is the set of pertinent and comprehensive references and a useful index.

While this is not a long book, some of the explanations about the history of scientific thinking can become esoteric but, in fairness, Ruse succeeds in ensuring his analysis is complete and fair. His dry humour is welcome and his long tenure in philosophical studies facilitates his familiarity with the demigods of science. The value of the Gaia hypothesis lies with definitions and the utility of metaphor in launching and reviewing scientific investigations. My better understanding of the hypothesis, and of the thinking of the likes of Dawkins in particular, is a worthwhile outcome from reading this book. What is more, following Ruse's careful analysis will help the reader examine similar issues in science and society. This reflects the careful organisation of the book and the clarity of exposition. It is only on the penultimate page that Ruse hints to the reader as to his own conclusion regarding the hypothesis, and it is worth waiting for.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The strange story of a popular yet unscientific idea 9 July 2014
By Massimo Pigliucci - Published on
“The Gaia Hypothesis: Science on a Pagan Planet tells a story that comes out of the 1960s, a story that reflects all of the beliefs and enthusiasms and tensions of that decade.” So begins Michael Ruse’s fascinating, if at times puzzling, exploration of James Lovelock’s famous idea that our planet is, in a serious scientific sense, a living organism with a tendency of taking care of (her)self. As Ruse tells us near the end of the book, at the onset of chapter 7: “the paradox that set us on our path [is] why the scientific community reacted so negatively to the Gaia hypothesis, whereas the public reaction was so positive.” The solution of the alleged paradox is actually quite simple: on the one hand, the general public is, unfortunately, prone to adopt all sorts of quasi- or even downright pseudo-scientific beliefs. On the other hand, bad ideas are rejected by the scientific community even when they are advanced by otherwise credentialed scientists: witness the famously quick debacle that followed the initial announcement of the discovery of cold fusion. Here is Ruse, in the last chapter of the book: “Part of the answer is that they [Lovelock and Margulis] were heard, that they did get a full examination, and that in the opinion of many they failed the test.” The only thing I would change here is that this is a great part of the answer, indeed, the only part the matters. The rest is (interesting) sociological commentary, on both the workings of science itself and on its reception by the public at large. Ruse talks about the insecurities of the scientific community, rooted into a complex combination of hostility to science by influential (in the US) fundamentalist Christianity, the popularity of New Age “thinking,” and even a number of acrimonious controversies internal to science itself (including the one about group selection). He is very likely right, and the book is a refreshing reminder of just how much the scientific enterprise is a social phenomenon, both in its inner workings and in how it is affected by the broader social milieu. But in the end Gaia succeeded and failed for the usual reasons: it gained favor with an all too uncritical public who is just as ready to imbibe the pseudoscientific mumbo jumbo of a Deepak Chopra or Dr. Oz, and it earned the hostility of a scientific community which clearly and immediately saw the many flaws inherent in the idea itself.
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