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Environmental Ethics

Volume 10, Issue 2, Summer 1988

Rafal Serafin
Pages 121-137

Noosphere, Gaia, and the Science of the Biosphere

Advances in analytical understanding of the biosphere’s biogeochemical cycles have spawned concepts of Gaia and noosphere. Earlier in this century, in concert with the Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the natural scientist Vladimir Vernadsky developed the notion of noosphere-an evolving collective human consciousness on Earth exerting an ever increasing intluence on biogeochemical processes. More recently, the chemist James Lovelock postulated the Earth to be a self-regulating system made up of biota and their environment with the capacity to maintain a planetary steady state favorable to life. This is the Gaia hypothesis. To many, Gaia and noosphere represent contradictory interpretations of humanity’s relation to planetary ecology. Noosphere emphasizes a free will and obligation to shape the destiny of humanity on Earth through technology and new kinds of social relations. In contrast, Gaia invokes mysterious mechanisms of planetary evolution that lie beyond human control and understanding. I argue that if brought together, noosphere and Gaia can provide a useful symbol for guiding human interventions in global ecology because the contradictions of a nature-centered view of Gaia and a human-centered view of noosphere are coming to be irrelevant with the emergence of an analytical science of the biosphere.