What if Mother Nature could have a voice, or the Earth itself could be a planetary intelligence, a collective consciousness of all life? It’s the Gaia hypothesis, named after the ancient Greek goddess of Earth, “that Earth and its biological systems behave as a huge single entity,” controlling both living and nonliving environments.
Recently, these ideas have been pushed front and center in the news, as health experts, astrobiologists, theoretical physicists, world organizations, philosophers, open-minded thinkers, and believers in higher states of consciousness seem to be simultaneously arriving at similar conclusions and concepts. Of course, these are ancient concepts, but modern people seem to be returning to them right now.
‘Planetary Intelligence’ AKA Consciousness
“Conventionally, intelligence is seen as a property of individuals. However, it is also known to be a property of collectives,” writes Arizona Astrobiologist and theoretical physicist Sarah Walker, Planetary Science Institute astrobiologist David Grinspoon, and NY astrophysicist Adam Frank.
They cite known examples of collective-decision-making from slime mold to humans:
“Examples include collective-decision-making by social insects, slime mold navigating mazes, and even intelligent behaviour of individual cells and viruses which are themselves a collective of chemical processes. Humans are also intelligent, and our intelligence primarily derives from our social behavior which is currently global in its reach.”
Another example is the mycorrhizal networks, the fungal “wood wide web” by which we now know trees communicate and even help each other. Similarly, coral reefs (now facing catastrophic bleaching) communicate, including with sound.
Looking at the big picture, could the collective life force of the biosphere give Earth life of its own? It’s an ancient concept and once more, it seems the mainstream is finally catching on that this is real.
“If the collective activity of life—known as the biosphere—can change the world, could the collective activity of cognition, and action based on this cognition, also change a planet? Once the biosphere evolved, Earth took on a life of its own. If a planet with life has a life of its own, can it also have a mind of its own?” writes Phys.org.
Is a Shift to Planetary Intelligence Happening?
Fascinatingly, the researchers suggest there may be a shift to “planetary-scale intelligence,” both in biospheres and technospheres, “the aggregate planetary activity of technology.”
Could that be what we’re experiencing right now if it hasn’t already happened? Right now, the researchers suggest we’re an “immature technosphere.” Certainly, this seems to be the case, judging from the daily news we are acting our age. However, we may soon be forced to grow up, and stop the wars, polluting, contaminating, and burning fossil fuels. If Mother Nature could tell us to stop, perhaps she would do so right now?
“An open question is whether or not intelligence can operate at the planetary scale, and if so, how a transition to planetary-scale intelligence might occur and whether or not it has already occurred or is on our near-term horizon. Understanding the current state of intelligence on Earth and steering its future will require understanding how human and technological systems are integrated, and might display collective intelligence at a planetary scale.”
The Power to Reshape a Planet
Most importantly, once a shift takes place, it could change everything. It’s what leaders like David Attenborough have been so optimistic about.
“From Earth’s evolution, we see that once intelligence manifests in the form of a global technological civilization, it has the power to reshape a planet in profound ways.”
If our civilization can rapidly leap to an advanced global consciousness, we might avert disaster and extinction. Perhaps, we might find examples for inspiration out there in the universe? As Futurism’s Tony Tran noted, the researcher’s concepts could help us discover extraterrestrial life.
If we discover advanced ET civilizations, they would most likely have arrived at planetary consciousness. Otherwise, they would have annihilated themselves, a tipping point we seem to currently face.
“We’re saying the only technological civilizations we may ever see — the ones we should expect to see — are the ones that didn’t kill themselves, meaning they must have reached the stage of a true planetary intelligence,” Frank said. “That’s the power of this line of inquiry: It unites what we need to know to survive the climate crisis with what might happen on any planet where life and intelligence evolve.”
Notably, Frank is the principal investigator on a NASA grant to search for technosignatures of civilizations on planets orbiting distant stars.
Ancestral Planetary Intelligence
Rather than venturing to outer space, is it possible that we can look here on Earth and find signs of an ancient “ancestral planetary intelligence?”
“We will examine whether it is possible to consider intelligence, or some form of cognition, operating on a planetary scale even on those worlds without a planetary-scale technological species. This would require some form of collective cognition to have been a functional part of the biosphere for considerably longer than the relatively short tenure of human intelligence on Earth. If true, then the inherently global nature of the complex, networked feedbacks which occur in the biosphere may itself imply the operation of an ancestral planetary intelligence.”
If so, maybe the focus needs to fall on progressing rapidly to global consciousness, understanding and acting as stewards of all life on Earth before we think ourselves prematurely ready for the leap into space?
“We don’t yet have the ability to communally respond in the best interests of the planet,” said astrophysicist Adam Frank.
“If we ever hope to survive as a species, we must use our intelligence for the greater good of the planet.”
Meanwhile, scientists, medical professionals, and world organizations call for a holistic, global approach to prevent future calamities.
“This pandemic is a symptom of our faltering relationship with nature. We need to look very carefully at how we are connected and our health is connected with the health of ecosystems,” says Australian Dr. Raina Plowright, who studied how bats may have passed the pandemic on to humans in China.
“Until we start to value ecosystem health as a service for human health then we’re going to see more and more events just like the one we’re experiencing right now,” she continued.
Recently, international organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Environment Programme have joined forces to focus on a holistic “One Health” ecosystem approach to combat future pandemics. After the COVID-19 pandemic, it became painfully clear it may be a symptom of a bigger problem – deteriorating ecosystems.
Waking Up the World
With new geographic mapping tech, patterns emerged that show exactly how the pandemic spread globally.
“[The mapping tech] woke up the world to the fact that we’re all interrelated,” said Jack Dangermond from Esri. Likewise, scientists studying bats and zoonotic diseases can now see how the health of one species impacts others and ourselves.
Maybe, many of us are hearing Earth’s voice? Can we act in time to save the human species, knowing that we are all interconnected and entirely dependent on nature?
“One Health is a concept that our health, humanities’ health, is intertwined with the health of ecosystems and the health of animals, including wildlife and livestock. When we break down in the health of one species, it can then trickle on to affect the health of others,” says Plowright.
See the video from NBC News below: