Does Sequential Selection solve the Gaia hypothesis?
One question that plagues many people is how the earth has remained stable for billions of years. How does the earth maintain itself through the evolution of various species, the eradication of species and intense climate changes that have occurred throughout the centuries? It seems that no matter what the earth goes through, it keeps trudging along in a necessary state to support all of the forms of life that exist on it. Scientists have wondered for a long time how that is possible and dubbed the problem “The Gaia Hypothesis”.
While the Gaia hypothesis asks how the earth sustains itself through so much, it also suggests that there is a kind of interactive resonance that exists between the earth’s biological and inorganic processes that allowed life to survive climate change, volcanic eruptions, meteors and other threats. However, until recently, scientists struggled to understand exactly how this resonance works. New research conducted by scientists at the University of Exeter may have shed some light on the Gaia problem.
Depending on what belief system you follow, the answers to the Gaia problem may be found in many places. Some people believe it is a deity that supports and sustains life, while others may resolve the issue through the basic assumption that the earth is just “special” and is therefore invulnerable. This new paper may help those people that require less simplified reasons.
The answer that researchers came up with lies in sequential selection. Published in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution, sequential selection—a term the scientists came up with—works very much like natural selection in that biological changes that can destabilize the conditions that support life will naturally be short-lived, while changes that encourage stability are more likely to sustain and reinforce the conditions that maintain life. The basic idea here seems to suggest that there exists a sort of survival instinct being present in that prolonged periods of stability make it possible for more stabilizing traits to emerge as life evolves and diversifies itself. The scientists referred to this process as “selection by survival alone.”
“The central problem with the original Gaia hypothesis was that evolution via natural selection cannot explain how the whole planet came to have stabilizing properties over geologic timescales,” Exeter professor Tim Lenton said in a news release. “Instead, we show that at least two simpler mechanisms work together to give our planet with life self-stabilizing properties.”
Even as selection by survival alone and sequential selection attempt to unravel the questions surrounding of the earth’s prolonged stability, the new research also attempts to estimate the types of extraterrestrial conditions that would allow for the possibility of complex life existing on other planets as well. Although I am of the line of thinking that the idea of complex life existing only on earth is preposterous and arrogant, sequential selection does add a bit more support to the idea than just using common sense.
This new research does not so far prove the earth’s stability is permanent, but it does manage to sideswipe the current fear that anthropologic climate change would undermine the current stability. This could bode well for those that are paranoid about climate instability causing the earth’s inevitable destruction, but the fact that the Ice Age occurred could have done that too if one were inclined to apply the knowledge of the changes that led up to the period in the first place.
In the end, the implication here is that the earth is in possession of a survival instinct that may be able to keep it supporting life for as long as it exists. As long as an asteroid doesn’t come by and blow it up, or the sun doesn’t burn it outright, life should be sustained on this planet for a billion more years. So, does the Gaia hypothesis get solved through this research? Not really. This new research seems to consist of little more than common sense answers given during casual conversation than real research. It is also following a train of thought which has already been available through various forms of mysticism. I guess it may be given more credit now that PH.D. carrying scientists said it.