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Sunday, 10 May 2015

Lovelock's philosophy of organism

In my course on geophilosophies and the end of the world we are now discussing the early work of Lovelock. He considers living organisms on Earth as part of a self-regulatory endeavour that keeps some global features of planet stable (ocean salinity, presence of nitrogen, level of oxigen, overall temperature). It is a kind of a meta-stability, regulated by the aggregate population of the planet - no organism is stable in itself, there is no stability but that of an assemblage. Gaia, on the other hand, as a hyperobject, is not an organism unless the assembly of regulating organisms is itself an organism. Inside and outside matter less than the (genetic, prehension-based) capture of an organism in front of another. I have been suspecting that Whitehead had something very similar in mind when he coined the term "philosophy of organism".

In fact, Whitehead says (in Process and Reality, 214-215) that "[t]he community of actual things is an organism; but it is not a static organism. [...] Thus the expansion of the universe in respect to actual things is the first meaning of 'process'; and the universe in any stage of its expansion is the first meaning of 'organism'. In this sense, an organism is a nexus." Further, a process is always organic for it regulates the conditions under which each element interact. Gaia, it seems, is no more than a nexus: it satisfies the interdependence of each organisms more as much as it co-exists with the celestial laws that are insufficient to determine any feature of what it is. Gaia is sublunar: talk about its chemical or physical laws would be to misplace concreteness. In Modes of Thought, Whitehead talks about the really real things being a bred of physical nature and life and there is no way to understand any of those two factors separate from the other.

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