This book offers a brilliant new approach – at once rigorous, experiential, and intuitive – to the most up-to-date research within planetary ecology. Harding is a close associate of James Lovelock, the polymathic scientist who formulated the Gaia hypothesis – the theory that the chemical composition of the earth’s atmosphere, its temperature, the salinity of its oceans, and a host of other variables are continually monitored and modulated by all the earth’s organic constituents acting collectively, as a vast planetary metabolism. Originally considered an utterly radical hypothesis when first proposed in the 1970s, Lovelock’s insight early on attracted the active support and research interest of one of the most far-seeing American biologists, the audacious microbial biologist Lynn Margulis, and has since, as their evidence mounted, garnered more and more respect from the scientific community. Today most of the theory’s tenets have been integrated within the standard account of planetary ecology.
Harding – the staff scientist at Schumacher College – brings a new, deeply participatory approach to the articulation of whole earth science, employing a nuanced sense of philosophy and the history of ideas in order to demonstrate the transformative, paradigm-shattering power of Gaian theory. Throughout his lucid presentation of recent and ongoing empirical research, Harding strives to show the relevance of these remarkable discoveries to our most personal experience of the world immediately around us.
Current evidence is pushing various researchers in the natural sciences away from the through-going objectivism of previous science toward a more animistic acknowledgment that the biosphere in which we’re immersed is more a living subject than a determinate object, and hence that their research is less a pursuit of inert and unchanging “facts,” than it is an ongoing participation, and dialog, with a vast, spherical sentience whose corporeal complexity we can never completely fathom, and whose actions we can never entirely predict. At every step in his presentation, Harding offers richly imaginative and meditative exercises for the reader to try, as a way to experience these insights viscerally and corporeally – as a way to EMBODY this new understanding of our physiological interdependence (or interbeing) with the animate earth, and so to let this understanding resonate within our daily life.
At such a precarious historical moment as this one we’re in, such creative, interdisciplinary visions as Harding’s are catalyzing a new and more mature kind of science. They provoke a new kind of intelligence – a rationality informed by our ongoing sensory experience of the world around us, and by the empathic heart beating within our chest – a keen and rigorous intelligence that places itself in service not to humankind alone, but to the wild, more-than-human community of life.
From a review by FRITJOF CAPRA:
“The conception of the Earth as a living, self-organising system, known today as Gaia theory, is an ancient idea and yet one of the most radical and far-reaching scientific theories of the 20th century. In this remarkable book, Stephan Harding, who has worked closely with James Lovelock, tells the story in a way that is scientifically sophisticated, yet easy to understand and captivating. Harding writes about Gaia with great passion, and he eloquently discusses the theory’s philosophical, social and political implications. I recommend Animate Earth to everyone concerned about the fate of our planet.”
— Fritjof Capra, author of The Web of Life, and The Tao of Physics