ASC Series:Cybernetics and the Gaia Hypothesis: A conversation with Bruce ClarkeJanuary 16, 2021 | 9:00 PDT, 12:00 EDT, 18:00 CEST
Born in 1919, trained in chemistry, biomedicine, and engineering, the British scientist James Lovelock, inventor of the Gaia hypothesis, began his professional career in the 1940s. His systems thinking was formed in the first wave of cybernetic concepts—homeostasis, self-organization, negative feedback, self-regulation—as these were closely allied to discourses of energy and entropy connecting thermodynamics via information theory to physical definitions of living systems. For Lovelock, Erwin Schrödinger’s What is Life? was instrumental in forming his conception of a living planet as operating far from thermodynamic equilibrium. Cybernetics, as drawn from the physiological concept of homeostasis, then filled in his initial conception of the Gaian system.
Lovelock’s foremost collaborator on the Gaia hypothesis, the American microbiologist and evolutionary thinker Lynn Margulis, born in 1938, one generation younger than Lovelock and starting her academic career in the 1960s, was trained in genetics and cellular systems rather than thermodynamics and classical cybernetics. However, she absorbed Lovelock’s lessons on these topics and then, stepping outside of the standard biology of her moment, she strongly endorsed Maturana and Varela’s concept of biological autopoiesis. By the 1980s she would meld Lovelock’s first-order Gaia concept to her own second-order formulation of “autopoietic Gaia.”
In this talk, literature and science scholar Bruce Clarke will draw from the scientific writings of Lovelock and Margulis as well as from his forthcoming edition of their correspondence to document and discuss their cultivation of the Gaia hypothesis as a dedicated application of cybernetic systems thinking.
Bruce Clarke is Paul Whitfield Horn Distinguished Professor of Literature and Science in the Department of English at Texas Tech University. His research focuses on systems theory, narrative theory, and Gaia theory. His latest book is Gaian Systems: Lynn Margulis, Neocybernetics, and the End of the Anthropocene (Minnesota 2020); other books include Neocybernetics and Narrative (Minnesota 2014), Posthuman Metamorphosis: Narrative and Systems (Fordham 2008), and Energy Forms: Allegory and Science in the Era of Classical Thermodynamics (Michigan 2001). He was Baruch S. Blumberg/NASA Chair in Astrobiology at the Library of Congress in 2019. Co-edited with Sébastien Dutreil, his edition of Writing Gaia: The Scientific Correspondence of James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press.
Michael Hohl is a designer, educator and researcher. As a Professor of Design Theory at Anhalt University of Applied Sciences Dessau, Germany, he likes making things, thinking about things, how we do them and how this changes us. He enjoys learning with BA, MA and PhD students, from first-year BAs to supervising and mentoring PhD research students from Art, Design and Architecture. He also conducts Research Training Seminars at the Royal College of Art London and other institutions. He organises and co-organises conferences, research seminars and guest lectures, co-edits publications and conferences – and is interested in turning these experiences into conversations.