Cosmic Destinies and Experimental Evolution / Dorion Sagan & Anders Dunker

An interview with science writer and Gaia theorist Dorion Sagan – whose many books on evolution, Gaia theory and thermodynamics can help us see how our urgent ecological challenges are prefigured in the long evolution of life on the planet.

AD: In your books, among them What is Life, co-authored with your late mother – the famous evolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis, you explore a deep-time understanding of evolution and co-evolution between microorganisms,  the planet and ourselves – a theory developed together with James Lovelock who by  gave it the name Gaia. A planetary and cosmic perspective on our human situation is also famously communicated by your father Carl Sagan, NASA scientist, known and loved for the legendary television series Cosmos, where he combined hard science with a sense of wonder – often framed by speculations about human space-travel to distant stars.

These two perspectives combine in our age, which some call the Anthropocene, the human epoch, where the activities of the human species so profoundly affect the cosmic destiny of our planet. Both your parents have been deeply influential, but they were also nonconformist scientists, like Lovelock still seems to be, at the age of 102. To what extent have theories of cosmic evolution and of our planet as a living totality become mainstream science?

DS: At the age of fifteen, my father was writing in a school notebook about Giordano Bruno who was burnt at the stake so he wouldn’t continue to preach his nonconformist heresies about an endless universe and multiple worlds. Bruno is seen as a martyr for science, even if he also taught that the many worlds of the universe also contained multiple Jesuses. Anyhow, we still have a tendency to silence the nonconformists – and now science itself has become a kind of mantra, a dogma, which is invoked to support positions which are not themselves scientific. I think this is important to remember today that science is not a democratic mechanism dictated by how many people agree with a point of view. It is more like what Galileo said in The Assayer, that a single scientist working in his basement can do more than any kind of consensus. “Assignment of the Science is not to open a door to endless knowledge,” wrote Galileo in The Assayer (1623), “but to set a barrier to the endless ignorance.” And we do well to remember this in the time of climate change or the Anthropocene, for that matter, which is a notion I do not necessarily support.

My father, I would say, was very much a humanist. My mother was something else, she always had a more-than-human perspective. The Anthropocene has created a consensual focus on the human, but we should not think that it is all about us because it really isn’t – such thinking is actually part of our problem. I worked with my mother for 30 years and consider myself something like her graduate student without a degree, so in answering your question I am partially channeling her: The idea that we, as one of some 10 to 30 million extant species that represent less than 1% of all the species that have ever existed — leaving aside the important point that bacteria, viruses and archaea do not even obey the standard species definition – are the be-all and end-all to such an extent that we would name an entire geological age after ourselves, really stinks of self-aggrandizement.

The need to go deeper

AD: How can human activity and climate change fit into the self-regulating mechanisms of Gaia? What is our place as parts of the greater whole?

DS: Gaia, which is this theoretically self-regulating nexus at Earth’s surface, is a biogeochemical system that adjusts the salinity of oceans, maintains the chemical composition of our reactive atmosphere, and helps moderate global mean temperature. A bona fide physiological system at the planetary level, it nonetheless consists of nothing other than organisms and their connected environments. But even this system is given to great upheavals and imbalances. We are, from a deep-time evolutionary perspective, encapsulations of the sort of biochemical processes that have been happening ever since life evolved or came from space and spread across the earth. However it got here, early life basically took over the earth and produced the oxygen in the atmosphere, stabilizing it at about 20 percent, removing salt from toxic levels in the oceans and the other things that the Gaia theory talks about. At this point, we have grown rapidly. There are twice as many people on the planet as when I was born. At that rate of reproduction, you get astronomical numbers very quickly. If your baby doubles its weight in the first six weeks and keeps up that pace it’s going to be like 3000 tons by the time it’s two years old, but that’s not how life on Earth works – because there are natural mechanisms of different sorts limiting all growth.  

I have written a critique of the concept of the Anthropocene in Anna Tsing’s anthology The Art of Living on a Damaged Planet, called “Beautiful Monsters: Terra in the Cyanocene”. When I introduced the non-anthropocentric term Cyanocene, it was to counterbalance the discourse with a term that would describe a planetary environmental age meriting being named after the organisms who caused it, in this case the appearance of cyanobacteria some 2 billion years ago. They produced vast amounts of oxygen which was toxic to other life forms at that time, so that the surface life forms were poisoned. But many organisms survived. Some moved into the muds, some became symbiotic within other organisms. The methanogens, the archaea that once could thrive openly on the surface, now survive for example inside termites in rainforest, where they are doing fine. They made it through a biological catastrophe beyond anything we are likely to create: the changing of a planetary atmosphere from basically inert to highly reactive, one where things burn.

AD: Your point seems to be de-dramatizing the situation: Even a major upheaval may be a deeply creative event for the Earth, even if it seems monstrous from our perspective. On one hand the whole problem is that we see ourselves as especially unique and sort of separated from nature. But if we instead choose to see ourselves as a natural process and naturalize our whole techno-scientific-edifice, wouldn’t that end up absolving us from our responsibility – and get in the way of radical ecological criticism?

DS: When Gaia was originally put forth, some people were upset that it was suggesting that it said that pollution is natural. It is a superficial paradox, I think. We need to go deeper, because we are not going be able to solve anything, really, until we understand it. And I think you can gesture towards what it would take to treat pollution and environmental crises from a biospheric stance which is biochemically and thermodynamically informed.

When we look at the biosphere as a whole, except for some space junk going out and meteoroids coming in, it doesn’t seem to be producing much waste at the global level. And I would say that is precisely because it’s not an organism. Gaia theory is often conflated to say that Gaia is an organism, but it’s not, because no organism recycles all of its material wastes. I wouldn’t give our time the name Anthropocene, since it makes us too important as a species, but I would think there is a case to be made that we are a pathological species because we are taking so much of the surface to earth and turning it into short term desiderata of ourselves. Our days as a growing, resource extracting species are numbered, just like the early exponential trajectory of an infant’s weight.


AD: Considered as an anomaly, or even a malady, we have the capacity for self-destruction through the destruction of our environment. Our excessive burning of fossil fuels seems to be the strongest case in point. Human effects on the atmosphere seem to foreground a deeper truth – to which extreme extent the stability of the atmosphere matters to our well-being. To what degree can we hope to actively adjust our effects on the atmosphere – and to what degree must we put our faith in its capacity to self-regulate?

DS: For me, the most interesting thing, philosophically, in the history of the discourse of Gaia is an unintended consequence of the Daisyworld model that Lovelock developed on a computer. He did so in order to show people who initially doubted the idea of planetary regulation to the point of ridiculing the notion as pseudoscience. Richard Dawkins for example thought there would have to be a natural selection of planets to come about, so that the solar system would have to be littered with failed Earths for a self-regulating planet to arise, whereas molecular biologist Ford Doolittle said there would have to be some kind of secret planetary consensus of organisms to create these beneficial effects on a planetary level. But what Lovelock showed was that just by having black and white daisies which each grow and reflect or absorb light, within a certain temperature range, that alone would be enough to bring about planetary temperature regulation in the face of an increasingly luminous sun. Although it was a computer model, and computer models can be made to show almost anything, in this case it was a simple model, and one with realistic assumptions that pointed to a basic truth. If increasing electromagnetic energy from the sun, which should heat the world up, is reflected back by white daisies, since they’re light, and will reflect more light, the world will correspondingly cool. By contrast, if the temperature goes down, you get more of the dark daisies, which absorb more light as the sun heats up, thus increasing the temperature, and in this way, they regulate it.

And as Stephan Harding has shown, adding organisms that eat the daisies, and eat the daisy eaters, you will also give different sorts of temperature regulation. And none of this is due to consciousness or evolution: it is a simple consequence of the reflectance and/or absorption of light by organisms that grow within a certain temperature range. It is physiological. Of course real planets are far more complex, but in principle we can see how their environmental variables may be regulated by life. And indeed, in the astronomical understanding of star evolution, including of our sun, there is assumed to be an increase in luminosity over time. So as the sun gets brighter, the earth should get hotter. But because of the evidence, for example, of liquid water over billions of years, it seems that we can infer that blue Earth has maintained itself far more ably than an inert planet would.  How did the Earth “know” how to do that?  This is to me the key philosophical point. You can model things like temperature regulation, and you don’t need to have a spirit, or secret consensus or even natural selection. It’s assumed, rather deistically, that for this kind of regulation, you would need forethought – what we flatter ourselves as thinking as our uniquely human intelligence.

But Daisyworld shows — although this was not its purpose — that physiology (in this case thermoregulation), taken slightly out of context, can be misperceived as a kind of impossibly purposeful magical animism. But no, such purposefulness or seeming purposiveness, seems to follow naturally from relatively simple thermodynamic systems. And I would say that life’s purpose and our own sort of individual purpose is on a direct lineage phylogenetically from these systems, which “know how to regulate themselves”. There is an almost Spinozistic insight here, where there is no sharp distinction between body and mind, where what we call the purpose of life is present everywhere in this growth within the limits of an available energy gradient.

We are not the highest animals. We are not at the center of the universe. We are not made out of special stuff, different from everything else in the universe.  And we are not engaged in a process that is radically different from other processes. We are part of a thermodynamic cold fire.

AD: As in the flourishing within given temperature range of the daisies! If the central insight is that the Earth has stabilized the atmosphere in a way that would be impossible without the feedback mechanisms of living systems, could we add that the current rise in temperature would be improbable, even unthinkable in the given biospheric system, without the impact of human technologies for rapidly extracting and burning fossil fuels taken from buried geological  strata?

DS: In my opinion the narrative of anthropogenic global warming has become dangerously politicized. It is almost impossible for us to know the details of such a complex system, whose Gaian thermal feedbacks are not fully known. IPCC models and predictions, have an excellent record of being wrong, themselves a victim of informational pollution.

This does not mean Gaia is not undergoing a rise in temperature with dangerous consequences, including and especially for human beings who like to build near the sea. In their “Peninsula Europe” series, the eco-artists and activists Helen and Newton Harrison show striking topographical maps of an exotic, unfamiliar future Europe under a predicted three-meter ocean rise. Earth has had “fevers” before. During the Eocene Epoch, some 56 to 34 million years ago, there was a global temperature rise of 5-9 °C. There were crocodiles in the Arctic, and palm trees in Wyoming. The temperature spiked with no input from humans, who would not evolve for another fifty million years.

Intelligent life?

AD: So to assess the impact of humans, we would need to know much more about the dynamics of the Earth itself? Would you say, as some do, that the insights of the Gaia theory have been incorporated into mainstream science and become fused with orthodox earth system science, or do you feel that there are insights that have not even been sufficiently understood by the scientific community?

DS: Absolutely the latter. I was recently in a meeting at the Library of Congress, and someone explicitly confirmed that they do not integrate anything from the Gaia theory in the IPCC models. The only area where they really use it is in that notorious “science without a subject” (as my mothers and others have called it) exobiology, which has since had its name changed to astrobiology, the putative science which studies life on other planets, stars, or elsewhere in the universe beyond Earth. Gaia science is important here as a detection means, because in some cases you might remotely find planets like ours whose entire atmospheres are away from equilibrium, and this can be detected remotely from spectral analysis of alien atmospheres.

The Fermi paradox states that the chances of intelligent life in the universe are high, but yet we don’t observe any signs or signals alien technological civilizations

AD: From what I have understood, the Gaia theory itself came about while James Lovelock was working in NASA’s jet propulsion laboratory, trying to determine whether or not there was life on Mars, simply by looking for an atmosphere. He hypothesized that the atmosphere was co-created by life forms, and that the absence of a substantial atmosphere on Mars indicates that no life-forms are widespread there…

DS: Our own atmosphere is stable, but at the same time its composition of gases displays characteristics which would be very observable by aliens if they had our level of technology, because they would easily register the non-equilibrium nature of the atmosphere, the gases on earth surface. And that could give you an understanding that there’s life there. These days some people jump to conclusions and say “oh we saw there was a little bit of methane on this or that exoplanet, so it might be alive”, and then they put it on the internet before exploring the matter in depth.

AD: The very notion of being observed by aliens or trying to observe them raises the question of the possibility of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. Your father Carl Sagan explored this cautiously, but also with great curiosity. How is the question of alien life connected to the question of our own cosmic destiny?

DS: The Fermi paradox states that the chances of intelligent life in the universe are high, but yet we don’t observe any signs or signals alien technological civilizations, which led my father to fixate on the politically apposite hypothesis that intelligent species might be prone to self-destruction. Among my father’s friends and mentors were Philip Morrison, who, Carl told my mother, “armed Fat Man at Tinian.” In other words, he helped load the second atom bomb that landed on Nagasaki  at the end of WWII at Tinian in the Philippine Sea. He was of the youngest scientists who had worked on the massively secret Manhattan Project to developing the nuclear bomb. Morrison, unlike some others, actually knew he was a part of it. At Cornell, with Guiseppe Cocconi, he also wrote the first modern scientific paper on «Searching for Interstellar Communications” in 1959. Like a lot of these people afterwards, Morrison became very concerned with the idea of repairing the damage that they had been part of, especially considering that the bombing of Nagasaki seemed really impossible to defend. So, Carl, perhaps exaggerating for clarity, asked whether technologically intelligent life forms – whatever that may be apart from human beings – inevitably end up destroying themselves through devastating wars or other uncontrolled processes.

Nuclear winter

AD: Adding to our worries over global warming, the war in Ukraine has brought back fears of a full thermonuclear followed by a fatal “nuclear winter”, as your father helped warn about in the 1970s.  Carl Sagan was also an early whistleblower about global warming, which is an existential risk of a different kind… How do the two technological risks relate to each other, seen from the point of view of Earth’s climate systems?

DS: Humans produce only an estimated 3% of Earth’s atmospheric CO2, whose levels remain at well below one-half of one percent. Mars and Venus both have CO2 levels above 95%. With Venus’s scorching temperatures — 600 Kelvin is over 300 Celsius — the Greenhouse Effect was a compelling story of why it was so hot and without life; for Mars, my father was more interested in the dust storms, which seemed to block out light and increase the coldness and dark. This narrative was deployed in the politico-scientific narrative of the risk to life on Earth from nuclear war, where global dust and soot blocking out sunlight, stopping agriculture, and killing much of the life on Earth far beyond direct nuclear hits.

Car and industry pollution releases particles, so called particulates, in the same way nuclear explosions would create dust and soot in the atmosphere.  Counterintuitively such particulates have been shown, for example in measurements of the smoke plumes over Mt. Saint Helen’s volcano, to produce not cooling, but heating. Even if they do cool by blocking out light in the daytime, they more than make up for this cooling by reradiating terrestrial and solar heat at night. If this is the case, intense heating, not cooling would be the result of nuclear war, and indeed such heating has been observed in the build-up in munitions and nuclear explosions ending WWII — a spike added to the gentler curve of a two-hundred-year increase from industrialization. The residence time of  CO2 molecules in the atmosphere is much longer than particulates from coal plants and gasoline additives, so stopping car and factory pollution might prove be far more effective than the effort to lower carbon emissions.

We, like all life forms, and many nonliving systems, are a natural means of dissipating available energy. The tendency of thermodynamics is the same tendency you see in fire, and it is to burn everything to the ground, and then you don’t have anything to play with anymore.

AD: In contrast to nuclear weapons, fossil fuel energy sources have functioned as a means to prosperity, rather than war. On the other hand, growth, expansion and war have often gone hand in hand. One of the things technologies do when they are not used to stop the expansion of other nations and groups, is to help us overcome the limits nature sets to growth – at least up to a point. We outgrow a territory, but then we build boats to go somewhere else to keep expanding. We use up all the forests for ships and firewood, but then we build steamboats and trains burning coal. Then we move on to oil and planes and cargo-ships to extract, advance and grow even further… The anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss likened man’s capacity for disruption and expansion to a form of entropy, a topic you have explored at length in your book with Eric D. Schneider Into the Cool – Thermodynamics, Energy Flow and Life.

DS: There might be a strong argument for that, and if you answer in thermodynamic terms, fires that burn everything must in the end go out. At an MIT conference on entropy I suggested that anthropogenic global warming is literally an example of global thermodynamic dysfunction.  The nonliving systems, organisms, and ecosystems we look at in Into the Cool all cycle matter as they tap local energy and export wastes. All natural complex systems do, some more subtly than others. One of the simplest energy-degrading systems are convection cells, not to be confused with biological cells, patterns of density and pressure in liquids and gas which can be studied in the laboratory but also operate in the biosphere.  They can be seen swirling in TV weather reports, and are connected to the trade winds that helped Europeans sail to the new world. There is evidence that particulate pollution from industry not only warms the environment directly but prevents these meteorological flow systems from performing their natural task of entropy production, which depends upon a sufficient temperature gradient to smoothly spread energy. 

We, like all life forms, and many nonliving systems, are a natural means of dissipating available energy. The tendency of thermodynamics is the same tendency you see in fire, and it is to burn everything to the ground, and then you don’t have anything to play with anymore. Technological capitalism may also be that kind of fire, but one which in its impudence ultimately consumes itself.

Life seems more naturally intelligent, as evolution selects in a way that weeds out fast-growing environmental destroyers. With the evolution of life, Earth’s surface has become adept at energy use, entropy production into space. It has been steadily recycling matter for thousands of millions of years. And I would suggest that that life, as we know it on earth, is a process of thermodynamic degradation. Or, better, it is a balance between the imperative for thermodynamic degradation and the biological ability to preserve and evolve the organisation needed to continue that consumption or burning.

Longing for space

AD: It seems we humans have a hard time keeping that balance for very long, tending as we do toward explosion and expansion? 

DS: Our own species apparently had a tendency to set up camp and then maybe hunt and forage in smaller enclaves. And then, some of them, when they ran out of local stuff, went somewhere else, including into places that were already settled, waging warfare etcetera. And then, in the end because the latter-day colonists descending culturally from European explorers really have nowhere else to go, we look longingly to space – a tortuous, uninhabited, perhaps endless domain, whether that idea is realistic or not.

AD: Space travel and the colonization of space is back in earnest with the rocket billionaires, Elon Musk and even more in Jeff Bezos’ expansionist rhetoric of space travel. Like, we have to go on expanding. Since space seems to promise exactly that – space as freedom to grow infinitely, it is the next frontier. At the same time, in a very concrete sense, what was called the frontier of the wild west is still a reality in the Amazon rainforest – where trees, tribes and species are wiped out at breakneck speed to make room for the projects of an ever-expanding global economy.

DS: If we make a graph of resource extraction that includes human technology, it would not be very sustainable. So we when we look into space and don’t see other life forms, it could be that their expansionist colonialist phase is over. If we assume that life and even intelligent and technological life is widespread in the universe, the reason we don’t see it might be because it is not in a phase of rampant expansionism, which tends to self-destruct. Perhaps the future looks more like the past than the recent colonialist expansion displacement into space that we fantasize about.

In this, “advanced» life might be more like a candle than the roaring fire that it has been so far with “us”, especially recently. Life as a sort of room-temperature fire has this complex and changing set of chemical reactions that in total is taking available energy, in this case from the sun, and transmuting it into chemical forms on Earth’s surface and keeping that process going. That is a much more viable or probable future. If there is going to be a future for us, we need to calm down. We have to have to find ways to sort of emulate ecosystems that do fine without us even if they are occasionally disrupted. You know, some ecosystems need fires. Some ecosystems grow back even richer after some insult. So it isn’t a completely stable system. It is not a building set up for all time that we can worship. It is a meta stable system whose parts change. But like you mentioned, we need a sort of ethos and ecological responsibility which is not modeled on the recent phase of humans populating the earth and turning everything else into apartments and parking lots for their own use.

The thing I find sort of dystopically disturbing about the present juncture in human evolution, or perhaps devolution, is that these connections at the speed of light across the planet seem to function as a motor for loss of diversity.

AD: Such an ethos would have to be something very different than just letting nature sort it out by hitting our constraints. We’ll have to live more carefully and with foresight, in a predictive manner where we purposefully improve our technologies and adopt new ones. What happens if you, as you suggest in your book Dazzle Gradually, see technology as a part of nature, as something that evolves naturally? 

DS: There is a whole take on alien technologies based on the science fiction cosmology of Arthur C. Clarke who says that a sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. But there is another version that says that sufficiently advanced technologies are indistinguishable from nature. Currently our technologies are distinguishable, they set us apart from nature and this is a big problem.

When we think about technology, it is one of the many things on that would-be tried-and-true list of things that supposedly make us unique and set us apart from nature – we try everything from the brain to language to our opposable thumbs. But I like to look at how the Victorian novelist and thinker Samuel Butler, an early booster and later critic of Charles Darwin (whom he claimed “took the life out of biology” compared to some of Darwin’s own influences), thinks these things through. In his notebooks and elsewhere he posits that microbes have their “toolkits” and “little purposes.” Such a view is the opposite of anthropocentrism; it is seeing life as the living evolutionary continuum it is, with no need to grant unique intelligence or ability to humans, even and especially in the absence of a would-be Judeo-Christian God whom we made in our image, then flattering ourselves to think he made us in His. There is prehuman technology, which is much subtler, much more long-lasting, much more effortlessly constructed. Nature has invented the eye – or light-sensitive organs – something like 13 times in different evolutionary lines. And if you look at evolutionary history, toxins, calcium ions for example, that was originally a pollutant, moved from being undesirable poisons to becoming harmless, and then needed, parts of bodies. With calcium, toxic destroyers of the metabolism of marine eukaryotic cells that had to be continuously filtered out across cell membranes, they eventually got deposited as shells of marine creatures, which became a phenomenally successful feature, a way of housing and protecting the organisms themselves.

Sensuous anarchies

AD: The German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk has suggested a kind of natural selection which would bring ecology and technology together: In the long run destructive technologies will defeat, weaken and eradicate themselves, whereas fruitful symbiotic technologies will have a tendency to spread and reinforce themselves. How can an explicit culture of symbiotic co-operation like the one that your mother Lynn and yourself describe in Symbiotic Earth and What is Life? contribute to solving our deepening crisis?

DS: As far as far the self-correcting tendency of technology, I wouldn’t necessarily bet on it, but I think in terms of positive inducements, towards a sort of symbiogenetic behavior that we think we would like for long term survival. I don’t think it’s necessarily something that will be legislated from above, not at all. Governments would see themselves as shooting themselves in the foot, as it were, if they were to make it easier for such communities to happen.

But if we were to emulate or biomimic what we see in evolutionary history, we would try to encourage all sorts of smaller systems – experiments in living, sensuous anarchies. And then if some of these were successful in the sense that the people in them were happy and living, they might well be repeated. There have been some such attempts, short-lived, but successful on their own terms, in the style of the Paris commune. If you can get the artists, the real artists, who are always artists of living, to give a sort of charismatic element to it, then instead of trying to legislate it, you would seduce people into it. You might see some people growing things and recycling their own wastes in creative ways, and such societies might have porous borders – so that people could see them as really living better. There would be a kind of ecological envy and desire to join cross-species collectives and their technologies which might be more small scale, subtler, more attractive. Alternative societies would have to create this kind of attraction, but it could be contagious, in the positive sense.

AD: So, it is a lot about making new species of societies that are actually successful and that will spread. Room for experimentation, then, is a requirement for survival in the long term.

DS: Yes, and we need to figure out how to encourage that. The thing I find sort of dystopically disturbing about the present juncture in human evolution, or perhaps devolution, is that these connections at the speed of light across the planet seem to function as a motor for loss of diversity. It seems like the connections are making it difficult to separate would-be-successful experiments from the pollution, including the sort of psychospiritual, virtual pollution of all reacting in the same way. It seems we are no longer having the sort of spatial enclaves that can provide geographical isolation, to use an evolutionary term.

Teleological life

AD: This seems to be a pressing problem, indeed! In ecology we are tasked with natural biotopes which have been invaded by our infrastructure and technologically managed nature-systems to re-establish biodiversity.  Now we are beginning to realize that we not only need biodiversity, but also a diversity of human societies – of technologies, culture and spirit. Is there, in the end, reason to hope for a reconciliation of the purposeful and often self-centered human activity and the self-regulative tendencies of the Gaia? 

DS: It very much looks like to me that what we call consciousness and what we call purpose, including the ultimate bedrock big purpose of life, is related to this behavior of thermodynamic systems to appear and cycle matter with an apparent intrinsic telos – or inbuilt purpose – to reduce gradients, thereby increasing entropy production in accord with the second law of thermodynamics, to dissipate energy as described by the second law of thermodynamics. And we are living in a gradient between the hot sun and cold space. So, I think in this way our own lives, the lives of other organisms, our own brains, our own thought, our own desires for food, the pleasure that we experience and anything that has to do with maintaining ourselves either individually or as groups, is related to this natural thermodynamic continuum. We are not the highest animals. We are not at the center of the universe. We are not made out of special stuff, different from everything else in the universe.  And we are not engaged in a process that is radically different from other processes. We are part of a thermodynamic cold fire.

Gaia theory blurs the distinction between body and mind, just like Spinoza did in his philosophy. He also says knowledge is its own reward, you know. There’s a deep sort of intellectual satisfaction in this: Even if we are not necessarily able to change and get to some steady state, which is itself an illusion and goes against the metastable reality of life, we can understand where our teleology, our built-in sense of purpose, comes from – and how it connects us with a bigger whole. We are not alone in our telos, our cosmic purpose.


Writer and ecological philosopher Dorion Sagan is author or coauthor of twenty-five books, translated into fifteen languages, including Danish, Japanese, Turkish, Catalan, and Basque, on topics ranging from evolution of the biosphere to the thermodynamics of ecosystems to programmed aging. He was called an “unmissable modern master” by New Scientist; Nobel laureate chemist Roald Hoffman called his co-written Into the Cool “fascinating,” and anthropologist Melvin Konner, writing in The New York Times, said of his-coauthored Microcosmos that “this admiring reader of Lewis Thomas, Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould has seldom, if ever, seen such a luminous prose style in a work of this kind.” His current interests include poetry and experimental literature. With Carl Sagan and Lynn Margulis, his parents, he is coauthor of the entries for both “Life” and “Extraterrestrial Life” in the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Photo: Private.


Anders Dunker works as a journalist and philosophical author, focusing on the environment, technology, and the future of the planet. His works includes a series of interviews with leading international environmentalists for the Norwegian journal Samtiden, that was published as Gjenoppdagelsen av Jorden (2019) and translated into English in 2021 as Rediscovering Earth (O/R books).

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