By: April Carson
The collective action of life—including all microbes, plants, and animals—has altered the planet.
Take, for example, plants: Plants "invented" a method of photosynthesis to improve their survival, but in the process, they released oxygen that revolutionized our planet's function. This is just one example of individual organisms performing functions on their own, but having an impact on a global scale as a result.
Can a planet have a mind of its own? It's an interesting question to consider. Some people might say that, because the collective action of life has altered the planet in significant ways, then yes, the planet can be said to have a mind of its own. After all, it's not just humans who can think and make decisions; other forms of life can too.
What if the planet's collective activity—known as the biosphere—can alter the world? Could the individual engagement of cognition and action based on this understanding also make a difference? Once life appeared on Earth, it became independent. Is it possible for a planet with living beings to have its own consciousness?
To answer this question, let's first take a look at what we mean when we say "consciousness." In general, consciousness refers to the awareness of something. It can be thought of as the ability to process information and make decisions. This can be done at different levels, from individual cells to an entire organism.
In a paper published in the International Journal of Astrobiology, Adam Frank, Helen F. and Fred H. Gowen Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Rochester, and his co-authors David Grinspoon of the Planetary Science Institute and Sara Walker at Arizona State University address these issues. The paper's "thought experiment" combines today's scientific knowledge of the planet with broader issues about how life changes a planet. In their article, the researchers propose what they term "planetary intelligence," or planetary cognitive activity on a global scale, to generate fresh ideas regarding how people may address worldwide problems like climate change.
The researchers note that a planet's environment can be altered in ways that support or impede the emergence of life. They argue that once life emerges, it can further change the planetary environment in ways that enhance or diminish opportunities for life to emerge and flourish elsewhere on the planet. "We are not saying that planets are conscious, but are instead showing that planetary-level phenomena emerge as a result of the interactions between multiple life forms and their environment," said study co-author Timothy Lenton, an emeritus professor at the University of Exeter in England. "This means that we need to take into account the planet's biocapacity when making decisions about how to use the planet's resources."
The search for extraterrestrial life
Despite some efforts to reduce the use of harmful chemicals and increase the use of solar energy, we do not yet have "planetary intelligence or a mature technosphere," Frank warns. "But the goal of this study is to show us where we should be going."
These concerns, says Frank, will not only provide information about Earth's past, present, and future survival but will also aid in the search for life and civilizations outside our solar system. For example, Frank is leading a NASA project that seeks to detect technological artifacts from other civilizations around distant stars using ESOs Very Large Telescope.
"We're arguing that the only technological civilizations we may expect to encounter—those we should anticipate to see—are those that didn't self-destruct, implying they must have advanced to the level of a true planetary intellect," he continues. "That's the strength of this line of inquiry: It connects what we need to know about surviving climate change with everything else that might happen on any planet where life and intelligence arise."
In other words, the team is betting that the key to finding advanced civilizations is to look for planets with long-term thinking. The more a planet can plan for and manage its resources, the more likely it is that a technological civilization will arise there.
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About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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