Gaia Week at Christ's Hospital

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Gaia Week at Christ's Hospital

Post by michael scuffil » Sun Mar 03, 2019 9:34 am

I note from the CHOBA newsletter that there is to be an Environment Week at CH. Nothing against that whatever. But 'Gaia Week'? And then an invitation to Rupert Sheldrake?

Okay, I've nothing against strange views, and as long as they're not malevolent, I wouldn't want to silence them. But if you want to promote environmental awareness, why so you choose a name inextricably linked with James Lovelock, whose green credentials are questionable to say the least, and whose 'Gaia' hypothesis is largely devoid of content, and why do you associate it with someone like Sheldrake, who is mainly known for a pseudo-scientific theory called 'morphic resonance'? If you wanted to discredit environmentalism, you could hardly do better
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Re: Gaia Week at Christ's Hospital

Post by J.R. » Sun Mar 03, 2019 6:00 pm

Makes for conversation, I suppose!

I'd never heard of Gaia before.
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Re: Gaia Week at Christ's Hospital

Post by CGH » Mon Mar 04, 2019 4:25 pm

Dear Michael,

Many thanks for showing an interest in Gaia Week. As the organiser of the week I would like to have a go at answering your questions. (views expressed are my own).

As it happens, I was thinking of calling it Land Awareness Week until a colleague suggested the much snappier title. To quote the head of co-curricular activities: ‘Gaia is simply a Greek word for earth and associated with the earth goddess Gaia. There is no suggestion we are or are nor supporting the so-called Gaia hypothesis’

The name of the week is already generating discussion. Lots of people are asking me ‘what is Gaia’ and this is surely a good sign for approaching the issue with a fresh perspective.

I think the distinction between ‘Environment’ and ‘Gaia’ is the latter’s implication that the biosphere is alive and interconnected, and not simply a backdrop to human activity. Perhaps that is why so many environmentalists have embraced Lovelock’s title.

It is interesting to note that it was the novelist William Golding, Lovelock’s friend and neighbour, who suggested naming the theory after the Greek goddess of the earth.

Those interested in reading a scientist’s overview of Lovelock’s credibility might enjoy this accessible article
http://theconversation.com/gaia-theory- ... e-yet-4901

Dr Rupert Sheldrake is another controversial figure who is not afraid to challenge received wisdom. He will be speaking in Senior Chapel about his latest book, ‘Science and Spiritual Practices’, which explores how science helps validate the seven particular practices which underpin all major world religions. The book includes chapters on relating to plants and connecting with nature, and I am sure his talk will generate debate and conversation.

The week’s programme also includes presentations by a chemist working with graphene, an artist working with clay, and a campaigner from Sussex Green Living, among others.

I have every confidence that our pupils will be able to make up their own minds about the views and credentials of our guests, and I look forward to some robust debate around the issues.

For me the most important thing is giving the Christ’s Hospital community incentive and opportunities to connect consciously with the local and global environment.

Thanks again Michael, if you can get here from Germany I hope to see you for the ramble beyond the ring-fence on Old Blues’ Day!

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Re: Gaia Week at Christ's Hospital

Post by michael scuffil » Mon Mar 04, 2019 6:26 pm

Dear Christy

Many thanks for taking the trouble to reply with such a courteous note.

My main point is that environmentalism should be mainstream, and you have introduced two elements which are decidedly not. I really don't think you can any longer divorce the word 'Gaia' from Lovelock himself, or from the Gaia hypothesis. As I said before, I think the latter is without content. It simply says the earth is a self-regulating system, which is a truism. Environmental awareness is not about what the world will look like in 200 million years, by which time the earth will have recovered from the human input, but about what it will look like in the next 50 to 100 years, which will affect the lives of all of our grandchildren. More importantly, Lovelock's views on environmental issues are so much shaped by what he perceives to be the threat of climate change that he is blind to or sanguine about everything else, and is on record for example as saying what a great nature reserve the Chernobyl restricted zone is.

I am glad that Rupert Sheldrake is being invited to speak at CH; what I don't like is inviting him in your environment week, and thus associating him with it.
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Re: Gaia Week at Christ's Hospital

Post by CGH » Tue Mar 05, 2019 9:13 am

Dear Michael,

Thank-you for kick-starting the debate!

There is a long tradition of hostility to ideas that don't conform to established wisdom. Nevertheless original thinkers persevere in the face of such hostility.

You state your opinion that 'environmentalism should be mainstream'. Some would say that 'mainstream' ideas in agriculture, science, industry and economics have failed to safeguard the balance of the self-regulating system of Gaia/earth, and that is why we are in our current predicament.

It might be said that animism was 'mainstream' for thousands of years, and that the geo-mechanical view of the world which displaced it coincided with the worst ravages of the ecosystem.

Perhaps it is time to welcome new (ancient) ideas (back) into the mainstream?

It is CH policy to challenge students within and beyond the curriculum.

I trust we will be open-minded in receiving guest speakers and reserve judgement until they make their views known. We can then decide whether these views are acceptable on their own terms, rather than dismissing them in advance.

I commend Dr Sheldrake's book to you, if nothing else it provides nourishing food for thought!

https://www.sheldrake.org/books-by-rupe ... -practices

With all best wishes

Christy

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Re: Gaia Week at Christ's Hospital

Post by graham » Thu Mar 07, 2019 3:48 pm

I've got to add to Michael's concerns here - an environmentally focused week at CH is a great idea but providing a platform to Sheldrake is something I'm disappointed to hear is happening. You're right to describe him as a controversial figure but the idea that he challenges received wisdom is a rather liberal use of phraseology. Sheldrake uses his platform as a PhD in biochemistry to espouse the view that his faith-based perspectives have scientific merit. They do not. I don't deny him the right to hold his views, to have his faith, or to write about either of them, but allowing him a platform as the biochemist Dr. Sheldrake to present "scientific" evidence on ideas that are in no way scientific does a disservice to CH pupils. I'm pleased that this is occurring in senior chapel, where those attending will have had enough of a scientific education to hopefully understand the difference between scientific ideas and faith-based beliefs.

What makes this sadder is the fact that scientifically informed ideas about how an understanding of integrated ecosystem functions can aid recovery efforts are playing out a stone's throw from CH. The Knepp estate in West Grinstead has been undertaking a wonderful "rewilding" experiment on former agricultural land that has seen dramatic changes in flora, fauna, and ecosystem functions as a result, and a different business model based on ecotourism and sustainable free-range farming has seen the estate become profitable as a result. Hearing from folks at Knepp would provide a much better perspective on the importance of an integrated biosphere.
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Re: Gaia Week at Christ's Hospital

Post by michael scuffil » Thu Mar 07, 2019 6:56 pm

CGH wrote:
Tue Mar 05, 2019 9:13 am
Dear Michael,

Thank-you for kick-starting the debate!

There is a long tradition of hostility to ideas that don't conform to established wisdom. Nevertheless original thinkers persevere in the face of such hostility.

You state your opinion that 'environmentalism should be mainstream'. Some would say that 'mainstream' ideas in agriculture, science, industry and economics have failed to safeguard the balance of the self-regulating system of Gaia/earth, and that is why we are in our current predicament.

It might be said that animism was 'mainstream' for thousands of years, and that the geo-mechanical view of the world which displaced it coincided with the worst ravages of the ecosystem.

Perhaps it is time to welcome new (ancient) ideas (back) into the mainstream?

It is CH policy to challenge students within and beyond the curriculum.

I trust we will be open-minded in receiving guest speakers and reserve judgement until they make their views known. We can then decide whether these views are acceptable on their own terms, rather than dismissing them in advance.

I commend Dr Sheldrake's book to you, if nothing else it provides nourishing food for thought!

https://www.sheldrake.org/books-by-rupe ... -practices

With all best wishes

Christy
Of course 'mainstream' ideas of the past 150 years have caused the present mess, which is why we need to inject sound scientific environmentalism into the mainstream. By and large, this is happening anyway in all walks of life and needs to be encouraged. However, as I said before, we need to be concerned with relatively short-term environmental issues (say the next 500 years). How the earth regulates itself when humanity has disappeared is hardly of great concern to us.

I am familiar with Sheldrake's books; otherwise I wouldn't have an opinion about him.
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Re: Gaia Week at Christ's Hospital

Post by LongGone » Thu Mar 07, 2019 11:06 pm

I have to be honest, and say I find this a very disappointing choice. At a time when we may be facing one of the greatest choices we will ever have to make, regarding our behaviour with respect to the environment, it is a great pity that the decision was made to invite Rupert Sheldrake as the expert speaker.
I am well informed on the Gaia concept. For years I worked with Lynn Margulis, who was an early enthusiast and who spent hours laying out the reasoning behind it. Nonetheless, we slowly compromised on the idea that, while the planet is a single complex enitity, to treat it as a ‘sentient’ structure was untenable.
Rupert Sheldrake is one of those individuals who, while extremely competent in one field, allow themselves to become an advocate for something that does not meet the logical and evidentiary criteria they require in other areas. For example, Nobel laureate Linus Pauling and Vit C, a close friend who is a noted physicist, but believes in dowsing etc.
His web site uses misdirection to impress the reader. Yes he has many excellent publications in well respected, refereed journals, and he also has many publications on “morphic resonance”, but the two don’t overlap.
Any theory based on parapsychology has to meet the “Extraordinary claims need extraordinary proof” test. For decades, the Randi Foundation has had a standing offer of $1,000,000 for ANY proof of any such claim, with no takers.
Until his ideas are rigorously tested. The idea that “All points of view should be considered” implies they are all equally valid, and is used by proponents of theories like Intelligent Design, Flat Earth, Hollow Earth, etc. I would really hope that in future similar talks, at an absolute minimum, present the mainstream consensus view.
Overall, I have been discouraged by the apparent lack of support of the sciences at CH in the decades since I left, and would urge a renewal of the stress on analytical thinking as a major component to the curriculum.
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Re: Gaia Week at Christ's Hospital

Post by graham » Fri Mar 08, 2019 5:08 pm

LongGone wrote:
Thu Mar 07, 2019 11:06 pm
For years I worked with Lynn Margulis
Now there's a controversial figure who challenged the mainstream but in a more appropriate way (most of the time). I remember visiting a collaborator at UMass while I was a graduate student and, on finding myself standing outside Lynn Margulis' office, feeling a sense of awe and wonder but of course, being far too star struck to attempt to speak to her. You must have some stories to tell from those collaborations!!!
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Re: Gaia Week at Christ's Hospital

Post by Avon » Fri Mar 08, 2019 5:26 pm

Some of the wiser pupils put through ‘Gaia week’ are likely to observe that the ice caps continue to melt despite all the sniping, intrigue and academic politics revealed above. They may prefer to listen to people capable of making change rather than talking about it?

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Re: Gaia Week at Christ's Hospital

Post by graham » Fri Mar 08, 2019 5:41 pm

Avon wrote:
Fri Mar 08, 2019 5:26 pm
Some of the wiser pupils put through ‘Gaia week’ are likely to observe that the ice caps continue to melt despite all the sniping, intrigue and academic politics revealed above. They may prefer to listen to people capable of making change rather than talking about it?
The ice caps continue to melt due to economic politics alone. The academic community is rather settled on this matter and on the options available to mitigate.

I think we all agree on your last point. But who exactly is one doing the talking? Those capable of making change do nothing. Those who duo the talking have nothing substantive to offer.
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Re: Gaia Week at Christ's Hospital

Post by CGH » Sat Mar 09, 2019 9:51 am

Reading between the lines I do sense some support for Gaia Week, so thanks to you all. I really value the contribution of Old Blues and your concern that current students get the opportunities they deserve.

I do plan to reach out to the folk at Knepp Estate to see what we can learn from them.

I hear your concerns about Rupert Sheldrake, however having booked him as a speaker in senior chapel and not a lecturer in science I don't feel the need to defend the decision further.

Having heard your concerns I have decided he will not be advertised in the programme as a keynote speaker, just one of many from a range of disciplines and ideologies.

I hope this allays any fears or sadness you may be feeling and reassures you of my best intentions in organising this week for our students.

With all best wishes

Christy

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Re: Gaia Week at Christ's Hospital

Post by sejintenej » Sat Mar 09, 2019 3:02 pm

My first instinctive reaction to the creation of this thread was "Oh, NO!" Not because it relates to Earth's own health but to the early movement using the name. I didn't and do not now know from outside reading the name of Rupert Sheldrake but I was concerned that there appeared to be just one speaker.

Yes, I am all for CO2 reduction, the removal of plastics from wherever they hide themselves, reduction in forestry and replacement of forests, control of fisheries**, etc etc. On the other hand I see numerous difficulties such as him over there proclaiming the CO2 emissions are not a problem, global warming is nuts etc. CO2 or not, my principal fear is Russian (and no doubt a bit of Canadian) methane.

We are being informed that glacial melting is speeding up but the world has been going through cycles since before the creation of the oldest ice plugs. To give three examples;
'the 1600s Ice fairs on the river Thames and the 1950's ice races on the canals of the Netherlands; was there global warming in the 1700's?

Between 1903 and 1961 Sulitjelma Glacier in Norway totally disappeared - I was involved in the search so we could survey it. It has since reappeared and seems to be growing!

Going to the Mayan Calendar we have just had the end of the last and start of a new age. Glacial evidence seems to show that at the start of the last age there was a area wide covering with ice so fast that trees which were covered with their leaves still on the branches were engulphed and are now emerging from the ice.

Some of us remember the late 1940s when we had extreme cold whilst later years were warmer leading up to a cooling now happening. IF it were purely CO2, why the cooling now? I have not heard a convincing argument.

As the ice over lakes within the permafrost zone crack, open and melt methand and often CO2 is discharged in huge quantities.
We are constantly told that icecap melting will cause a rise in the sea lavel. OK but take that further; the water will creep over parts of the permafrost, melting it and releasing even more methane. This is uncontrolable unless your speakers have workable solutions.

Yes, very definitely have your conference but ensure that all sides can speak FREELY and that there are fully acceptable and workable solutions presented. Then, how do you force him over there to accept and work on the solutions? Good luck




** I have a bug about this - just back from hospital this morning after tests on food poisoning in October from farmed fish. My wife recoverd quickly, I didn't
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Re: Gaia Week at Christ's Hospital

Post by michael scuffil » Sat Mar 09, 2019 4:12 pm

On various things...

Even the most distinguished scientists, when they depart from their own field, can say some very strange things. Often these are interesting speculation, such as Sir Fred Hoyle's hypothesis that many diseases come from space (Fred was a physicist who specialized in stellar evolution through nucleosynthesis). However, in one book (Decade of Decision) he advocated clearing all the tropical rain forests to make way for farmland. Or take the case of Sir George Thomson (quantum physicist and Nobel Prize winner). In one book he was so concerned about a new ice age that he advocated artificially melting the arctic and antarctic ice.

As for Gaia, the theory that the earth is sentient is interesting speculation, and not altogether so way out, as it certainly has the complexity to be sentient. There are philosophical theories that ascribe sentience to everything (panpsychism) and more narrowly, to anything that can be in more than one state (cf. David Chalmers on the consciousness of thermostats in 'The Conscious Mind', which is a serious book). However the sentience of the earth is speculation, not science. I did not think, though, that Lovelock held this view; rather, he saw his Gaia as being merely a self-regulatory system, which is so manifestly true as to be devoid of interest. What worries me about Lovelock is his apparent notion that nuclear accidents don't really matter: 'Chernobyl? Great nature reserve!' (I heard him say that.)
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Re: Gaia Week at Christ's Hospital

Post by jhopgood » Sat Mar 09, 2019 7:01 pm

sejintenej wrote:
Sat Mar 09, 2019 3:02 pm
and the 1950's ice races on the canals of the Netherlands;
They also held the Elfstedentocht in 1985 and 1986 whilst we were living there.
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