Beautiful Minds (2/3)


Uploaded by profecista on 15.07.2012

Transcript:
The practice of science has shaped the modern era.
But how are discoveries made and how does science progress?
Three British scientists, world leaders in their fields,
have changed our understanding of our universe, our planet and ourselves.
A physicist whose mysterious radio signals from space rewrote astronomy.
She actually recognised that there was something happening.
I suspect that perhaps only 1 in 100 people would have spotted it.
A chemist whose radical theory about our planet divides the scientific world.
He's one of the greatest thinkers of the current age and destined to go down in history.
And a biologist who discovered the secret of life in a sea urchin.
Your fundamental discoveries have profoundly increased
our understanding of how the cell cycle is controlled.
Their stories tell us about the nature of scientific enquiry in the modern world,
about how scientific breakthroughs are made
and about the workings of the scientific brain.
I never dreamt, you see, when I started out doing science,
that I'd be involved in a highly controversial theory. You don't think that at all.
My initial ambition always was to work in a lab and do hands-on science,
just like an artist wants to be with his brushes and paints and canvas and things, and things that come along.
He doesn't expect to produce a masterpiece, does he?
Gaia. G-A-I-A.
'This is a man who thinks the world is coming to an end. '
James Lovelock is responsible for the Gaia theory. Planet earth is a self-regulating system.
'.. which seeks to explain why the earth behaves as it does was a landmark in modern science. '
It's going to play absolute mayhem with our civilisation in the next 10 or 100 years.
He may be right and he's had a track record of being right in the past,
so he may be right in this case too. I hope he isn't.
James Lovelock's scientific masterpiece, his Gaia hypothesis,
stunned the world and divided the scientific community.
It proposed that the earth is able to regulate its own atmosphere,
and that to interfere with that process would lead to catastrophe.
It is important, it's extraordinary, it's incredibly timely.
It can be compared with the revelations that we're not at the centre of the universe.
I would rank the Gaia theory as being in the same category
of scientific advance as Darwin's theory of natural selection.
For many, Gaia theory was a milestone in our understanding of the planet,
a way of looking at the world so different that it challenged
not only scientific orthodoxy but also the way in which science is practised,
a challenge launched not from a school of thought or institution
but from one extraordinary individual.
I think James has two related qualities
which go some way towards explaining
his evolution as one of the most important scientific thinkers
of the last century.
And the two qualities are individualism
and directness of mind.
Lovelock can think in straight lines, but he can also think round corners.
James's capacity to think outside the box is exactly because he doesn't recognise the box.
For some, James Lovelock is a maverick.
Certainly he is an outsider.
Lovelock himself insists that minds like his can only
work outside the confines of the mainstream scientific establishment.
And so, for 40 highly successful years, he's been pursuing science on his own,
having abandoned the labs of NASA and British academia for his garden shed.
'Snuggled deep in rural Wiltshire is a thatched 16th-century cottage
'belonging to Professor James Lovelock.
'Today, the lone wolf scientist is considered a somewhat freakish rarity
'and, indeed, for more than 20 years, Professor Lovelock conformed,
'working in large research institutes here and in the USA.
'But a couple of years ago, he kicked over the traces and became independent. '
If you work in a large institution or a university,
it's quite difficult to do more than about 20 minutes work a day,
what with interruptions and telephone calls and so on.
And, for another thing, I think scientists are a bit like artists,
and who in their right mind would think of cooping up a bunch
of creative artists in an institute or a university?
It was the way of life I wanted to follow, was being an independent spirit working on my own.
Perhaps I'm much more greedy than the others. I want the whole damn show.
I just want to be a scientist.
Totally blue sky,
not done for money.
Done for curiosity and interest.
Lovelock believes it's his unfettered approach that's led
to a string of remarkable scientific inventions and discoveries.
Oh, we're just off to look in the lab...
if you can call it a lab.
It's where I do my...
keep my toys and do my experiments.
Don't be frightened of the notices on the door.
They're more to pacify Health and Safety than representing any serious dangers.
I've made nearly all the instruments I use.
If you build something and make it yourself, you have
an automatic understanding of how it works and what it is that you would never get by mere reading about it.
If your hands are not involved in your scientific work as well as your brain, it's not as good.
I remember that when I went into his house, it was like
as if he lived slightly at an angle to the rest of the world.
He didn't see things in the same way as anybody else that I'd met.
It was very disorientating. It made me feel slightly giddy, actually.
Yeah.
It's an accumulation of 33 years of bits and pieces.
You wouldn't see much of this sort of equipment in any modern lab, anywhere, nowadays.
Here is an electron capture detector.
This invention was come upon serendipitously.
That's to say, as a sideline.
I set out to find one thing and found something better.
And this is the secret of all good inventions.
Some have said the electron capture detector did more than anything to start the green movement going.
I won't go into the full details of the reaction, but the point of this thing is it's more sensitive
than any other simple chemical analytical detector that's ever been invented.
This device is quite exceptionally sensitive, more so even than an animal's nose.
And that's quite remarkable, for it's not often that one can do better than nature.
Lovelock's invention thrust him into the public arena, because it showed disturbing
evidence of man's impact on what an embryonic green movement was starting to call "the environment".
'The pesticide problem is an application in which this invention proved its worth.
'We're now alerted to the dangers of an uncontrolled use of pesticides
'and the build-up of man-made chemicals in the tissues of animals and man.
'Traces of DDT have even been found in the fat of penguins,
'and it took Professor Lovelock's electron absorption detector to spot the minute quantities involved. '
His electron capture detector, that's really what made him famous.
You know, that in itself would have been an extraordinary career for one person.
You know, proud and destined to go down in history.
But Jim's done so many other things as well.
My earliest encounter quite definitely with science was at Christmas.
I think... I've forgotten which year, it was '23 or '24.
My father, as a present, gave me a box full of tricks, as he called it.
And all there was in the box were lots of wires and batteries and bells
and lights and buzzers and things.
He said, "There, join that up, and you'll have some fun with it. " And I was fascinated with it.
Spent a lot of time finding out how the things worked.
And it was the best Christmas present I think I've ever had.
And then I got puzzled. I couldn't understand why it was you need two wires to send
electricity along, whereas if it was gas or water or something, you just need a single pipe.
And I started asking around, first my father and then my grandmother.
Nobody knew. Not even the postman!
So I realised I'd have to do it myself and find out.
And that's what I think set me on... a life as a scientist.
James Lovelock's father not only set him on the road to becoming a scientist,
he also unwittingly paved the way for his next, and perhaps one of his most important, discoveries -
the build-up of CFC gases in the atmosphere.
I think I learnt my ecology, if you like, from my father, because we used to go for walks at the weekend.
He would take me through the countryside and show me all the tracks of animals.
'It was a feeling for, and an understanding of, the countryside,
'which has remained with me ever since. '
What's the connection between country walks and looking for CFCs?
You see, the story goes like this.
I remember from my walks on these hills with my father how often one could see the Sussex Downs.
The air was always, in those days, quite clear.
Now, very strangely, many years later, one of the things that struck me immediately was how different
it was, in that every often during the summertime, there was a dense haze.
Where on earth does it come from? That was the question I asked.
At first, there didn't seem to be any answer, and then it began slowly to dawn on me,
it probably came from the nearest highly populated area.
And I could prove that, if it was sort of human haze and not some kind of natural
phenomenon that had happened since I was young,
by analysing the atmosphere to see if it had some unequivocally human industrial compound in it.
And I thought a bit, and the obvious and only one to choose
were the fluorocarbons, the CFCs, because with their spray cans and leaking refrigerators,
the only thing on earth that releases CFCs into the atmosphere is people.
It's a people marker.
So all I had to do was to see if the presence of haze
correlated with the presence of an increase in the amount of CFCs.
I suppose it was very unusual.
I mean, most scientists have a laboratory with lots of staff.
He had my mother, my Auntie Betty, myself and my brother and sisters.
You know, we'd all be helping.
They were only too happy to join the routine of daily measurements,
and Christine did an awful lot of the haze measurements.
We were just helping as if,
I suppose, you might help
on a farm or something.
Sure enough, it showed a marked correlation between the haze and the presence of CFCs.
At that time, I didn't realise I was the only person in the world that was measuring the CFCs.
Nobody took the slightest notice.
They weren't in the least interested, either in the presence of CFCs in the atmosphere or in haze.
But the puzzling thing I found was that there were still
CFCs in the air even when the air was sparklingly clear.
And I thought then, is it building up in the whole atmosphere of the world without any kind of losses?
And I was curious about this.
The lone scientist working from home with part-time assistance from his family
was on the verge of making perhaps the most significant scientific discovery of the 20th century.
His mind is able to make intuitive leaps or connections between things that the rest of us
would always keep separate in our heads, and it's those connections
that he's been able to see
that have been the most remarkable scientific advances that he's gifted us.
It suddenly dawned on me, oh, what a marvellous excuse to go on a ship voyage
from right the way down to Antarctica
to find out were there CFCs in the whole world atmosphere or not?
You followed your nose. And that's what makes your science real.
That's what makes you want to go on doing it.
And it had a wonderful captain.
We'd often have good discussions in the ship's dining room after dinner at night.
He'd taken the precaution to bring along some very good wine.
It was just a very pleasant atmosphere.
And all I had to do was to go out several times a day
with a hypodermic syringe and fill it with air
and then take it back to the lab and inject it into the gas chromatograph.
Quite remarkably, I found that the fluorocarbons were in the atmosphere of the whole planet.
So they were just adding up in the atmosphere without going anywhere.
I did what scientists usually do -
I wrote it up in the form of a paper, which was published in Nature.
I didn't realise I was letting loose the CFC ozone business
and shutting down a billion-dollar industry in the course of it.
KLAXON
You see, the scientists in California, Mario Molina and Sherwood Rowland,
developed the idea that the CFCs going into the stratosphere
would be a source of chlorine, and this would destroy a significant amount of the ozone layer.
And, of course, that hit the fan in a big way.
Within the past hour, more than 90 countries have agreed on a plan
to try to save the earth's ozone layer.
The meeting has been taking place in London.
The agreement commits the countries to faze out chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, within 10 years.
It was the connection between the build-up of CFCs and the hole in the ozone layer
that shifted the environmental movement centre stage and earned a Nobel prize for Molina and Rowland.
He deserved and didn't get a part in a Nobel prize, but then...
well, the fitting tribute will be if somehow his ideas
actually help us find a long-term sustainable future on the planet.
That's worth a lot more than the recognition of the establishment.
I grew curious about the nature of things
and fell in love with science, oh, at least 80, probably 82 years ago.
My mother was an avid reader and she always went to the Brixton Library,
because in those days people didn't buy books, certainly unless they were very rich.
And you went to the public libraries, and they were everywhere.
The Brixton one was exceedingly good, and she would go and get her political books on feminism,
cos that was the kind of thing that turned her on, or on socialism -
it didn't matter, one or the other -
and I went at first to get science fiction and came back with HG Wells's wonderful books.
I think they really filled in my mind a lot.
I mean, the story of The Time Machine. I mean, it was so different.
I mean, that was the start of real science fiction.
But that wasn't enough for me. After a while, I wanted the hard stuff.
And they kept the hard stuff in the basement, and that was really a cornucopia, a cave of wonders.
The kind of stuff you pick up when the mind is developing,
before puberty, stays there for good.
And you do feel intensely when you're a kid of that age.
Everything is full of... life's full of feeling.
I was mining magic down at the basement of Brixton Library
and I went on doing it all the time, and it solidified.
I really struck a few mother-loads down there.
I don't think I understood much of them, but your mind is a kind of sponge.
And it stays there in your machine language memory
for the rest of your life, so that from then onwards my mind had a complete understanding
of the position of all the chemicals and their properties and things,
although I didn't even know what the properties were.
But later on, when I came to be a professional chemist,
then all of that knowledge was there
instantly accessible, whenever I needed it.
Why did I choose chemistry as my subject in science?
After all, if you go back to that box of tricks my father gave me, bits of wire and stuff, that's physics.
That's not chemistry. Why didn't I go into physics?
It so happens that I'm dyslexic, and... not seriously.
I can't tell the difference between left and right.
It's one of the peculiarities.
It also meant that in mathematics I can never tell which side of an equation I'm on,
and in finding the answer, the solution, this is quite a handicap.
You get there in the end by just testing, trying both ways and seeing which one is right.
But this wastes an awful lot of time, and when it comes to examinations, if you're slow, you don't pass.
I was fascinated by physics and maths, much more than chemistry, but I realised practically that
because of the slowness in handling mathematics, I couldn't satisfy the examiners on physical things.
The best way of thinking of it was that I'd fallen in love with science at some age
and I just wanted it around me as you want a loved one around nearby and always available.
Though he had studied chemistry, Lovelock always saw science as a single entity.
And when war came, the fledging polymath was unexpectedly exposed
to an even greater array of scientific disciplines.
Out of the blue came a letter from the National Institute for Medical Research
saying, would I be interested in a job with them?
And the first thing that Sir Henry Dale said to me, he said, "My boy,"
he said, "don't expect to do any science when you come here. "
He said, "We're at war now.
"And it's going to be nothing but wartime problems, ad hoc problems,
"that need an answer - yesterday, preferably. "
One of the duties of everyone working at the National Institute for Medical Research, that included
everyone, quite literally, was to fire watch, to patrol on the roof of the Institute one night a week.
Now, in the course of this, I met all of the senior scientists in the Institute,
and it was quite fascinating,
because when an incident occurred, like a V1 missile coming close by...
On one occasion, it was coming on a course which looked as if it was coming towards us.
It came so close by that we could see the rivets.
We began to get a little bit excited, to say the least, and then it cut out.
In their fear, the senior scientist that I happened to be with would open his mind
and do a brain dump and see me as the young person near him,
he'd got to pass on all the accumulated wisdom of a lifetime, and you learnt more
in those little incidents than you ever would, and many of them would never normally speak to you.
They were sort of senior old buffers that guarded their privacy an awful lot.
Boy, did they open up when the bombs came near!
I learnt from these encounters an amazingly widespread vision
of all the branches of science that were included in that Institute -
physics, chemistry, bacteriology, virology - you name it, all of them.
And it all helped to build up in my mind the broad picture
of science as one single subject.
I've worked with him, on and off, for some years now, and I think the lasting impression
that I'll carry with me for ever is his encyclopaedic knowledge
of maths, physics and chemistry... and biology and medicine.
And his personal experience that he draws on in everything he thinks about and does.
Nowadays, science specialises and specialises.
You can get very good about the micro-micro-organisms that attack
a certain form of bacterium and their genome and all the rest of it.
But it doesn't take you very far about understanding the world.
It's this holistic way of thinking and lack of adherence to a single scientific discipline
that marks out Lovelock's unique approach to science, an approach
that he believes was fundamental in developing Gaia theory.
You see, nearly all scientists nowadays are slaves.
They're not free men and women.
They have to work in institutes or universities or government...
places or industry
and they have to work on a specific problem.
There are very few of them who are free to think
outside the box, so to speak.
So you come along with the theory like Gaia, and it's so far beyond
their normal experience, they're not going to be able to react to it.
'Three, two, one, zero. '
'This is the first shot of earth, live on television. '
The thing that kicked Gaia off, mainly, was of course NASA.
There would have been no opportunity before that
for people to have considered the earth from outside in reality.
One day, a letter arrived on my desk that was from Director of Space Flight Operations for NASA,
and in it was an invitation.
Would I like to be an experimenter to look for life on Mars?
If there is life on Mars, then there will be a simply fabulous expansion
of the perspective of the biologist,
because all the organisms on the earth, even though
they seem to be different, are fundamentally the same.
Their chemistry is all identical.
I went along to this meeting of biologists, about various experiments
to detect life on Mars that NASA is going to send there on of the future missions.
The first thing we will have to do is organise a team, the best we can get.
Most of the experiments that the biologists were doing
were based on the assumption that life on Mars would be very like life in the Mojave Desert.
If their experiment could detect life in that desert, then it could probably detect it on Mars.
One very keen biologist took me by the arm and said, "Let me show you my life detection.
"It's absolutely... an experiment for Mars.
"It's bound to work. It can't possibly fail. "
And what he showed me was a little stainless steel cage about one cubic centimetre in size,
and it looked very beautiful, and I said, "What's that?" And he said, "It's my Martian flea trap. "
And I said, "Why do you think there's fleas on Mars?"
He said, "Well, everybody knows Mars is nothing but desert,
"and when you get an extensive desert, you always have camels,
"and there's no animals with more fleas than a camel. This will detect life on Mars. "
'Is there life on Mars?'
Ah!
So I started being stroppy and saying,
"Well, how the hell do you know that life on Mars is like life in the Mojave Desert?
"It might be totally different. It's a different planet altogether.
"It might not even have the same form as life on earth. "
And this made them very cross.
And they thought that I was bullshitting, really.
Is that a technical term? Anyway...
They complained to the Director about it.
He was a tough guy and so he said, "Well, what would YOU do?"
And I said, "I've got to think about that. "
He said, "Well, you have until Friday. " And I knew that my contract was kind of on the line.
I had got until Friday to come up with an answer.
And that's the kind of thing that really stimulates thinking.
I was scared.
Jim is at his best when he's posed a problem, I think.
Give him a puzzle, and he's brilliant at solving them.
And what's brilliant about his thinking is
that he thinks out of the box.
He doesn't imagine what we might put on the landing craft
and how it might measure the soil.
He says, there must be a much more general way of recognising life.
Suddenly, it came to me.
Finding life on Mars is the simplest thing in the world to do.
All you had to do was measure the composition of the atmosphere of Mars, chemically.
That was all. Just find out what gases were in its atmosphere.
He had the realisation that if life was abundant on a planet,
it would change the atmosphere of that planet, and then you could take that a step
further and realise that you could tell whether there was life on Mars or not without having to go there.
You can do it with a regular telescope but using an ultra-sensitive infrared analyser.
Lovelock felt that if the Martian atmosphere was inert and unchanging,
there could be no life.
My argument was, if there was life on the surface, then it would be obliged
to use the atmosphere as the source of materials to make itself.
And it would also have to use the atmosphere as a place to deposit its waste products.
And doing that would change the composition of the atmosphere
in a way that would reflect the existence of life.
For there to be any chance of life on Mars,
there would need to be a variety of gases present in its atmosphere.
Lovelock and NASA held their breaths.
In September 1965,
I met in a room with Carl Sagan,
and in comes another astronomer,
Lou Kaplan, carrying sheets and sheets of paper.
And we said, "What's this?" And he said, "It's the complete analysis of the Martian atmosphere. "
What this analysis showed
was that Mars had atmospheres that were almost nothing but carbon dioxide,
just bare traces of other gases present.
And I knew immediately this meant Mars was probably lifeless.
At that moment, suddenly a thought came into my mind.
But why is the earth's atmosphere so amazingly different?
It was this realisation and the logic that provided it that prompted
Lovelock to think about our own planet in a radically different way.
The earth was a remarkable planet.
How does it stay always habitable,
all the billions of years?
We've got oxygen mixed with methane
that would be explosive if it were different in composition.
Then it occurred to me that both gases were made by living organisms at the earth's surface.
If they were making them, maybe they were regulating them.
It was eureka moment.
I sort of blurted this all out, that, oh, the earth must be a great self-regulating system,
almost alive, that's holding its atmosphere constant.
And this shook the others, particularly Carl. He said, "Oh, you couldn't possibly be right, Jim. "
Then he thought for a moment, and he said, "But there might be something in what you say,
"because we astronomers have known that one of the great puzzles is
"that the sun has warmed up 30% since the earth formed,
"so if it was warm enough for life to start,
"why aren't we boiling now?"
And then immediately it occurred to me, well, if the organisms can regulate the amount
of gas in the atmosphere, then they can regulate the temperature. We know it.
We've only put... What is it?
.. 6% more CO2 in the atmosphere and we're all in trouble, already.
It doesn't take much to change the temperature by changing the gases.
It was life that looked after the atmosphere and the climate.
His eureka moment.
He realised that earth had this incredibly unusual atmosphere because of the presence of life,
and then he could make an intuitive leap
to the idea that that might mean that life was somehow involved
in self-regulating the state of the atmosphere and the climate.
It's those intuitive leaps that must require an unusual mind.
It wasn't until you started asking questions about Mars
and thinking about its atmosphere and the effect of life on it, that you suddenly start looking at the bits
of the earth like the atmosphere and the oceans in a totally different light.
His single greatest contribution
to science has been to say
you must look at the earth top-down as a system, looked at from above,
forgetting the disciplines of geology, biology, meteorology.
You can't take the top-down view if you're tied into a single discipline.
It's only if you've got it all in your mind, in one go, that all the bits and pieces come together.
I was lucky enough to have had strong hands-on experience in chemistry,
in physics, making instruments, in biology, working with animals, with bacteria, with all sorts.
Science was one open board to me.
I didn't... I wasn't tied into a given discipline, as most of them are.
The first law of thermodynamics - heat is work and work is heat.
I've always been mischievous and I think my school days made me that.
The second law of thermodynamics... I got frequently caned.
Heat cannot of itself pass from one body to a hotter.
You see, I'm a fairly amenable sort of non-rebellious person, but circumstances drove me that way.
# Heat won't pass from a cooler to a hotter
# You can try it if you like but you'd far better notter
# You can try it if you like but you'd far better notter... #
I was very happy to go to a grammar school. At last I was being taught science.
Nothing could really dispel the disappointment I felt when I found
that the real science was almost unbelievably dull that was taught.
#.. And work is heat And heat is work
# Heat will pass by conduction... #
And I went through a dangerous period of almost becoming turned away from it.
#.. And that's a physical law
# Heat is work and work's a curse... #
I remember on one occasion we were given a general knowledge examination
which was set for the top classes of the school, which included the Sixth Forms, and I was in the Fifth Form.
And I was lucky enough to win the first prize
in this examination, which irritated the establishment beyond belief.
It was not what they had expected would happen at all.
I was harangued in front of the school
on the grounds that I was not intelligent,
I was a freak, just a storehouse of knowledge
who had accidentally managed to answer all the questions on the examination.
I think...
the demeaning... and ill-treatment of that kind
with many children would be fatal.
It would drive them into depression,
loss of all self-esteem.
I often thought I had low self-esteem, but it wasn't.
It was really a feeling
that I was at war with the establishment, always.
And it doesn't hurt to get warned about them, to deal with them,
at an early age and use it to fight my battles in life from then on.
Lovelock's radical idea about the earth certainly went against the scientific consensus of the day.
It had emerged from his work at NASA,
but it wasn't until he was back in the UK that it was given a name.
It wasn't called Gaia then.
It wasn't until about two years later when my friend and neighbour,
William Golding, the celebrated author,
suggested that if I was going to have ideas, large ideas like that
about the earth, I'd better have a proper name, and he said,
"And I suggest Gaia, the Greek goddess. "
'We have a statue which is supposed to represent Gaia here. '
I don't go out and pray before it in the morning before I start work or anything like that.
The first paper that named Gaia was entitled "Gaia As Seen Through The Atmosphere. "
One of the most important things about Gaia is its ability to self-regulate,
to keep the temperature, for example, constant,
to keep the amount of the various gases in the air within certain ranges,
so as always to keep the planet habitable.
It was life that regulated the planet and looked after the atmosphere and the climate.
After I formulated Gaia, the evidence for it began gradually to emerge.
To give an example, the production by organisms that live in the ocean
of a strange gas called dimethyl sulphide.
What happens is, if the ocean's surface water gets warm, the algae grow better.
It's like the growth of all organisms.
It's faster when it's warmer.
And as they grow better, they produce more of the gas dimethyl sulphide,
which vents into the atmosphere and ultimately causes a cloud layer to form over the ocean surface.
The clouds are white and they reflect sunlight back to space,
and so the more the algae grow, the cooler the earth gets.
Why should the algae want to do that?
Well, the reason is,
they have a need to keep the ocean surface waters cool,
because once the ocean surface water rises
above about 14 degrees Celsius,
it stratifies, and then the nutrients
that are in the lower water cannot enter that top layer,
and so the algae living there die of lack of food, quite simply.
So they have a strong vested interest in doing anything
that will stop the top layer of water from rising above 14 Celsius.
So you've got a nice thermostated mechanism there, and the whole thing's beautifully stable.
So there was one of the great natural cycles at last explained properly.
And it was a small triumph of Gaia,
which didn't really hit the fan to any extent. Nobody was interested.
So it left me with no option but to write a book.
"If Gaia does exist, then we may find ourselves -
"and all other living things - to be parts and partners
"of a vast being who, in her entirety,
"has the power to maintain our planet as a fit and comfortable habitat for life. "
There was a lot missing,
but it was a skeleton of what... of the body of theory that was to develop.
We believe in one God...
CONGREGATION:.. the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen...
I was astonished, quite astonished, to receive letters and phone calls from religious people.
One that I remember particularly was the Bishop of Birmingham, Hugh Montefiore.
It made me think of what theologians call the Imminence of God.
That is to say, the Holy Spirit of God working within creation,
and the way in which the cybernetic controls are set up
and make life optimal for human beings to appear in so many different ways,
which he describes, that immediately put me in mind of the Holy Spirit working within creation.
Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
I found it very easy to engage with people who are religious
if they want to think of Gaia as an example of God's creation, a living thing that God created.
I'm not saying I think that, but it's a way for them to think about it.
# Sweet child in time... #
I was even more astonished with the interest that the New Age...
which was a world I'd not even encountered at all before that.
We don't recognise that we are so intimately connected with the earth
and that she is so much a part of us and we are so much a part of her,
that if we don't communicate with her and recognise how we can't live without her,
we'll destroy the earth.
We'll destroy her and we'll destroy ourselves.
They took up Gaia, not in a way that I liked at all.
I much preferred the religious approach to the New Age one.
It was no help whatever in my battle with the scientists.
They say, you know, look, it's nothing by New Age nonsense.
The initial response to...
the Gaia hypothesis, as it then was 30 years ago,
was extremely hostile, more than negative, often dismissive, scornful.
And persisting in developing this theory meant a degree
of isolation from the existing scientific communities
that Jim was ready to accept.
For the scientific establishment, Gaia was a mystical vision
of organisms acting cooperatively to benefit Mother Earth.
Fanciful nonsense, which, it was claimed, flew in the face of evolutionary theory.
The first serious criticism from the scientific community
was an article by the biologist, W Ford Doolittle,
entitled "Is Nature Really Motherly?"
in which he took Gaia to the cleaners, or rather the theory.
Doolittle said, "Well, you'd have to imagine a committee of all the organisms on the planet
"getting together every year and deciding what the level
"of oxygen would be in the atmosphere that year,
"you know, and obviously that's not going to work. "
And they employed really talented writers like Richard Dawkins
and I think, at the time,
Dawkins hated Gaia as much as he hates God, if you like to make a comparison.
The danger... it's not exactly distressing or disturbing,
except to an academic biologist who values the truth,
the danger is
that they will say things like... the function of oxygen is to... do so and so.
The function of ammonia is... The function of methane is...
Because it implies that individual organisms
that are manufacturing that gas are doing it for the good of the biosphere.
The main thing that Richard Dawkins said was there was no way
for living organisms to regulate anything beyond their bodies -
what he called their phenotypes -
that regulating the... the idea of organisms regulating the planet was quite absurd.
The really key objection
was how could Gaia evolve to be self-regulating?
You would need that the organisms on the earth had foresight in some way.
What they saw as altruism on a global scale...
they could be altruistic towards themselves or their kin, but that was the limit.
Looking after the whole planet and everything on it was just ridiculous,
and this is what stuck in the throats of most scientists.
They felt that there was no way for Gaia to evolve by natural selection.
It frightened all the other scientists off.
Almost everybody else became then anti-Gaian.
It became impossible
to publish a paper
on the subject of Gaia in any scientific journal.
It was a quite wicked censorship of an idea.
This was all the more frustrating, because, as far as I was concerned,
Gaia isn't against natural selection.
'In fact, natural selection is a critical part of Gaia. '
I spent a miserable year trying to find an answer to Richard Dawkins' criticisms.
In an attempt to silence his critics,
Lovelock set about building a computer model
of a planet he called Daisyworld.
A model he hoped would prove Gaia's validity once and for all.
It was a model of a simple planet that's orbiting a star like the sun,
and this particular star, like our own sun, warms up as it grows older.
And the only life there is on Daisyworld are daisies, one dark and one light.
You won't get any germination until the surface somewhere has warmed up to about 4 degrees Celsius.
Then the first daisy seeds will germinate.
The planet was quite cold,
and what would happen at first was dark daisies would be favoured.
They'd been selected, naturally selected.
Being dark, they'd absorb more heat than the surface, so they'd warm up
first themselves and then their locality, so they'll start spreading.
Quite rapidly, dark daisies grow and then spread and spread and spread,
and the temperature zooms up and so do they, in a strong positive feedback,
until you reach a point
where the planetary temperature is high enough for white daisies to grow.
And then they start competing with the black daisies for space.
And as the sun's heat gets warmer, so gradually the proportion of white increases.
If it got too warm, then the white daisies,
which tend to reflect radiation away,
would cool the planet down,
and the system would fall into a regulatory pattern.
And the competition kept the temperature exactly at the optimum for daisy growth.
And the whole thing's beautifully stable.
Daisyworld showed that evolution by natural selection is absolutely vital for Gaia.
And there's no foresight. These things all happen by chance.
It answered the criticism that life can't regulate the climate of the earth.
Well, they were right. It can't.
But when life is part of a complete system of an atmosphere
and a surface and so on, then it can regulate.
It's not the life that's regulating, it's the whole system is regulating itself.
It applies to the organisms and their environment,
and for us on earth, this means all life takes part in Gaia together with the atmosphere,
oceans and surface rocks.
What we find is that the system is locked in a sort of dance in which everything changes together.
It's as if everything seems to be correlated with everything else.
Just one example, you've got the circulation of the ocean,
you've got the amount of ice on the surface as well, all of these things are working,
changing in concert.
It's almost like a symphony.
Daisyworld was enough to allow scientists to start
taking Lovelock's theory seriously, and, as more and more interdependent systems are discovered,
the core ideas behind Gaia are finally moving into the mainstream.
We don't have a model that explains everything, but these things are all linked together and have been
the chief stabilising mechanisms that have kept the planet habitable over literally billions of years.
Lovelock's ideas are at the heart of understanding
how humanity is now changing those stabilising mechanisms
and they brought him to a controversially bleak view of our future.
'From a Gaian point of view,
'when we first started interfering with the atmosphere, nothing much happened. '
It was encompassing it by its ordinary regulating mechanism.
But when it gets too much, Gaia can't cope with it.
'And this is why I'm afraid, I think.
'It's going to play absolute mayhem with our civilisation in the next 10 or 100 years. '
And when you see the whole picture, it is really fearsomely bad.
I mean, things like the very rapid melting of the floating ice near the North Pole.
As the floating ice melts, so less sunlight is reflected back
to space by the dazzlingly white ice, and more and more sunlight's absorbed by the ocean.
Just the melting of the floating ice in the Arctic Ocean
will add as much heat to the earth as all of the CO2 we put in the atmosphere to date.
And this is why I'm afraid, I think, there's very little we can do about it.
All of our efforts to reduce emissions are as nothing.
'There's no morality about it.
'If the earth improves as a result of our presence, then we will flourish.
'If it doesn't,
'then we will die off. '
I fear that not many of us will survive...
perhaps at best about a billion, possibly a lot less than that.
Now, how they will die, it'll be by starvation, by war, by disease, who knows?
The four horsemen really ride when conditions like that happen.
I still think there's a lot to play for, but we will see the face of the world change.
We're still in the midst of a kind of scientific revolution about how we... not only how we see or study
the earth, but how we see our relationship as humans with the earth's system, or Gaia.
The key lesson
of Lovelock's life as a scientist is that he doesn't think in terms
of any pre-existing consensus, but he's been able to radically shift
the prevailing scientific paradigm to the point at which,
from having been almost reviled,
it's become part of the way scientists generally now think.
James Lovelock, it gives me enormous pleasure to reward this towering career
For James Lovelock, now aged 90, acceptance of his ideas is also recognition
of the importance of independent and unconventional thinking in science.
But whether future generations will be able to continue this tradition is, perhaps, uncertain.
It isn't an easy subject, is it?
And people say to me, "Well, YOU can say that kind of thing easily, because at your age,
"it's not going to affect you anyway, you'll be dead before it all happens. "
And that's true, although I'm not so sure that if I live to 100,
I think a lot of things may happen before then.
But I do have great-grandchildren,
and it's progeny... is the name of the game here.
RANDY NEWMAN: # Man means nothing
# He means less to me
# Than the lowliest cactus flower
# Or the humblest yucca tree
# He chases round this desert
# Cos he thinks that's where I'll be
# That's why I love mankind. #
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