Typically we agree that many of the things that make up planet Earth, such as bacteria, fungi, plant life, and animals on both land and sea are alive. What if, however, the planet itself was alive? Not only that, but if it was its own intelligent being. These astrobiologists say that this planetary intelligence might actually be real. That’s right: The Earth truly might have a mind of its own.
Astrobiologists Say That Planetary Intelligence Might Be Real
Planetary intelligence is referencing a planet Earth that might actually be an intelligent entity. In more simplistic terms, the Earth might actually be alive. This then begs the question: If the Earth is alive, could it, therefore, have a mind of its own? This is planetary intelligence. The scientists who published the paper say that they believe this could help us combat climate change and global warming. It could potentially even help us to discover extraterrestrial life.
The most important part that they point out in the paper is that it is we, the humans, who are rapidly changing the planet’s climate. We are the ones creating the plastic crisis and it is we who are causing the whole Earth to warm up at an alarming rate. Despite the fact that we are the biggest part of the problem, we haven’t truly collectively figured out how to solve it yet. (1)
“We don’t yet have the ability to communally respond in the best interests of the planet,” says Adam Frank, co-author of the paper. “If we ever hope to survive as a species, we must use our intelligence for the greater good of the planet.” (2)
How Can A Planet Be Intelligent?
This concept is a bit difficult to wrap your head around, I know. The researchers talk about the “collective activity of all life” and the impact that they have had on the planet. This includes the microbes, plants, and animals – including humans – and how they have changed the Earth over time.
The press release on the paper poses this question: “If the collective activity of life—known as the biosphere—can change the world, could the collective activity of cognition, and action based on this cognition, also change a planet? Once the biosphere evolved, Earth took on a life of its own. If a planet with life has a life of its own, can it also have a mind of its own?”
The researchers reference studies on how the roots of trees in a forest are connected and communicate to one another through networks of fungi in the ground. If one part of the forest is experiencing stress and needs more nutrients, the other parts of the forest send the stressed portion what it needs to survive. That is pretty intelligent for something that can’t move or speak (or at least, speak in a human sense).
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The Stages of Earth
They have broken out the Earth into stages based on its past, present, and future. Past Earth includes first an immature biosphere followed by a mature biosphere. The immature stage is the very early days of our planet, while the mature stage is when the Earth changed into something that could actually support life. I am talking about stable continents, photosynthetic plants creating oxygen, and the development of the ozone layer.
Next came the immature technosphere, which is essentially referencing all of human history. We have built up systems and invented new technologies over thousands of years. The problem is that these systems are not integrated into the Earth’s atmosphere and it is, truthfully, working against itself. Finally, we have where we need to work towards The mature technosphere. This is when our technological systems benefit the entire planet and don’t do harm. This is sustainability.
“Planets evolve through immature and mature stages, and planetary intelligence is indicative of when you get to a mature planet,” Frank says. “The million-dollar question is figuring out what planetary intelligence looks like and means for us in practice because we don’t know how to move to a mature technosphere yet.”
A Thought Experiment
The study authors have called their research a thought experiment. They believe that thought experiments such as this one, suggesting planetary intelligence, might help us combat climate change better. Perhaps these can help the human population better understand their impact on the planet. Maybe with this understanding, we can finally take some larger strides toward making the situation better. This will allow our planet and our species to continue existing to also perhaps one day find intelligent life elsewhere.
“We’re saying the only technological civilizations we may ever see—the ones we should expect to see—are the ones that didn’t kill themselves, meaning they must have reached the stage of a true planetary intelligence,” Frank says. “That’s the power of this line of inquiry: It unites what we need to know to survive the climate crisis with what might happen on any planet where life and intelligence evolve.”
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- “Intelligence as a planetary scale process.” Cambridge. Adam Frank, David Grinspoon and Sara Walker. February 7, 2022.
- “Can a planet have a mind of its own?” Phys. University of Rochester. February 16, 2022.