Sunday, April 18, 2010

Gaia, the End of the World, and Jung

I’ve just been away for a week in West Wales, and the weather has been great for the first time since last September. We started getting heat waves in England a few years ago, and it seemed like global warming was for real. But the last two summers have been crap, and we have had 2 cold winters, so I’m not so sure any more.

What we do know is that the ice-caps are melting, and that the earth generally is warming up. It’s hard to know how much of that is man-made, and how much is a natural process. It certainly has a momentum of its own now, however, because the more ice-free ocean there is, the more sunlight gets trapped instead of reflected back by the ice. This is why James Lovelock, creator of the Gaia hypothesis, is now so dire in his warnings. He reckons the earth is going to get very hot through this positive feedback cycle, that most of the world’s population will die, and that there is nothing we can do about it any more.

I often say that Mars in Cancer is a good place for an environmentalist, and that is what we find in the chart of James Lovelock, who was born on 26/7/1919 in the UK. A challenged Mars – in Cancer, or square Saturn – can be tedious in a man, because deep down they aren’t very sure of their Mars, so they’re always trying to show just how manly they are. But Lovelock isn’t like this at all. I saw him on BBC4 the other night. I hadn’t had a very favourable opinion of him, because of his doom-mongering, and because the Gaia hypothesis seemed a bit flabby and mystical.

In fact he is highly intelligent and down to earth. He has the originality and poetry of a Sun in Leo conjunct Neptune, and the concern for the planet of Moon, Jupiter, Mars and Pluto all in Cancer. As a teenager, he had the intellectual precocity of Mercury conjunct Saturn, and the willingness to stand up for his ideas of Mercury opposite Uranus. I’d say it is his Mars conjunct Pluto in Cancer, square to Chiron, that reflects his fight (Mars) for the survival (Pluto) not just of mankind but of life due to the irretrievable damage (Chiron) we have done to the planet (Cancer).

In a way it all came out of the planet Mars, because in the 1960s Lovelock was part of a project by NASA involving methods for detecting life on Mars. Lovelock came up with the idea that if there is life on Mars, you would be able to detect it in the atmosphere, because life would both use the atmosphere for raw materials, and deposit its waste products there. What they found using spectroscopy was that Mars’ atmosphere had carbon dioxide and very little else, so Lovelock concluded there was no life on Mars.

This perspective from Mars got him thinking about the earth from outside of it, so to speak, and he began to see the earth’s atmosphere itself as a product of life on earth, and regulated within a narrow band that makes life possible. So well-regulated by life is our atmosphere that it has been stable within this band for a billion years or more.

It is not just the atmosphere, but many of the conditions on earth that are regulated by life, so that the earth itself is like this self-regulating organism. This made immediate sense to me. Of course it would be part of the evolutionary process for organisms to regulate their environment to their advantage, because those that could do so would have a selective advantage. An early example Lovelock gave was of a sea algae that needs warmth, but not too much, so it releases Sulphur Dioxide, which causes clouds to form, which blocks out the sunlight. So you can see the regulating mechanism here: lots of sunlight leads to expansion in the numbers of algae, leading to release of lots of SO2, which stops the water getting any hotter and in fact probably cools it and keeps numbers of algae down.

Of course, for Gaia to work you need a much more complex interactive system than this involving thousands of species, and this has been one of the arguments against it: that there is no way such a complex system could have arisen through natural selection. My argument against this is two-fold: the self-regulating systems that have arisen within our bodies through natural selection are at least as complex as those in the environment; and secondly we do not understand evolution yet, if we ever will. I can’t see how the slow process of natural selection and random mutation could have produced the life-forms we have in the time available. I don’t dispute the fact of evolution, just the limited mechanisms we have for it. It’s too much like a monkey at a typewriter. That’s why I like Lamarckian ideas, for example, with their notion of the inheritance of acquired characteristics.

In understanding Evolution, I think it is also important to realise that the idea originated and has been developed within a society that is highly competitive and makes a virtue of that sense of competition. So quite naturally the mechanism for Evolution has been seen in fundamentally competitive terms. I think this is a large part of the reason that our understanding of Evolution is so limited. The idea of Evolution as co-operation is staring us in the face through Gaia. And not just co-operation as enlightened self-interest (as in symbiosis), which brings us back to competition again as the root motive. I mean co-operation for its own sake, because it is in the nature of life to promote itself, even between species. Just as Lovelock had to stand outside the earth to undertand it, so we need to stand outside our competitive society to acquire a broader understanding of Evolution.

Anyway, the Gaia hypothesis is an entirely scientific idea that to me makes complete sense. It has a ‘Eureka that’s obvious’ quality to it. It also has a beauty and a poetry to it, reflected in the name (which William Golding came up with). Lovelock was tolerant of what religions did with the idea, who saw it as reflecting their understanding of God. But he was appalled at what the New Age did with it (see picture on left!), and I think it was probably exposure to that which has put me off Gaia for so long.

Back to his doom-mongering. What in a way makes it worse is that there is no sense of fanaticism around it. He is just putting forward the quite reasonable idea that there is a positive feedback process when it comes to global warming and the melting of the ice-caps, and the earth is therefore going to get a lot hotter for a while and this will make large parts of the earth uninhabitable by people. I’m not quite sure what to make of it. I don’t feel it’s going to be as bad as Lovelock makes out, but I can’t justify that. I suppose I tend to think that the earth is quicker to self-regulate than we may think, that life is quicker to respond to changes in its environment than we think. There is one natural process, for example, which is that if the oceans heat up, more water will vaporise, creating clouds that block out the sun, and thereby cooling the earth.

I suppose I’m back to my original observation: the earth is warming up, and the consequence for English weather for the last 2 years has been wet summers and cold winters. It’s so important in life to take account of your own immediate experience, whatever the priests/scientists say, and my experience tells me that we don’t know what the consequence of warming will be. The positive feedback loop around the melting of the polar ice-caps is of course worrying, but I don’t think we can be as certain of the outcome as Lovelock thinks.

I watched a documentary of another great man recently, CG Jung. It was a DVD I bought called Matter of Heart, which I’d recommend highly to anyone. I’d seen it twice before over the last 25 years, but I keep coming back to it. It’s pricey, but well worth it. One of the special features is a ½ hour interview Jung gave to the BBC 18 months before he died. In this he is asked about survival after death, and a point he makes is that whatever our conscious attitude may be, his work with old people had shown him that the Unconscious behaves as though life is going to continue. I thought this was fascinating.

I think another word for the Unconscious, whether in its personal or collective forms, is simply ‘life’. It’s as though life over billions of years has become this huge reserve, this huge resource and we have this fragile consciousness that floats on the surface of it, so fragile that it is extinguished for 8 hours in 24 while it recovers its ability to exist. Of course this fragile consciousness goes into some sort of abeyance at death, but the great river of life itself that flows through us, ‘the Unconscious’, is in no doubt that it will itself continue.

This is something I always take away from Jung, this sense of being part of a much bigger and richer current of life. And it removes that sense of anxious isolation that the ego often feels, its desperate sense that its own death – which after all occurs for 8 hours in 24! – is the end of everything.

The Collective Unconscious doesn't just contain human history, it contains the whole of evolution (in the same way that physically we have the principle of 'ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny' in embryonic development). We don't belong just to the human species, we are also amoebae, we are crocodiles, we are plants, we are apes... we belong to life. This again brings us back to the idea of evolution as co-operation rather than competition. It is life that is the project, not the individual species, which is ephemeral and not as clear-cut as one might think. They keep finding new species of human, for example, and in its current form (us) hasn't been around very long at all.

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It is not immediately obvious from Jung’s chart why he should have been such a great explorer of the Unconscious. Certainly you can see the analyst in him through his Sun on the Descendant, the point of ‘Other’, and the healer in the square from the Sun to Neptune and Chiron. You see his willingness to break with psychoanalytic tradition through his Aquarius Rising, its ruler Uranus in the 7th, as well as the Sun in Leo. (Leo-Aquarius is the axis of individuality and originality and coming to terms with the collective resistance to that.)

The only way we can explain his connection to the unconscious depths is through 2 wide aspects: Moon conjunct Pluto (8 degrees) and Pluto conjunct IC (8 degrees, out of sign). The Moon and the IC describe the personal unconscious, Pluto describes the necessity for facing and transforming it, as well as the connection through to the Collective Unconscious. In this sense, another word for Pluto is also ‘life’: it is only our resistance to life, unique in the animal kingdom, which makes it appear as a dark god, which is how we usually know Pluto.

Jung’s chart is an example of why I don’t treat wide aspects as necessarily weak. In Jung’s case, they were about as powerful as they come. I think wideness and out-of-sign-ness can bring space and therefore perspective and consciousness to these aspects. I’ve seen it in myself with my wide, out of sign Sun opposite Pluto. It has always been very operative, demanding that I find authenticity within myself. But the wideness has made me sensitive to the negative aspect of Pluto, which is the misuse of power, the need to dominate others, which you can often see going on unconsciously in the tighter aspects of Sun to Pluto.

Back to the Leo-Aquarius axis. I think these types can start out life very uncomfortable with themselves, because they don’t fit in. Life makes this constant demand on them to be true to themselves, rather than true to the values and expectations they see around them. But when they get older, after a lifetime of learning to trust who they uniquely are, they can be unusually comfortable in their own skins, because their base is real, it is not dependent on others. You see this in Jung, this old man who is deeply who he is, and part of that process was living with the scorn of others, whether it was from the king of the psychological establishment, Freud, or the wider dismissal of him as unscientific and mystical. Lovelock also, as a Leo, has spent much of his life at odds with the establishment.

Jung, incidentally, wasn't very optimistic about the future of mankind, thinking that we might just about 'make it round the corner'. In a sense this isn't that different to Lovelock, though I think Jung was thinking more in terms of nuclear weapons, as his last years coincided with the height of the Cold War.

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Anonym said...

I would not reduce all to the ideas that Lovelock has as I would not reduce all to a series of colder winters that appearently udnermine the Global Warming...

This for basically two main reasons:

First of all, Nature is not logical, it functions dialectically: For example, the heat in the North Atlantic makes waters less cold, **then** the Gulf Stream weakens, **then** cold takes back its force, but not in the preceeding way...

Secondly, Lovelock’s scheme previews this: That a series of colder winters is the signal of the **final** stage of Global Warming, from which mankind will survive but only after a Big, Big Cut... [not a big big cat...]

A last observation. In Lovelock’s views it **won’t be** that Global Warming may become a regular heating which leaves the things in the way we know...
It won’t be so. In his views what will be is that wheather will become more impredictable and prone to sudden changes... Generally warmer but not at all in a regular way!

This point is usually not thought or pondered sufficiently of...

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed this article very much. There's a quality of peace about it even tho on a "dire" subject. joannaoregon

Barry Goddard said...

Anonym, Lovelock was very clear in a recent interview that he thought a billion people at most would survive the coming climate change, and that many would die of starvation. I don't think that sort of certainty is justified.

bb said...

Great post - I'll reread it more carefully. I can relate to the "quality of peace" Joanna references. I wish I could directly e-mail to others this essay? Also appreciated the aside about the aquarian/leo axis which I personally share. bb

Barry Goddard said...

Hi bb, why not just click on the title and send off in your email list the address that appears above:

Or just copy it all and paste it in your email?

Unknown said...

Loved this article. I can't say I agree with any one theory 100% but I do share the overall sense that things are changing and the Earth's cleansing methodologies may be intensely uncomfortable for the human race. I don't really object to it either even if I am one of the ones who gets cleansed. That's just the way it goes. Sun exact opposite Pluto for me and it's taken almost 40 years to come to terms with but that's the upshot for me.

Tem Tarriktar said...

Hi Dharmaruci,
Your comment about wide aspects allowing space for consciousness is right on. Very helpful info! And, yes, the Earth may self-regulate fast, but what is fast for the Earth? A century? We get a flu and our bodies take 4 days or a week to adjust and regulate. I guess the Earth's climate history tells the story of how fast the Earth can adjust. TMA will have an article on Lovelock and his chart in the June issue, at the printers now, written by Bruce Scofield. Thanks for your consistently interesting work.

Kenna J said...

I added Ceres, Pallas, Juno, and Vesta to Jung's chart and found them clustered around the Descendant. Perhaps the Unconscious is really The Other. He calls it the "Collective" Unconscious. Perhaps the Descendant shows us not only our relationships with other individuals but also with the collective Otherness we are surrounded by.

The ruler of his twelfth house, which is Saturn, is in his first house of identity.

His Part of Fortune is in Scorpio in the 9th house, showing that he feels most comfortable delving into the mysteries of larger consciousness.

I guess if the Unconscious is Life itself, then this counts as its being The Other. We would not know that Life exists unless we had Others to point to. [Otherwise, we would simply be living it.]

Barry Goddard said...

Hi Tem,
Thanks for your comments. I agree it could take a long time in human years for the earth to find a new balance. On the other hand... I have a suspicion that the animal and plant kingdoms adapt a lot more quickly when they need to than science allows for, that evolution can happen very quickly, and that complex ecosystems can therefore quickly regulate their environment in a new way as well. I think this because evolution has occurred so quickly.

Barry Goddard said...

And another thing! I reckon animals and plants and humans have a big range of possibility hard-wired into them, built up over millions of years. So there will be big adaptations occurring quickly that will surprise us all. And plenty of extinctions as well.

Philip Levine said...

I am surprised you would not attribute weight to the fact that despite wide orbs, Jung has Pluto almost exactly at the Moon /MC midpoint, theoretically adding much greater strength to the "wide" orbs of their conjunctions.

Ebertin: PL=MO/MC - "A peculiar or strange soul-life"

Barry Goddard said...

Yes, I don't normally look at mid-points.