The Project

Gaian Systems is a research project to cultivate new forms and practices of planetary cognition. We curate and develop emotionally powerful and intellectually stimulating artworks to catalyze humanity’s recognition of its embeddedness within a living planet.

The project is a growing collaboration across the arts, sciences, and humanities, initiated by Bruce Clarke, the 2018-2019 Library of Congress Chair of Astrobiology, and David McConville and Dawn Danby of Spherical.

Extending conservationist Aldo Leopold’s appeal at mid-twentieth century to “think like a mountain,” iconic photographs of Earth from space have catalyzed a higher need to understand interconnected ecosystems at a planetary scale.

What does it mean to think like a living planet?

Thinking is a form of cognition, but cognition also occurs both above and below the level of thought. Cognitive processes connect human and nonhuman bodies and minds to the planet where they live.

Planetary cognition also means sensing like a planet, suffering like a planet, responding like a planet. Over and above every living system on Earth is a wider consortium of systemic processes--the living planet, or Gaia, or the supraorganism--coupling the geosphere and the biosphere together. Humanity and its expanding technosphere have their being within this unique place of residence alongside other forms of life and their geological workings.

The goal of the Gaian Systems Lab is to develop immersive environments that produce the recognition of our embeddedness within a living planet. Our aim is to communicate the feeling and the knowledge of humanity’s participation within Earth’s supraorganic processes.  

The Gaian Systems lab explores sensory-immersive and conceptual-speculative ways of grasping 

·      our participation in planetary systems, through the lens of Gaia Theory
·      our embeddedness in a living planet
·      our part in enhancing the viability of the planetary supraorganism

The Gaian Systems lab is the foundation for an ongoing project to experiment on effective ways to foster comprehensive and compelling appreciation for the wellbeing of planetary processes. It will house research and practice on reorienting our view of Earth from a collection of exploitable resources to a systemic complex of dynamic and interconnected processes. Using media technologies to integrate immersive art, planetary science, and digital humanities within popular culture, we aim to enhance humanity's sense of its planetary place and bond. 

As the 2018-2019 Chair of Astrobiology, Bruce Clarke will be doing research and public outreach on the ecological roots of astrobiology and its relations to the scientific and cultural origins and development of Gaia theory.

The Gaia concept is a legitimate child of NASA science. Exobiology at NASA is intertwined with James Lovelock’s early cultivation of the Gaia hypothesis while employed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and with Lynn Margulis's NASA-sponsored research on the origin and early evolution of life on Earth.

Subsequent scientific and social histories here separated into mainstream and countercultural lines, into astrobiological research on the interconnectedness of Earth and life on the one hand, and into the Whole Earth movement on the other. Our job now is to bring these two equally significant lines of development back under a comprehensive view. Expanding our field of vision in this way will perfect our understanding regarding the Apollo and Viking space programs’ profound effects on the wider culture.

The Whole Earth Catalog and its progeny as well as Gaia theory express a space-oriented American-sited technoculture of systems thinking. The course of Gaia theory from cybernetic hypothesis to Earth system science can illuminate both the scientific and the wider cultural resonances of astrobiology.

Spherical
is an integrative research and design strategy studio based in Oakland, California. We develop tools and techniques for reimagining and regenerating the health and integrity of Earth’s living systems.