Can a Planet Have a Mind of Its Own?


“We don’t yet have the ability to communally respond in the best interests of the planet. There is intelligence on Earth, but there isn’t planetary intelligence.”

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?

These are questions posed by Adam Frank, the Helen F. and Fred H. Gowen Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Rochester, and his colleagues David Grinspoon at the Planetary Science Institute and Sara Walker at Arizona State University, in a paper published in the International Journal of Astrobiology. Their self-described “thought experiment” combines current scientific understanding about the Earth with broader questions about how life alters a planet. In the paper, the researchers discuss what they call “planetary intelligence”—the idea of cognitive activity operating on a planetary scale—to raise new ideas about the ways in which humans might tackle global issues such as climate change.

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