Choosing the name of my new blog was a problem I worked on for some time. I wanted to stay within my domain, forthescience.org, and I wanted the blog to be mostly about simple living, outdoor activities, beekeeping, and so on, while maintaining a scientific approach to the presentation of these topics. I therefore needed a central theme embracing their broad spectrum.
As humans, we are just the latest gimmick in a big show started billions of years ago. Many species have come and gone during this time, and many more will in the future. We humans have apparently little control on the complexity of our environment, exactly because this complexity emerges from an extremely large set of interactions and feedbacks we have little knowledge or control on. Additionally, these interactions can be extremely non-linear, meaning that they may either resist to changes, or run off wildly for even small perturbations of the dependent factors.
I first heard about the Gaia hypothesis when I was 13, in a PC game called SimEarth. The central idea is that the planet Earth is what can be considered as a self-regulating “superorganism” given by the dependencies among biota (plants, animals, bacteria, fungi, algae) and the inorganic environment in which they live (atmosphere composition, temperature, water level and acidity). This hypothesis, developed mainly by James Lovelock in the 70s, found more and more supporting evidence, and it triggered a better understanding of the complexity of the Earth system. Experiments such as Biosphere 2 made rather clear how a stable, self-sustaining system is hard to establish, and how many subtle interactions are hidden and unexpected. This network of interactions, on a global scale, is what Lovelock calls “Gaia”.
I must admit I read very little of Lovelock, and of what I read, I don’t fully agree with some of his personal opinions, in particular about the importance of computational modeling and the actions that one can take, yet the point of Gaia as a complex system of interactions is well established, factual and verified by experiments both on the field and in computational models.
That said, I decided to explore a very small subsystem of these interactions at a personal level: bees are important pollinators, producers of useful substances such as honey, wax, and propolis, but also allowing plants to reproduce; propolis and wax are used in woodworking, another dreamy interest of mine (dreamy because I lack the tools and the space); growing an extremely tiny but pleasant part of my diet is a rewarding and relaxing activity, where I learned the importance of soil characteristics, the different chemical and physical requirements for different species of plants, techniques such as hydroponics and aquaponics, mushroom growing, and integrated cultivars to take advantage of dependencies among species and improve production. I took great interest in Jared Diamond’s Collapse, and its reporting of Tikopia as a long established self-sustained islet in the pacific.
Keeping bees, growing plants, building gardens, working wood are difficult tasks that require knowledge of biology, mathematics, chemistry and physics, in addition to artistic and practical skills. This blog aims at exploring some of these topics, disentangling a tiny section of the interactions’ snarl for fun and cultural profit.