Can this question be answered? It is obvious, some people might say: A planet! Look more closely, I would answer…
Maybe it is easier to start with, what Earth is not: It is certainly not an empire. There is no ruler on top, not a single organism or group of organisms. Although it seems to be a favorite comment in documentaries about nature to attribute “ruling the planet” to one or the other species… And there is this nagging issue, that we (western) humans try to rule it anyway since at least 300 years.
There are basically three answers, what Earth is:
- A bunch of rocks, liquids and gases with a layer of biological machines on top.
- An interconnected system.
- A living entity.
The world view behind answer 1 is an outdated one, originating in the 16th-17th century. As a scientifically educated person at least one has to acknowledge, that all the components (rocks, liquids, gases…) have connections with each other, processes that form the surface of Earth and the biological organisms. So, you’ll arrive at answer 2. The great discovery of James Lovelock was, that this system regulates itself to favor conditions for life, and he called it Gaia hypothesis. Later, it became accepted as Gaia theory, as more connections were discovered and feedback loops of the system could be demonstrated in computer models.
But how does one arrive at answer 3? James Lovelock made the connection from 2 to 3 by using the name of the ancient Greek goddess Gaia for his hypothesis. This was a suggestion by a poet and it gave Lovelock a hard time to be accepted with his findings among scientists at first. To arrive at answer 3 one has to ask: “What is life?” and draw the connection to him- or herself. It is the same, as to ask “Who/What am I?”. This question lies at the basis of spirituality, looking into oneself for answers – something science has prohibited by definition since its creation by emancipation from the Christian church and from older world views about 300 years ago. I argue, that it is now high time to bring rationality and feeling back together and create a science with heart! When you look into yourself and ask “What is life?”, you will have to ask also “What is death?” at some point. Probably you will not conclude, that you are dead… And finally, you might arrive at the conclusion, that Earth is not so much different from yourself: Living beauty!
So, is Earth an entity? The same way, as we are entities: I don’t know. The differences are only gradual. I only know, that I love this planet with all my heart and want to see it as rich and beautiful as possible!