Unlocking Lovelock: Scientist, Inventor, Maverick

Photo: Maria Moraes Robinson

Photo: Maria Moraes Robinson

While Maria and I were in London earlier this month we had the opportunity to spend the day at the British Science Museum. As well as the usual excellent exhibits, we were lucky to catch the Unlocking Lovelock exhibition, dedicated to one of Britain’s most diverse and unconventional scientists, James Lovelock.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

I know many readers of Transition Consciousness will already be deeply familiar with the work of Lovelock, especially Gaia Theory and the Gaia hypothesis he developed in partnership with the late Lynn Margulis. His career of over 70 years has spanned medicine, chemistry, chromatography, geophysiology and scientific instrumentation. The Gaia hypothesis itself would lead to the development of a new scientific discipline, Earth System Science.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

In this article I thought I would show you a few photos from the exhibition, especially as there were many rare items from the Lovelock archive. As one poster mentioned, there are still many more documents to be uncovered.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

Goblin in the Gasworks was written in 1935, and was published in Lovelock’s school magazine. The main character saves the day through the application of science.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

At Christmas 1940, as a chemistry student in Manchester, Lovelock was strapped for cash, so he drew Christmas cards, which are shown above.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

These are National Institute for Medical Research notebooks from 1948, which described Lovelock’s experiments with handkerchiefs in order to explore how we catch colds.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

This aparatus was built to test if a detector would work on Mars. In the 1960s Lovelock worked on NASA’s Viking mission to Mars, and built this device in his kitchen. The detector is inside the jar and air is removed to replicate the atmospheric pressure on Mars.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

Lovelock published over 90 scientific papers between 1942 and 1964. His job at the National Institute of Medical Research required him to learn about many different subjects in order to help him solve a wide variety of problems.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

This is Lovelock’s gas chromatograph from c. 1971, which he decided to build rather than purchase an expensive one. Air samples were inserted into the top left part of the apparatus, the gases which are then separated in the coil before being measured in the electron capture detector held in the clamp.

Lovelock

Photo: Simon Robinson

In 1972, when Lovelock first proposed this in the form of his Gaia hypothesis, he faced a widespread and hostile rejection. Lovelock then went on to develop the hypothesis with the help of both Lynn Margulis and an ingenious, yet simple, mathematic model, which he called ‘Daisyworld’.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

Lovelock’s primary insight, which departed strongly from the prevailing mainstream view, was not that non-biological processes were in control of the Earth, but that living systems were in fact tightly coupled with non-living systems. This means that the conditions for life on Earth are an emergent property of the entire set of processes, that is, the complex processes which occur between organisms, the atmosphere, rocks and water. Lovelock’s theory suggests that the Earth is one single organism, of which we are parts. It is a truly dynamical, holistic and non-hierarchical view of the biosphere.

Reference: Simon Robinson and Maria Moraes Robinson (2014) Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter

Lovelock

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

Daisyworld was important, since it became the basis for developing far more sophisticated models of Gaia, such as the long-term climate prediction models of the Hadley Centre in the UK. Harding has developed Daisyworld further in partnership with Lovelock, exploring the question whether or not complex ecosystems are better able to survive and recover from disturbances than less connected and more simple ones. This is now a vital debate, as huge global corporations move over to highly unnatural systems of monoculture, where crops are now seemingly less able to cope with insect outbreaks in tropical countries.

Reference: Simon Robinson and Maria Moraes Robinson (2014) Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter

Unlocking Lovelock provides a unique insight into the life of this extraordinary man and illustrates the enormous value of archives as a resource for future research and runs until April 2015.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

Related Articles

How James Lovelock introduced Gaia to an unsuspecting world

Science, Intuition and Gaia: Stephan Harding’s Animate Earth, 2nd Edition

One response to “Unlocking Lovelock: Scientist, Inventor, Maverick

  1. Pingback: A Short Tour Through the British Science Museum and a Deep Walk Through Time | Transition Consciousness·

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s