Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Scientists Debate GaiaThe Next Century$
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content.

Stephen H. Schneider, James R. Miller, Eileen Crist, and Penelope J. Boston

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780262194983

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: August 2013

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262194983.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM MIT PRESS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.mitpress.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright The MIT Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in MITSO for personal use.date: 02 August 2021



Toward a Thermodynamics of Life

(p.45) 4 Gaia
Scientists Debate Gaia

Eric D. Schneider

The MIT Press

This chapter sheds light on an important connecting principle of nature, one which helps explain processes as different as boiling pots of highly organized fluids, hurricanes, pulsating chemical clocks, the origin of life, the development of ecosystems, the direction of evolution, and Gaia itself. In retrospect all these systems are held together by a simple concept drawn from the famous second law of thermodynamics. This simple concept is “nature abhors a gradient.” With this intelligible but contemporary view of thermodynamics, one sees all of life as a thermodynamic dissipative entity residing at some distance from equilibrium, sustained by the ability to degrade energy gradients. The Gaian global ecosystem is involved in tapping the gradient between the hot sun and frigid outer space. Living systems are the result of energy processes which, while building higher complexity locally, are at the same time exporting lower quality energy beyond the confines of the evolving system.

Keywords:   connecting principle of nature, direction of evolution, Gaia, second law of thermodynamics, equilibrium, energy gradients, Gaian global ecosystem

MIT Press Scholarship Online requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books within the service. Public users can however freely search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter.

Please, subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you think you should have access to this title, please contact your librarian.

To troubleshoot, please check our FAQs, and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us.