The Medea Hypothesis: All Life is Suicidal
If you really look at the history of life on this planet, you see a lot of biologically-produced catastrophes. Where do they come from? From life itself.
Peter Ward has been active in Paleontology, Biology, and more recently, Astrobiology for more than 40 years. Since his Ph.D. in 1976, Ward has published more than 140 scientific papers dealing with paleontological, zoological, and astronomical topics.
He is an acknowledged world expert on mass extinctions and the role of extraterrestrial impacts on Earth. Ward was the Principal Investigator of the University of Washington node of the NASA Astrobiology Institute from 2001-2006, and in that capacity led a team of over 40 scientists and students. His career was profiled by the Pulitzer Prize winning reporter William Dietrich in The Seattle Times article "Prophet, Populist, Poet of Science."
Peter has written a memoir of his research on the Nautilus for Nautilus magazine's "Ingenious" feature entitled "Nautilus and me. My wonderful, dangerous life with the amazing Nautilus."
His books include the best-selling "Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe" (co-author Donald Brownlee, 2000), "Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Can Tell Us About Our Future" (2007), and "The Medea Hypothesis: Is Life on Earth Ultimately Self-Destructive?" (2009).
I think all life is suicidal. I thought up something tongue-in-cheek I call the Medea Hypothesis. Medea, Jason’s wife, was probably the worst mother in Greek History. She murdered her children because of Jason’s infidelities. Jason was probably not very good at anything, apparently, except making women fall in love with him. He was good at that.
He wasn’t much of a captain, he wasn’t a fighter. The Gaia Hypothesis suggests that Mother Gaia, who is the Greek Mother, will sustain life, keeps life going. The kernel of that hypothesis is that life makes the world better for itself. Through the regulation of a number of systems, life is increasing habitability. It’s kind of like the scenario in which I’m at a hotel before I leave I paint the walls and I put in a better stereo system, or something. I’m making the place better for having been there.
That’s really what the Gaia Hypothesis suggests, whereas, if you really look at the history of life on this planet, you see a lot of biologically-produced catastrophes. And that’s really what Medea is suggesting, that life is the global warming that starts the process, but the killing comes from the hydrogen sulfide, and where does that come from? That comes from microbes, from life itself. So, life is the bullet if the gun itself is the volcano.
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