“I hold that there is but one single interwoven web of life”
Kit Pedler (1927-1981) was a scientist and author who described nature and the cosmos as a living organic entity and warned against the “emergent robot state” of modern industrial society.
Pedler’s book The Quest for Gaia: A Book of Changes, first published in 1979, is more coherent and radical than the much-publicised work of pro-capitalist Gaia theorist James Lovelock.
Here Pedler wrote that it had taken him all of his life “to realize that the single great obstacle in the way of survival and an extended human vision is the industrial society itself, and its expropriation and suppression of the most sensitive and creative qualities of the mind”. (1)
If states failed to take the action necessary to see off this threat, he said, “then it follows that violent revolution must take place, since there is no other way of changing the situation”. (2)
Like them, he was clear which kind of scientific approach he favoured. He wrote: “Scientists who try to take nature to bits … and claim in the end that they will understand the whole of nature because they understand all of its parts are called ‘reductionists’.
“Scientists who have taken nature to bits and then claim that their study of the parts reveals a whole which is greater than the sum of the parts are called ‘holists”. (3)
Pedler compared the communication and interaction between living creatures to that between the cells, organs and systems of a human body: “In the body, for example, each organ has a particular function within the whole. The kidney has the function of removing waste from the blood, and it is supported by the physiological activities of the rest of the body. It is not, in the absence of disease, attacked by the other body systems, it is supplied with a suitable milieu for its function.
“Similarly, in the ecosphere, the species to some extent protect each other by creating mutually suitable conditions. Obviously, there is competition and predation as well, but mutual aid and mutual provision underlies the whole”. (4)
Pedler explained that he used the name Gaia to convey the idea that “the entire living pelt of our planet, its thin green rind of life, is actually one single life-form with senses, intelligence and the power to act”. (5)
He added: “Stretching from man to the worm, from the fishes of the abyss to the yoghurt bacterium, and from the moulds of decay to the birds riding the sky, I hold that there is but one single interwoven web of life and that our own kind was, until recently, an integral part of this single magnificent entity”. (6)
He described how his view of his own existence had changed completely from the moment he realised the universe was “a swirling mass of atoms” of which we formed just a tiny part.
“From this time on, it has been impossible for me to maintain the idea that my skin limits my individuality. My body only allows my thoughts to move about, my hands to make things and my senses and experience to travel the planet I live on. But as I move, the matter of the universe moves through me as easily as the wind through the branches of trees”. (7)
Pedler also provided an explanation of how he envisaged this collective belonging. Individual people were obviously physically separated, in their bodies, from each other and the rest of nature, he said.
But we had to imagine the texture of life as a kind of flexible sheet: “All plants, animals and humans emerge from the sheet as if someone had pushed a finger against the reverse side and made it bulge. The bulge becomes a sphere with a thin neck still attached. Then the neck becomes almost infinitely thin and the now individual life in the sphere is born and free for just a lifetime”. (8)
At death, this sphere contracted down on to the surface of the sheet, flattened and flowed out again into the whole until there was finally no trace of its previous existence.
This process was going on in both directions, millions and millions of times every second as the life process ebbed and flowed, said Pedler. Individuality was therefore a temporary separation from the fabric of the universal life process.
He wrote: “A tree is an extension of the earth. A tree is part of the sun, because the rays of the sun are its life. A tree does not end at its roots. It is an organ of Gaia. The tree is Gaia and Gaia is the tree. It is living earth. A man is not a man, he is an extension of the earth.
“A man and a woman are part of the sun because the rays of the sun are their life. A tree, a man and a woman are the same because they are an extension of the earth. When they are alive, they are together because they are the same. When they die they go on together, because they are still the same”. (9)
Pedler also wrote science fiction and became the unofficial scientific adviser to the Doctor Who TV series in the 1960s.
The “Cybermen” were created as a fictional warning of the very real threat posed by industrial technology, as identified by Pedler in The Quest for Gaia.
He explained: “We now have an emergent robot state, which I have called the cybernarchy. It is as if a new mega-individual has evolved somewhere in the gap between political leaders and people, and it is pursuing a course of self-perpetuation regardless of any other consideration. This mega-individual is a feltwork of flesh and micro-chips, looking after itself at the expense of people”. (10)
Although this cynernarchy could be regarded as a kind of organic entity, it was very much of the cancerous variety, he said.
“In much the same way as the malignant cells of cancer invade and destroy the normal tissue of the body, so do the affairs and processes of the toymaker technocrats invade and destroy the balanced and stable earth organism”. (11)
He warned: “I have used the myth of the goddess Gaia to express the idea that we are an integral part of a single, intelligent life-form which acts like an individual. I have tried to show how it is that we can never separate ourselves from this life-form, despite our delusions of dominance and control, because should we succeed in doing so, we would be committing an irreversible act of mass suicide: as if an arm tried to exist separately from the body”. (12)
Pedler regarded the trappings of modern existence, from cars to washing machines, as barriers between contemporary humans and our true identity as part of the natural whole: “They are symbols of despair and failure: surrogates for achievement, which encourage us to live on the outside of our senses and actually diminish the quality of life”. (13)
1. Kit Pedler, The Quest for Gaia: A Book of Changes (London: Granada, 1981), p. 220.
2. Pedler, The Quest for Gaia, p. 190.
3. Kit Pedler, Mind Over Matter (London: Thames Methuen, 1981), p. 11.
4. Pedler, The Quest for Gaia, p. 163.
5. Pedler, The Quest for Gaia, p. 13.
7. Pedler, The Quest for Gaia, p. 219.
8. Pedler, The Quest for Gaia, pp. 39-40.
9. Pedler, The Quest for Gaia, p. 198.
10. Pedler, The Quest for Gaia, p. 192.
11. Pedler, The Quest for Gaia, p. 19.
12. Pedler, The Quest for Gaia, p. 161.
13. Pedler, The Quest for Gaia, p. 68.