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The Emergence of Planetary Intelligence: An Astrobiological Perspective on the Human Chapter of Earth History

Lecture by ICE Fellow David Grinspoon

Wilder 104, Dartmouth College
A powerful new dynamic is remaking Earth. Human activities have become a geological force, creating a moment in planetary history fraught with peril, but also perhaps rich with potential. Never before has a geological force become aware of its own influence. David Grinspoon proposes that the “Anthropocene” could mark more than an Epoch boundary, as has been proposed, but the start of Earth’s fifth Eon, the “Sapiezoic.” The advent of self-aware cognitive/geological processes as a component of planetary systems is potentially as significant as the other three Eon boundaries in Earth’s past, each of which represented a major shift in relationship between life and the planet. This puts our immediate challenges over the next century (stabilizing population and devising an energy system that can provide for the needs of this population without wrecking the natural systems upon which we depend) against the backdrop of an even larger challenge: becoming a long-term stabilizing factor on the planet, with our technological activities well-integrated into the physical and biogeochemical cycles of Earth. This would require deep understanding of nature, including self-understanding. It would require both technical and spiritual progress. In this talk, David will put the current human-dominated phase of our planet’s life into a broader context, juxtaposed against previous geological eras in Earth’s history, as well as what’s known from studying changes on other planets. The goal is to better understand the essence of our current moment in geological time and what it means for intelligent life in the universe and for the future of our civilization.