IAS-Research Talk by Bruce Clarke (Texas Tech University) “Planetary Intelligence: A Gaian Critique”


On Thursday the 1st December 2022, 16h-18h, Biblioteka Carlos Santamaría, Room 8.
This talk will be part of the two-day seminar “Gaia and Philosophy”, organised by the Outonomy project. See full program and registration form here.


Gaia now confronts us with states of operation and response that threaten long-term habitability for many species. Authored by a strong team of accomplished scholars—astrophysicist Adam Frank, planetary scientist David Grinspoon, and astrobiologist Sara Walker—the recent article “Intelligence as a Planetary Scale Process” probes ideas concerning a viable planetary integration of the technosphere with the biosphere. However, to my mind, the concept of intelligence comes up short in their efforts to integrate planetary biology and technological society. The authors inherit conceptual problems rooted in early SETI discourse, which centers the search for extraterrestrial intelligence on obsolete notions of technological advancement. Also, the discourse of intelligence is not well suited to the dialects of systems theory toward which they turn their enquiry. Their description of planetary intelligence wavers between a control regime and an autonomous process. Moreover, while bringing the idea of planetary intelligence toward the discourse of autopoiesis is a promising move, in this instance it leads to an equivocal blurring of the concept of cognition. Intelligent awareness is certainly one form cognition can take, but cognition also occurs both above and below the level of thought. As I hope to explain in some detail, the conceptual strains of “Intelligence as a Planetary Scale Process” indicate that the preferable, properly Gaian formulation is planetary cognition, a theoretical framing that embeds the technosphere within its biospheric conditions of possibility.


Bruce Clarke, Gaian Systems: Lynn Margulis, Neocybernetics, and the End of the Anthropocene (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2020).

Ezequiel A. Di Paolo, “Overcoming Autopoiesis: An Enactive Detour on the Way from Life to Society,” in Advanced Series in Management, eds. R. Magalhães and R. Sanchez (Bingley: Emerald Group, 2010), 43-68.

Adam Frank, David Grinspoon, and Sara Walker, “Intelligence as a Planetary Scale Process” International Journal of Astrobiology 21 (2022): 47–61.

David Grinspoon, Earth in Human Hands: Shaping Our Planet’s Future (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2016).

Chris Otter, “Socializing the Technosphere,” Technology and Culture 63:4 (2022): 953–78.

I. S. Shklovskii and Carl Sagan, Intelligent Life in the Universe (San Francisco: Holden-Day, 1966)

Workshop: Outonomy – Fleshing out autonomy beyond the individual, 22-24 June

The research project ‘Outonomy: Fleshing out autonomy beyond the individual’ is holding an international workshop in Donostia between the 22nd and the 24th of June. We are pleased to have Dr. William Bechtel and Dr. Glenda Satne as keynote speakers, and 20 communications by international researchers covering a wide range of relevant topics for the project. You can find the full information of the workshop, including the program and book of abstracts, in the outonomy.net website.