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Gaia is with us. Onward, fellow holobionts!

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A few days ago, I was discussing with a friend and he used the term "superorganism" for Gaia as the Earth Goddess. When I said that Gaia is not a superorganism but a holobiont, he asked me, "but what is a holobiont, exactly?" I thought about that for a while, and then I said, "a holobiont is a democracy, a superorganism is a dictatorship."If you have a friend who is a biologist, try to tell her that Gaia is a superorganism. Likely, she won't be happy and, even if she won't attack you physically, she will at least ask you, venomously, "And so, tell me, good sir, how could natural selection have generated this -- ahem-- 'Gaia' of yours? You tell me that there is only one Gaia on this planet and so, in order to evolve, did perhaps different planetary ecosystems in the galaxy competed with each other?" I am not inventing this, it is the scathing criticism of the Gaia theory that Richard Dawkins produced in his book, "The Extended Phenotype" (1982).Given a certain interpretation of Darwin's idea, Dawkins' position is logical and even unavoidable. There is just one problem: the current interpretation of Darwin's theory is wrong.Don't misunderstand me: Darwin was one of the greatest scientific geniuses in history. But we need to take into account that he was working on limited data and with limited tools. He himself could never decide exactly between two concepts that he used interchangeably: "natural selection" and "survival of the fittest." They are not the same thing, not exactly at least. If you emphasize the idea of the "survival of the fittest," then you see evolution as a continuous competition among the best in the search for the even better. It is a cutthroat competition, nature in red tooth and claw.But it doesn't have to work that way. An alternative view of evolution takes its inspiration mainly from the work of Lynn Margulis (1938 - 2011). In brief, the unit of evolution is not the organism (at least, not only the organism) but the holobiont. And evolution is. . .

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