We All Belong to the Biosphere
Four Clarifying Lenses
How is all life inter-connected?
"Biosphere" means sphere of life (bios). Biosphere means the blanket of living organisms that envelops Earth, and all the places life has made its own, from the roots of ocean trenches, to bacteria living 1/2 mile deep in the continental crust, to spiderlings sailing at 30,000 feet into the atmosphere.
Four Clarifying Lenses
The Biosphere is one enormous whole, but it is incredibly complex, as life is.
Here are some definitions:
The biosphere is the part of the Earth, including air, land, surface rocks, and water, within which life occurs, and which biotic processes in turn alter or transform.
The biosphere is the total sum of the ecosystems of Earth, which includes not only the biota, but all of their relationships--the web or network of life, the Life Community.
The geologist who in 1875 coined the word biosphere, Eduard Suess, defined it as "the place on Earth's surface where life dwells."
Biosphere is certainly place, but biosphere means much more than the stage where life performs its dramas.
Biosphere also include biotic processes, which alter and transform the physical planet. For example, ocean life has created much of the surface rock of Earth's ontinental crust. For example, cyanobacteria created the oxygen atmosphere we breathe. The biosphere helps create the stage where life performs.
The biosphere is the total sum of the ecosystems of Earth, which includes not only the biota, but all of their relationships--the web or network of life, the play and all its dialog and interactions, the Life Community.
So what is the Biosphere? It has at least three aspects: It is Place, it is Process, it is Community. But there is more.
Some thinkers have suggested that human thought will culminate in a sphere of mind, the noosphere. Theologian Teilhard de Chardin thought that history and evolution pointed toward a culminating Omega Point, created by the massed, integrated human mind as noosphere. The great Russian scientist Vernadsky thought similarly. Arthur Clarke explored this idea in Childhood's End.
This concept of noosphere is completely human-centered, and depends less on religion than on the humanist concept of progress--that the human being is perfectible on Earth, all evidence to the contrary. It also depends on the notion that the more recently a species evolved, the "higher" it is, which is chauvinistic nonsense. But intuition was on to something.
When humans have opportunity to be immersed in nature, over time, and become intimate with the processes of other lives, as we watch a falcon break out of the egg, or watch the exuberance of adult horses playing in snow, our intuition and awareness wakes again to a shared life Spirit.
Our science demands that we ignore such intangibles as spirit. Spirit can't be quantified; its evidence cannot be tested. We are told to leave such things to the artists. Just as well.
In a sense, we humans are the part of the biosphere that can perceive the biosphere; we are the part of Earth that is able to look at itself, as in a mirror. This brings us back to the arts, which are traditionally defined as mirroring or imitating nature. Art is Earth expressing its spirit, through its portion called human.
All this suggests four lenses through which to look at the biosphere, or four paths toward exploring the biosphere: Place, Process, Community, and Spirit.
|How is All Life Interconnected?
All lives share a common origin:
we are all made of Earth, and share and recycle the same life-materials
We who live now share a common ancestry. We are all descendants of procaryote microorganisms.
We all depend on sunlight energy; plants and algae (autotrophs) capture it with photosynthesis, and we others (hererotrophs) transfer it from life to life by feeding.(The exception is minor, a few chemosynthetic oases in the deep ocean.)
We all (except for, recently, humans ) live in natural communities, or ecosystems, which have mutually evolved with the biosphere as a whole.
Everything alive is part of Earth, a portion of Earth that learned to be alive.
Every atom of your body was taken into you by eating and drinking and breathing atoms of earth. Your flesh is made of earth. This statement says nothing about your spirit or soul. We don't talk about this earth-body much; we tend to only refer to it at funerals. "May you return to the One who made you from the dust of the earth" is part of the Catholic ceremony. Another reference is also from Christian funeral ceremonies. "Dust you are, to dust shalt thou return." We sometimes think of ourselves as passengers on Spaceship Earth. Not so. We are literally a portion of the Earth. Humanity is a process of the Biosphere.
Before Earth was formed almost 5 billion years ago, a star exploded. The explosion formed a cloud (nebula) of all the star's matter in the forms of gas and dust. This matter was gradually clumped together by the pull of gravity and eventually condensed into the sun and the planets. One planet was Earth, which began as a burning ball of rock which very slowly condensed from nebula stardust.
Space is cold, so the outer surface of Earth cooled and formed a thin crust of rock which floated on the hot liquid rock inside, like a 'skin' on cocoa.
Almost everything that was on Earth then is still here now.But not all life-materials are available to life indefinitely.
Recent science has demonstrated that subduction of tectonic plates on the ocean floor creates a large loss of water into the molten mantle. Very recent science (1980s and 90s) has also discovered that every day many tons of water enter our atmosphere as small comets plunge into Earth's gravity well. So the water lost to the biosphere by subduction (still on the planet, but inaccessible) is replenished by small comets from the Oort belt surrounding the solar system. These ice comets were formed as the solar system formed.
Every atom in the human body was created in the explosion of that ancient dying star. Every atom of every animal and every plant (and every rock, and on and on) was created in that explosion. We are made of stardust that transformed into life.
The system of life on earth has been using the same atoms of earth's crust and earth's atmosphere over and over and over since life began. Every organism alive on earth today is made of parts that have been re-cycled for billions of years.
Think of Life as a Whole, a seethe of uncountable atoms flourishing in the oceans, on land, and in the air. Out of this seethe rise living organisms which live for a time and then sink, dissolving back into the whole.
The atoms in our bodies have been everywhere already; they have been circulating around earth a long time. Some of your atoms were parts of dinosaurs. Some molecules of you have already flowed down every river on earth, for you are over 60% water. Some of your water molecules arrived more recently from space.
Many atoms circulate quickly between plants and animals. Parts of your body were parts of plants only days and weeks ago. Your own exhaled breath will become part of a nearby tree.
Everything alive on Earth shares the same life-materials, which are used over and over again.
Our bodies are entirely recycled. We are all "100% post-consumer content." We are all connected. We depend on each other in many ways.
top of page
Explore Further in Biosphere