James Lovelock

James Lovelock died recently at 103. He was a  hero of mine, famous of course for his Gaia Theory which sees the earth as a complex living organism and a list of hundreds of patented inventions - including the microwave oven. He was writing books up to the end where he managed to enrage the greens by espousing (rightly) nuclear power as the only realistic antidote to the clear and present danger of carbon in the atmosphere. 

I was lucky enough to meet him once, after he had been in a stage conversation with John Gray - a great friend of his and a pessimistic philosopher. Lovelock was the opposite, a charming, smiling optimist who seemed to grab life with an infectious energy. I asked him how he could be so optimistic in the face of so much existential gloom and he gave  a wonderful answer.

Despite the fact that the universe is unimaginably huge, he said, as far we can possibly know, we are the only thing in the universe that is looking at it, knowing how it started and how it might end. He felt it to be an astonishing privilege and piece of luck that he happened to be around at the precise moment that the universe became intelligent.

What a great thought.


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