This dissertation project examines biological visions of technology in earth science, paying particular attention to how it has altered beliefs and caused changes to the accepted explanations of how nature works and mankind’s relationship to it.

In recent decades, the concern for this relationship has become more and more critical, not the least for the earth sciences, where we have been able to witness a turn toward holistic and multi-scale modeling – the prominence of Earth system science constitutes perhaps the most manifest example of this trend. In a time of accelerating environmental change across the globe, the notion of an Earth system has become an influential part of the debate on the evolution of human society and our dwelling on this planet. Although the Earth system has emerged out of highly specialized disciplines such as chemical oceanography and atmospheric chemistry, the recognition that bio-geo-chemical interactions may be significant goes back several hundred years. Some of the earliest work in the study of biogeochemical cycles and their role in the physical functioning of the planet goes as far back as to the 18th century Scottish geologist and physician James Hutton, who conceived of the Earth as a superorganism, which according to him meant that its proper discipline should be physiology, i.e. to study the planet as a living system.

The dissertation argues that the prevalence of biological visions of technology in the earth sciences be understood at the juncture of the metaphysical concerns of natural philosophy and the methodological concerns of natural science, invoked in order to meet the demand for a systematic understanding of the Earth in the face of a growing recognition of the interconnectedness of nature, i.e. in order to describe geological processes whose causal nature is characterized by persistent interaction, so that no single thing or activity can be regarded in complete isolation – including the observer herself, in her ongoing geological participation. Such a self-referential concern, on part of the earth sciences, required an explanation of causality beyond the efficient causes of mechanical philosophy, not only encouraging, but in some sense even calling for an “organic” vision of technology.
Project Leader: Daniel Andersson
Participants: Daniel Andersson, Department of Thematic Studies – Technology and Social Change, Linköping university
Start 1 September 2015
End 31 August 2020
Funding Structure: The Seed Box funds the PhD project to the equivalent of 4 years full time.