Earth’s holy fool
In the mid-1960s, Lovelock returned to the somewhat isolated village in the south of England, where he lived, undisturbed, with his family. Here he talked things over with his one close friend, the novelist William Golding, a man who likewise sought solitude, especially since the success of his first novel, The Lord of the Flies (1954). It was Golding who gave a name to Lovelock’s insight, suggesting that it be called Gaia, after the ancient Greek goddess of Earth. But Golding did more than just give the idea a name. For the next few years, as Lovelock extended his thinking on the subject, Golding encouraged and helped the scientist to explore his hypothesis. This came naturally. Since his youth, Golding had been an enthusiast for the thinking of the polymath and mystic Rudolf Steiner. Steiner, who is best known today as the founder of the Waldorf (or Steiner) school system, which emphasises the role of the imagination in learning, had some very odd ideas (many derived from the theosophists) about heavenly spirits and reincarnation, all bound up with an idealistic philosophy that sees life throbbing everywhere. Hence, absolutely central to Steiner’s thought, was the view that Earth is living, it is an organism.
Lovelock did send one of his sons to a Steiner school, apparently without embracing the metaphysics of the Steiner system. Nonetheless, in Golding he found a sympathetic listener who was, in any case, primed, from his longstanding interest in Steiner’s philosophy, to hear that Earth was a living thing.