Daisyworld Is A Hypothetical Model Philosophy

Essay add: 28-10-2015, 13:50   /   Views: 1 251

Topic Selected: The advantages and shortcomings of Daisyworld as an analogue for the real earth system. The aim of this paper is to try and establish whether Daisyworld is an appropriate model of the real earth system, to analyse the debate between academics and in turn to discern whether any part of Daisyworld and indeed Gaia hold any merit.

Background :

Daisyworld is a hypothetical model without the presence of greenhouse gases or an atmosphere. Originally consisted of two types of daises - white reflecting light and black absorbing light. Later models introduced additional factors into the environment such as foxes, rabbits and other species. The main purpose of the Daisyworld system was to illustrate the credibility of the Gaia Hypothesis. This proposes all organisms and their surroundings are interconnected to each other, creating a single, regulated system maintaining conditions for life .

The original Daisyworld system was criticised for being both a rigid and narrow focused system. Since then Daisyworld has been reassessed, evolving into a more complex comprehensive system. Instead of the two fixed daisy species, many additional species were introduced including herbivores and carnivores through three tropic levels.(Lovelock,2009)


Daisyworld demonstrates a simple analogue system, explaining the basic principle of Gaia and how every process has an action or reaction (couplings).

Although Daisyworld can be perceived as lacking evidential support, the daisies show symbiosis with their environment, if one species diminishes and is unable to survive with the environment changes, another species can thrive taking its place or 'niche'.

These components within the Daisyworld model can be seen in the Earth system, however Daisyworld is often dismissed as a too simplified representation of natural selection.

In response to criticism, Lovelock's paper 'A numerical model of biodiversity' further expands his model by allowing the organism to mutate spontaneously. Lovelock states that both his paper and work conducted by Tim Lenton and Stephan Hardling back this theory and this more comprehensive system goes towards explaining the relationship between biodiversity and planet regulation. (Lovelock,1992)

Furthermore within "The vanishing face of Gaia" Lovelock outlines at least ten predictions proposed preceding the inital formation of Gaia theory, of which eight of them have been confirmed or accepted.


Mars is lifeless (1968)

Atmospheric compositional evidence shows lack of disequilibrium

Strong confirmation, Viking mission 1975

That elements are transferred from ocean to land by biogenic gases (1971)

Search for oceanic sources of dimethyl sulphide and methyl iodide

Found 1973

Climate regulation through biologically enhanced rock weathering (1973)

Analysis of ice‐core data linking temperature and CO2 abundance

Confirmed 2008, by Zeebe and Caldeira

That Gaia is aged and is not far from the end of its lifespan (1982)

Calculation based on generally accepted solar evolution

Generally accepted

Climate regulation through cloud albedo control linked to algal gas emissions (1987)

Many tests have been made but the excess of pollution interferes

Probable for southern hemisphere

Oxygen has not varied by more than 5 per cent from 21 per cent for the past 200 million years (1974)

Ice‐core and sedimentary analysis

Confirmed for up to 1 million years ago

Boreal and tropical forest are part of global climate regulation

Models and direct observation

Generally accepted

Biodiversity a necessary part of climate regulation (1992)

By models but not yet in the natural ecosystems

Jury still out

The current interglacial is an example of systems failure in a physiological sense (1994)

By models only


The biological transfer of selenium from the ocean to the land as dimethyl selenide

Direct measurements

Confirmed 2000, Liss

"The vanishing face of Gaia." Lovelock,2009

This means that these predictions must carry enough merit for them to be accepted by other professionals. This in turn helps support the Daisyworld model and Gaia.

It has further been outlined within the Daisyworld model that as solar luminosity increases, daises would perish with the increasing temperature, however negative feedback dampen these perturbations. This can create issues identifying where some characteristics of an organism originated, whether it be through natural selection or something long term such as evolution. This owes support to the claim, that the world is an interlocking system, coping with a complex interlocking system of feedback loops.This in turn can cause difficulty in isolating the original cause and effect. (Lovelock,1992)

P.Saunders theorised that natural selection was not always the crucial factor in a species evolution.When environmental change occurs, organisms have the chance to respond or not at all. If the system reacts as expected, its a regulated system however this regulation can cease. This can cause catastrophic collapse or a shift to a new state from which recovery is possible depending on the rate of shift.

Daisyworld surmises that there is another factor involved in the systems self regulation other than natural selection called 'collective intelligence'. Even if this is the case, P.Saunders states that natural selection deals with immediate benefit rather than the long term and insuring stability. This however could be seen as where Gaia could have influence. (Saunders,1994)


One of the main criticisms of Gaia and the Daisyworld model is the claim of planetary regulation through 'collective intelligence'. A further shortcoming of the Daisyworld model has been that the standard model experiences no greenhouse gases, no atmosphere and no clouds and as such is not 'representative' of claims that the environment intelligently "guides/shapes" the planet.

(Kump et al, 2009) .

Furthermore the model uses luminosity in its calculations which is theorized to increase faster than the earth's sun which could lead to misinterpretations in data. Although equilibrium is achievable within the earth periods of equilibrium tend to be briefer and more erratic.

Another criticism is that a permanent change in luminosity would cause daises to increase across the planet, causing increased albedo and reflectance which could cause a runaway effect. Although this can be witnessed on earth, the Daisyworld system presumes something would be triggered to balance the system. (kump et al,2009)

The most significant criticism from various academics to Lovelock's theory is that it is 'pure conjecture' not supported by documented evidence.

Lovelock refutes this, citing both evidence published in his book 'the vanishing face of Gaia' and by insisting random patterns aren't coincidental. Instead he insists the planet possesses greater regulatory force through 'collective intelligence' which maintains constant symbiosis between plants, animals and the environment.

Following on, Doolittle identifies that when a chemical or physical parameter nearly reaches critical levels, the mechanism initiating the parameters to return back to optimum levels are seldom identified. Furthermore there seems to be a lack of consistent results. (Doolittle,1981)

A additional shortcoming presented by Richard Dawkins in his work 'the selfish gene' seems to contradict the Daisyworld further.Dawkins states every organism is out for its self to survive. Through this, there are many individuals that will test different traits to enhance their possible survival and in turn increase the possibility to further the species survival as a whole. The resulting theory is that individuals out for their own benefit try different traits through trail and error, with successful traits incorporated by the species as a whole and so therefore furthering the species existence. (Dawkins,1982)

Lovelock counters this by insisting that symbiosis occurs to benefit both individuals and the environment simultaneously with the environment influencing the individual.

Dawkins refutes this stating symbiosis is simply a by product of an individual fulfilling its own requirements.

Furthermore Dr. W.F.Doolittle insists behaviour isn't genetically written, that instead accidentally balanced feedback loops occur which are fragile and happen by chance. This however conflicts with Lovelock's theory of 'collective intelligence' it instead concludes that life is reliant on several crucial parameters and not that these parameters are manipulable which is implied by Lovelock. (Doolittle,1981)

Agreement or debate :

Daisyworld has been challenged and debated by several academics from various fields of study.

Furthermore Gaia was criticized for being a teleological system with life's existence predetermined. Lovelock refutes this stating that he never stated that planetary self regulation was purposeful or contained foresight. (Lovelock,2009)

Stephen Jay Gould criticised the theory stating Gaia's mechanisms involved in self - regulating homeostasis have not been identified. (Gould,1988)

David Abram however refutes this criticism stating that the mechanisms itself are in fact metaphorical and consequentially Stephen Jay Gould had misinterpreted what Lovelock was trying to demonstrate. (Abram,1988)

Lovelock reiterates that the connections between various identified mechanisms may never become transparent and this is why the system should be studied in its entirety. He explains his frustration that in other fields this would be accepted as matter of course. (Lovelock,2000)

Mathematician R.Feynman backed this rationale further stating that "a lack of explanation to the cause and effect of a theory may never be answered mathematically and it is indeed is inevitable in the progression of a theory, that even if answerable this may take time". (Lovelock,2000)

Lovelock insists that Gaia's biological feedback mechanisms use a process of systemic Darwinian evolution, with organisms that improve their environment survive and thrive better than those who damage theirs. (Lovelock,1979)

W.F.Dolittle criticised this stating that nothing in the individuals genome could produce this functionality of intentionally bettering the individuals environment through the feedback process suggested. He therefore refutes Gaia as a scientific theory as the mechanism is unexplained. (Doolittle,1981)

In Dawkins book "The Extended Phenotype" he further refutes this stating organism's are not able to work to a common plan, as foresight and planning would be required. (Dawkins,1982)

Biologist Lynn Margulis and co-founder supports the Gaia hypothesis stating " Darwin's grand vision was not wrong, only incomplete".  She reiterates Darwin, stating "the primary mechanism for selection is the direct competition between individuals for resources" of which she expresses that this can be restrictive and lead to a ridged approach towards the subject.

She continues by stating that the earth's atmosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere's composition are controlled around specific points but that these alter with time. This highlights feedback loops raised in Lovelock's theory further supporting his claims of a level of symbiosis or 'collective intelligence'.

Furthermore she states that there is no tendency to preserve habitats and these communities can exist at various degrees of integration. Lovelock also states that although he feels there is a level of symbiosis, these fixed points can become tipping points and so therefore no factor is indeed ridged and there is flexibility in the system. This can be seen when a tipping point has been surpassed and the system shifts to a new state. (Margulis, 1999)

Conclusion / interpretation :

There are many criticisms of Lovelock's work involving Daisyworld, one of the most vocal being Richard Dawkins. Dawkins is one of his main critics of his theory of 'collective intelligence' with the biosphere and evolution of the organisms contributing to form a stable planet.

Dawkins instead favours the gene as a unit of selection, in contrast with Lovelock. This approach, however has been criticised as misleading and should instead be described as a unit of evolution.

Further criticism is that genes, do not exist alone but instead co-operate with each other both within the individual and its environment. Dawkins, however defends his theory stating that genetic recombination and sexual reproduction from a individual genes view sees all other genes as part of its environment.

This view is criticised especially by professionals studying higher levels of selection including D.S.Wilson & Co who state that a gene based approach cannot satisfactorily explain all life for example altruism in which I agree.

Dawkins approach can be perceived as restrictive as it lacks understanding of the system as a whole without which results can become fractured and misinterpreted.

Lovelock reaffirms that the system must be studied in its entirety in order to obtain accurate results. This is why Daisyworld was formulated in order to explain the concept of Gaia and to counter criticism towards the theory.

Lovelock stated that Daisyworld was never intended to be comparable to a real earth system, especially as the model didn't have an atmosphere and was basic in formation. He created Daisyworld as he perceived that other academics were misinterpreting Gaia and its function. Lovelock confirmed this by stating that Daisyworld was "a cybernetic proof of the Gaia hypothesis" (Kirchner,2003)

Lovelock argued other theories for example climate change involve a level of uncertainty and is widely understood as a more recent field of research where inaccuracies can occur without the theory, being necessarily dismissed out of hand. Lovelock states his frustration to this, that Gaia and the Daisyworld model are not afforded the same grace.

It is seen in the original model that it was reductional, lacked variability and seemed to have limited comparability to the real earth system.

However, this model has extended to include increased species diversity and additional parameters to allow organisms to spontaneously mutate. With these additions, this increases variability into the system, which increases credibility by producing more accurate results than the original system. This theory progression has been seen with climate change modelling, where better understanding and increased variability into the system; create a more accurate model moving forward. This however, takes time and as understanding increases so will the model evolve with it.

Daisyworld attempts to encompass a inclusive whole system approach in contrast within some scientists which views can be perceived by some as reductionist, bottom up approach for example Richard Dawkins. It should be appreciated that Daisyworld and more importantly Gaia is trying to create an inclusive model.

Furthermore some academics have misinterpreted Daisyworld as the theory and have included some of Daisyworld's shortcomings when evaluating Gaia. Instead, Daisyworld should be seen as just a way of explaining Gaia.

The Gaia hypothesis has seen eight out of ten predictions confirmed or accepted, some have taken time to be proven for example the biological transfer of selenium from the ocean to the land, this was confirmed in 2000, 21 years after the Gaia hypothesis was formulated. This indicates that with some factors have been proven; others will take time to be confirmed.

Another advantage of Gaia is that natural selection may not answer all possible outcomes, therefore Gaia is suggested as a probable mechanism to insure long term stability.

However, there are some factors that have the possibility of creating miscalculations for example the use of luminosity, which is suspected to be increasing faster than our sun which may lead to misinterpretations. A further possible shortcoming is when a runaway effect is created an equilibrium is expected to come into force. In the real earth system equilibrium can be achievable but it can be harder to detect in a real earth system for example if it is only sustained for a brief period. Issues further occur when a chemical or physical parameter is nearly achieve, some parameters are seldom identified.

In lovelock's most recent book 'The revenge of Gaia' Lovelock states that 'Gaia' is finding it increasingly difficult to minimise impact experiencing bigger losses than before, to the rainforest's, planetary diversity and this is testing its ability to minimize the effects of additional greenhouse gases and increases the probability of homeostatic positive feedback associated with global warming. This new stance from Lovelock seems that he is trying to express that the balance that the system once had is now being lost. This means that in the real earth system the greenhouse effect in Daisyworld terms would give a positive radiative forcing effect. This is not modelled within Daisyworld, as Daisyworld has no atmosphere the planet would be considerably warmer with an atmosphere than without.

The earth system is a dynamic system that changes over time which holds widespread agreement amongst the scientific community, this in itself means that we will always discover new facts about the planet and this will always be evolving.

Analaysis :

The general principle of the Daisyworld model is a reasonable one, the world regulating itself on a 'conscious' global scale less so. It is instead more reasonable to expect and by examining the evidence, that the small interactions between species, the environment and so on to balance the system.

To illustrate, if the amount of individual Daises increase it can be seen that the amount of rabbits are expected to increase also. Then as the number of rabbits reaches the critical tipping point, the daisies start to decrease with the rabbits following suit (cause and effect).

Furthermore, lovelocks theory of planetary regulation is feasible but instead of the environment consciously regulating the individuals, it is more probable that regulation is seen from a species level that then influences the environment. Example could be seen as the amount of black daisies increase, the amount of heat radiated back into the environment increases the temperature, the planet however gets to a tipping point were black daises are hampered as the planet starts to heat up beyond there threshold, this is where the white daisies, with more of a ability to cope start radiating heating heat and are 'opportunistic' in filling the black daises 'niche'

The Daisyworld system itself is a basic system with Lovelock explaining that Daisyworld should 'not be used as a real analogue for a earth system especially due to its simplicity' and that it was designed as a 'tool' in order to explain the Gaia principle. This has created a great deal of misunderstanding with people confused to the difference between the model and the theory.

We can, however see a more sophisticated & detailed version of the kind of processes that can be seen in the Daisyworld system in modem climate change modelling. This climate change modelling is undertaken with computer modelling which requires both time and processing power in order to calculate all eventual probabilities. It is then, therefore not unreasonable to afford Daisyworld the same courtesy to expect that over time the model increases in sophistication and that Gaia will confirm more predictions.

This however does not negate the capacity for Gaia to achieve a level of homeostasis (within certain parameters) which even when the individual organism becomes extinct,the individual species can change even though it may stay the same on a planetary level for example temperature regulation. Individual species can change when parameters are exceeded meaning that an individual species may become extinct when a food stuff diminishes but this allows another species to expand into the 'niche' either fulfilling the previous species function or exceeding them, this however could affect the environment.

The feedback present between both organisms and the environment is what aids regulation in both the Daisyworld model and the Gaia Hypothesis. The main reoccurring point that keeps being debated is that in both Daisyworld and Gaia the environment 'consciously' adjusts to achieve regulation between the environment and the rest of the organisms. By examining research papers produced by lovelock it seems like he is trying to explain that the environment has the ability to rapidly respond to the changes and 'feedbacks' which occur on the planet and as such other researchers have misconstrued lovelock statement of 'collective intelligence' as conscious. However lovelock is simply trying to attempt to explain the earth ability for self regulation. Although looking at the evidence presented there seems to be almost an uncanny ability for the earth to somehow detect a change on an organism level and to adjust at an environmental level to negate any changes this could of caused, there is no evidence to assume this. Instead it is more potent to assume that the environment changes through a network of feedback loops which could be seen as 'intelligent' but could be just co incidental. This system of feedback loops is examined within the Daisyworld system and Gaia which attributes merit to the system without the additional need to assess it as 'collective intelligence.'

We can see that fluctuation has always happened and that the planet, as a whole has been able to regulate itself. The earth however has been less able to do this in recent years; this also has been true historically where tipping points have occurred where the earth was unable to regulate itself or to maintain equilibrium.

Trying to be objective, the factors lovelock used may not exactly be correct or appropriate for example the use of luminosity or the planet having no atmosphere. However, I do firmly believe that Lovelock's work has been dismissed by a section of individuals because of these shortcomings within the Daisyworld model. I do feel that Lovelock's downfall was the fact that Daisyworld was lacking in the detail and that this should have been looked at further before publicising.

My conclusion is that Daisyworld should not be directly used to calculate the real earth system, as it was never designed to do this. However, Daisyworld is an adequate illustration of the Gaia hypothesis and works efficiently to illustrate the principles of Gaia. The Gaia system itself seems to be gaining increasing merit but along with climate change modelling, there is an understanding that modelling will evolve in time and is a reasonable assumption this is the same with Gaia.

Lovelock's general theory is that in order to get accurate results, research should include a multi disciplined co-operative approach. This is important because a reductionist approach could create inaccurate data. This however does not necessarily mean that approaches which examine only one area for example Richard Dawkins 'selfish gene' are incorrect, it instead indicates that they are simply incomplete and that we can obtain a fuller picture by examining these studies in conjunction with other research. This is the main principle of what Gaia is attempting to achieve.

Interlocking system Diagram


Green - Gaia Hypothesis

Red -Climate change modelling

Purple- Game theory

Orange - the selfish gene

Blue - Alturism

Article name: Daisyworld Is A Hypothetical Model Philosophy essay, research paper, dissertation