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Source: CC0 Public

The Biosphere in the Cosmic Medium

Life is a geological force. And so is technology. The blueprint and historical precursor to the technosphere concept is Vladimir Vernadsky’s holistic delineation of the biosphere. The following excerpt from his seminal book The Biosphere (1926) serves to apprehend the originality and daring proposition of such a grand scheme of entangling living and non-living matter.
The face of the Earth viewed from celestial space presents a unique appearance, different from all other heavenly bodies. The surface that separates the planet from the cosmic medium is the biosphere, visible principally because of light from the sun, although it also receives an infinite number of other radiations from space, of which only a small fraction are visible to us. We hardly realize the variety and importance of these rays, which cover a huge range of wavelengths. Our understanding is full of gaps, but improved detectors are rapidly expanding our knowledge of their existence and variety. Certainly they make the empty cosmic regions different from the ideal space of geometry! Radiations reveal material bodies and changes in the cosmic medium. One portion appears as energy through transitions of states, and signals the movements of aggregates of quanta, electrons and charges. The aggregates, which as a whole may remain motionless, control the movements of their separate elements. There are also rays of particles (the most-studied are electrons) which often travel at nearly the same speed as waves, and result from transitions in separate elements of the aggregates. Both kinds of rays are powerful forms of energy, and cause observable changes when they pass through material bodies.
For the moment, we can neglect the influence of particle radiation on geochemical phenomena in the biosphere, but we must always consider the radiations from transitions of energy states. These will appear as light, heat, or electricity according to their type and wavelength, and produce transformations in our planet. These rays cover a known range of forty octaves in wavelength (10^-8 cm to kilometers), of which the visible spectrum is one octave. This immense range is constantly being extended by scientific discovery, but only a few of the forty octaves have thus far affected our view of the cosmos. The radiations that reach our planet from the cosmos amount to only four and one-half octaves. We explain the absence of the other octaves on the Earth's surface by absorption in the upper atmosphere. The best-known radiations come from the sun – one octave of light rays, three of infrared radiation, and a half-octave of ultraviolet; the last half-octave being, doubtless, only a small fraction of the total ultraviolet from the sun, most of which is retained by the stratosphere.
A new character is imparted to the planet by this powerful cosmic force. The radiations that pour upon the Earth cause the biosphere to take on properties unkown to lifeless planetary surfaces, and thus transform the face of the Earth. Activated by radiation, the matter of the biosphere collects and redistributes solar energy, and converts it ultimately into free energy capable of doing work on Earth. The outer layer of the Earth must, therefore, not be considered as a region of matter alone, but also as a region of energy and a source of transformation of the planet. To a great extent, exogenous cosmic forces shape the face of the Earth, and as a result, the biosphere differs historically from other parts of the planet. This biosphere plays an extraordinary planetary role.
The biosphere is at least as much a creation of the sun as a result of terrestrial processes.
Ancient religious intuitions that considered terrestrial creatures, especially man, to be children of the sun were far nearer the truth than is thought by those who see earthly beings simply as ephemeral creations arising from blind and accidental interplay of matter and forces. Creatures on Earth are the fruit of extended, complex processes, and are an essential part of a harmonious cosmic mechanism, in which it is known that fixed laws apply and chance does not exist.
We arrive at this conclusion via our understanding of the matter of the biosphere – an understanding that had been profoundly modified by contemporary evidence that this matter is the direct manifestation of cosmic forces acting upon the Earth. This is not a consequence of the extraterrestrial origin of matter in the biosphere, perhaps the majority of which has fallen from space as cosmic dust and meteorites. This foreign matter cannot be distinguished in atomic structure from ordinary terrestrial matter. We must pause before entering the domain of terrestrial phenomena, because our ideas about the unforeseen character of matter on this planet are going through great transformations, upsetting our understanding of geology. The identity of structure between earthly matter and exogenic cosmic matter is not limited to the biosphere, but extends through the whole terrestrial crust; i.e., through the lithosphere, which extends to a depth of 60-100 kilometers, and interfaces with the biosphere at its outermost part. Matter in the deeper parts of the planet shows the same identity, although it may have a different chemical composition.
This text is an exceprt from a chapter entitled “The Biosphere in the Cosmic Medium” (pp. 43-44) in The Biosphere in the Cosmos, translated by David B. Langmuir. New York: Nevraumont Publishing Company, 1998.