May 26, 2019

The “Intellectual Rubbish” of “Ecosystems” and “Balance of Nature”

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Today, we learned that Dr. Valerius Geist, a foremost wildlife scientist, “Denounced Ecosystem Management“. In his condemnation he described the belief in “Utopian philosophy of ecosystem perfection absent of all human activity” as “intellectual rubbish”. He also challenges, in a way, those not stricken with “intellectual laziness” to “Know the difference between positive and negative feed back, and you are on the way of understanding both homeostasis in individuals and stochastic non-determinism in ecosystems.”

I would like to take a layman’s stab at explaining about ecosystems and the myth of nature balancing itself. As with everything I write, I don’t ask readers to simply believe what I write but to do some research and make their own determinations.

Of late, I have composed a couple articles in reference to “natural regulation, here and here. The theory of “natural regulation” can just as easily be described in the same fashion as Dr. Geist used above; “utopian philosophy of ecosystem perfection absent of all human activity.” Or, in words we can all understand – just leave it alone and let things go as they will.

Part of the problem is that all people have been subjected to the use of the word, “ecosystem” to describe a landscape where flora and fauna live together in perfect harmony. “Eco” being a hip word these days (I assumed derived from ecology) and the “system” I am willing to wager is very much misunderstood. Many people, if engaged in some kind of biology discussion, might think of a system as their own body; a composition of organs and tissues all working together, the result of which is a living, breathing and walking specimen of human being.

Unfortunately the “system” in ecosystem is only used as a means of classification, or dare I say, should be used in that way. Regardless, the term in and of itself is quite misleading.

Dr. Geist spoke of “know[ing] the difference between positive and negative feed back”. This information can easily be obtained by doing searches Online but perhaps it’s much easier to find than understand. As individual humans (animals), our system (body) works to maintain “homeostasis” – “to maintain internal stability, owing to the coordinated response of its parts to any situation or stimulus tending to disturb its normal condition or function”. The responses to those disturbances are what are known as “negative feedback loops“, working to reverse or negate those disturbances. Dr. Geist says this is why “individuals are individuals”, i.e. “because they are controlled by negative feed back – negative!“.

In the contrast, as is pointed out by Geist, groups of organisms living together, in what is now too commonly referred to as that somewhat mythical “ecosystem”, are “never controlled but instead are subjected to “whims and randomness of positive feed back”.

Positive feedback loops, logically would be the counterpart to negative feedback loops. In the positive feedback loop, the body senses changes or disturbances and reacts to actually speed up the change. Some examples of this in humans might be a heart attack, clotting of blood, or even labor pains.

Dr. Geist tells us that if we can gain a solid understanding of the differences between positive feedback loops and negative feedback loops, then we might better understand “both homeostasis in individuals and stochastic non-determinism in ecosystems”.

Stochastic as it would apply to our “ecosystems” involves “a random variable or variables“.

Our ecosystems, so used, is a conglomeration of organisms all subjected to the influences of random variables that are forever changing. Geist describes those random variables as: “whims and randomness of positive feed back.”

If in our minds we can envision that our world is comprised of multiple pockets of habitat of varying sizes, each abutting and/or overlapping, or even standing apart, comprised of diverse species of plant and animals (including man) and all being subjected to random variables, it becomes much more difficult to seriously give credit to a “balance of nature”.

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