The concept of the balance of nature is one wholly existent in Western theology. It’s an idea that harks back to a time of neo-romantisism re-visioning of pagan beliefs. Only it’s a misguided one.
Because while the pagans pitted God against God in a struggle for supremacy, mimicking the real world of nature around them, the new thinkers of the late 19th century would have us believe that the world has a “natural balance”.
This belief hung around in spiritualism and theology until the 1950’s when the most unlikely of champions attempted to prove it as fact. His name was Arthur Tansley and he believed that every living thing on earth related to each other by the transference of energy and he coined the term “eco systems”. His simplified view of the world converted living creatures into predictable machines, operating under the laws of nature.
The system would therefore always return to a balance state if disturbed. Thus he put forward the hypothesis that an underlying machine like mechanism governed the world of nature.
So you might imagine you’d prove this hypothesis from a study of nature, field work. Lots of data. But you’d be wrong. Because the first “proof” of the hypothesis came about by the use of programming a computer model.
Jay Forrester studied electrical engineering at MIT where be became one of the early pioneers in computers. So much so that he constructed the US early warning radar system, based upon a series of interconnected stations around the globe.
Forrester, presumably because he spent so much time in the lab, was convinced that the whole world operated on systems. Where balance in such systems was created by a process called feedback. Feedback is the concept that actions in the system, create reactions throughout the system, affecting the future behavior of the elements within in.
To suggest Forrester was on something of a high following his early warning system, would be an understatement. He genuinely believed (and does today) that his models can predict future events based upon feedback.
This concept of feedback became hugely popular in both biologist and physicists because it seemed to offer the kind of insight that explained the balance of nature and the order in the world. At it’s heart the focus had switched from individuals in society, to the society as a whole with people being mere components of a wider network. This branch of science came to be known as cybernetics.
Armed with the new concept of cybernetics, computer models and a link to a romantic nature, ecology grew to be one of the most important sciences in the 20th century.
In the 1950’s Eugene P. Odum (and his brother Howard) went one step further, by creating electrical circuits to represent the natural systems. Eugene’s book “Fundamentals of ecology” went onto be the bible of the ecology movement. It portrayed the whole planet as a series of linked eco-systems and Tansley’s hypothesis leaped to the giddy heights of scientific probability.
But there was a problem. In order to make the theory stick the Odum brothers perverted science.
Instead of testing their theory against the data they had collected; they did exactly the reverse. They simplified and distorted the data in order to fit the theory. And you thought “hide the decline” was bad. This was PEER REVIEWED work we are talking about.
By squashing the data to fit the pattern and sure enough they “proved” that nature was stable.
Our next player on the Eco gravy train should be somebody both shocking and familiar to anybody who’s been to EPCOT at Walt Disney World. His name is Buckminster Fuller, and his ideas and designs would fire the imagination of the general public and powers at large.
In my next post on this subject I’ll discuss Fuller, the politicization of the ecology movement and the Club of Rome. Fun stuff!