29 Dec 2015 13:10

"Ecology" is not a religion or a political movement but merely a science, and an impeccably materialist and reductionist one at that. (Actually, "ecology" is a word of three syllables, and it's ecology which is the science, but let's not get into that.) Some ecologists are confused about this, but I suggest they read John Holland, or Dawkins, or Dennett. I happen to think (moderate) environmentalism is a good idea, but that's a separate issue.

"Ecosystems" are not very good "systems". They have no real boundaries, they don't have steady states, they have all the homeostasis of a Rube Goldberg tooth-brush (except that they don't grind to a halt when you shove something into the works, which real systems tend to do). In short they resemble waterfalls or storms more than they do thermostats, guided missiles or organisms; and it seems we learn more about them by tracing the flow of chlorine than by contemplating the whole.

It was observed that a certain species of fish was much more resistant to disease in its natural habitat than in captivity, regardless of the steps that were taken to simulate the habitat. Upon investigation it proved that the fishes were secreting a chemical into the water which, when absorbed by another of the same species, stimulated the immune system, and that the captive populations were simply too small to keep the concentration of the substance to the necessary level. [From Odum's book, via memory.]

See also Agent-Based Modeling; Evolution