Friday, July 20, 2012

Eliminating Feedback Loops at Our Peril

by Miki Kashtan

Long as my recent entry about interdependence was, at one point it was even longer, because it included an entire additional section I had written about the role of feedback loops in supporting the interdependent web of life that we are part of, and about how modern life has been eliminating and masking feedback loops. The irony of cutting out a piece that was about eliminating feedback loops is only now becoming apparent to me.

The word feedback, which originated in 1920 in the field of electronics, has expanded its meaning widely to refer to almost any mechanism by which information about the effect of an activity or process is returned and thereby can affect the activity or process. Such feedback loops are built into the way that natural systems work, and they affect all life forms at all levels. Natural selection, as one example, is based on continual feedback in the form of which individual organisms make it long enough to reproduce. Whole populations of species grow and diminish based on such feedback loops. As food sources dwindle, a population dies out and as predators are removed from an ecosystem, a population of animals can increase. In places where predators don’t exist, a species can literally take over, as has happened with several introductions of non-local species that are destroying previously existing balances.

Our own human species, in relation to nature, has systematically endeavored to control nature with the desired effect of exactly those two outcomes: eliminating all of our predators, from large mammals to microbes, and expanding our food supply through the practice of agriculture and factory farming of animals. The result has, indeed, been a massive explosion of the human population to the point of threatening the continued existence of our civilization as we know it.