To Envision the Biosphere as a Whole

The General System Theory was a kind of mental tool for allowing humans to realize that humanity could no longer afford to ignore the fact that all humans are located on Earth as if it were a spaceship system. R. Buckmisnter Fuller compared humanity to an unhatched baby bird that has eaten all its readily available nutrient and must now break out of its shell to live: “We are faced with an entirely new relationship to the universe. We are going to have to spread our wings of intellect and fly or perish”.

GST helps to develop a new way of thinking that is needed because the trends of the prevailing civilization makes necessary a way of clearly seeing the forest instead of looking only at one tree or another. It seems certainly foolish to focus on individual trees when there is a threat to the forest. However, it is also foolish to focus exclusively on the forest when there are environmental problems generated by polluting industries. But it remains foolish to improve only factories in order to reduce pollution when the unemployment is growing due to economic policies that intend only to reduced the foreign debt. But today it would be an absurd belief to invent systems methodologies for allowing 6,000 million people to reach a standard of life as it is announced is happening in USA, without trying to understand what are the causes of the serious biological, social and terrestrial crisis that is affecting the whole biosphere.

The wide angle of GST benefit ecologists in revealing the interconnectedness of the web of life and the long-range systemic effects of reckless interference with the natural order. But ecologists, using properly the same GST, may discover how the ecological issues realistically depend from economics, just as economic development can never be considered realistically in isolation from ecology. In addition today economic development and ecological quasi-equilibrium in most countries cannot be organized without taking into account the economic, social and cultural situation of many millions of poor and hungry people.

It is indeed a new challenge for systems scientists to envision the biosphere as a whole, because everyone can perceive and comprehend gradually the dynamic features of some aspects of the terrestrial surroundings when it is necessary to focus on “the still higher systems of animal and plant communities, ecosystems in which the disruption of a part jeopardizes the whole”.

As life ascends the ladder of complexity, there is progressive integration, in which the parts become more dependent on the whole, and progressive differentiation, in which the parts become more specialized. Then the organism exhibits a wider repertoire of behavior. However it causes progressive mechanization, which means that parts are limited to a single function and also progressive centralization, which cause the emergence of leading parts (the brain) which try to dominate the behavior of the whole system. This model of hierarchical order developed and employed by Bertalanffy in biology when it is employed for studying the dynamics of the homosphere allow to comprehend better the assumed evolution of societies from primitive to industrial stages. When it were employed for getting a better comprehension of the dynamics of the biosphere it may allow to determine whether technological or social innovations are compatible or not with the possibilities that the world offers to human creativity.