Ecologies are stable until they’re not

Systems Theory is central to my approach to understanding decision making, whether looking at mental activity or brain function. Systems Theory shows us how uncertainty arises even in fully deterministic of systems. When cause and effect feedback on each other and small changes result in non-linear effects, the future behavior of a system becomes harder to predict just because linear correlation and simple cause and effect lose explanatory power.

More often than not, I look at complex systems through the filter of ecology. Ecology is the term we use for the study of interacting biological organisms and their habitat in the real world. But by analogy, this mode of thinking becomes useful in thinking about how or brains interact with other brains and the environment. And of course we like to think of technologies, like Apple products and services as being an ecosystem where users, devices and information interact in a system.

Ecologies, like the organisms that live in them, are generally resilient. If they weren’t they wouldn’t last long enough to recognize as ongoing, functioning systems. But that’s not to say that ecologies don’t change over time in response to external inputs or changes in the environment.

A nice example from Ed Yong, who’s writing I treasure. An ecology of whales, krill and the ocean floor. Introduce man and the ecology collapses. The system is hurt but not gone and it may be possible to restart.

To Save the Whales, Feed the Whales – The Atlantic

Just as many large mammals are known to do on land, the whales engineer the same ecosystems upon which they depend. They don’t just eat krill; they also create the conditions that allow krill to thrive.

That’s the key to ecologies. They are constructed and maintained by their participants- all the animals in the environment have to reach a stable balance to persist over time. With change, a new stable state may be reached if the system persists. It may be diminished or barely recognizable, but it changes until it comes to rest in some newest of relationships.

Yong understands ecology and evolution, making his writing rich and deep. By the way, that’s a pointer to the article where it appeared in the Atlantic, behind a paywall. I read his writing in the Apple ecosystem, in Apple News+. As an information source, to enrich my information environment, Apple provides a great service.

As and ecology, I can’t see how these paywalls and Substack subscriptions reach a long term stable state. We used to have newstands where you could dip into a copy of the Atlantic for a small price. You got to read the New Yorker or Readers Digest in the doctor or dentist’s waiting room. Sure, once you have a readership you can move behind a paywall. But once the NYT and Washington Post have aggregated all the readers behind their paywalls they become just another monopoly like Facebook, YouTube and Google.

Not a stable information ecosystem.

By the way, I’m glad I read the Foundation Trilogy before starting the AppleTV series. They are very different works, related stories.

The Apple series is way more coherent and focused. They’ve collapsed lots of Asimov’s threads into a real fabric, but along the way has become so much more conventional modern SciFi than Azimov’s experimental imaginings that made less sense but were wilder with huge story gaps.

The Apple show introduces some of the fantasy elements that Asimov added only in the second book and amplified in the third. Just so you know, I can enjoy stories with mind reading and mind uploading, but I find it much more likely that antigravity and faster than light travel are possible than the possibility that neuronal networks can ever be instantiated in computers or that their activity can be read out externally. But all fiction requires suspension of disbelief.