“Get over physics envy, try ecology envy.” This might be the kind of thing one would expect a biologist to say. Yet the phrase is printed in the most recent issue of The Bridge, the journal of the National Academy of Engineers. The editors argue that ecological thinking ought to be a guiding light for anyone who wishes to respond to the host of global challenges humanity faces.
What does ecological thinking look like? For SFI Science Board Member Simon A. Levin (Princeton University), adopting an ecological perspective involves thinking about the interplay between interdependence and adaptation. Ecosystems, Levin argues, are like Darwin’s “tangled bank,” not the product of a master craftsman, but the creations of tinkerers. To understand how systems adapt and become robust, we must understand that both systems themselves and the individuals of which they are made tinker with their environments.
When we start to think this way, Levin suggests, we will be better equipped to understand the interdependent human systems that we’ve shaped — everything from the biosphere to the stock market—and observe more clearly what we are up to with our own tinkering.
Download the full issue for additional contributions by SFI Science Board member Susan F. Fitzpatrick (James S. McDonnell Foundation), SFI Distinguished Shannan Professor Geoffrey West, SFI Professor Chris Kempes, and External Professor Rajiv Sethi (Barnard College, Columbia University) and Brendan O'Flaherty