When observed from above, from the control room of higher order of environmental systems, it looks like human beings have waged an all out war on Nature. From the time that man initiated slash and burn technology, the ability of one person to destroy habitat and reduce productive systems to wasteland has increased many fold, as have his reasons to do so. Human ingenuity has found many ways to profit from the plunder. And the sheer number of them has also multiplied. Six billion of them chewing away at the biological infrastructure like termites. What are they thinking?
At War With the System
Our imaginary war with the System is exemplified by the way we treat diseases like cancer. We think of cancer as something that has attacked us that we have to fight. We fight by killing cells, hoping to kill all of the enemy cells. Those cells indeed threaten a healthy body, but they are not enemies from the outside; they are the bodies own cells.
The body produces cancerous cells from time to time and has an elaborate immune system, that normally takes care of them. When the immune system becomes damaged itself, or the information it needs to function is compromised, or it is overwhelmed by damaged cells, a tumor results.
To the Rescue
The ego likes to blame the outside for all of its problems and the concept of attack and defense fits right in. The medical profession likes the concept as well. It makes them the knights in shining armor that save the day, defending the helpless ego from evil doers. But in reality, the carcinogens are always out there and the cancerous cells are always being produced. It is not that cancer is attacking, but the immune system is unable to cope with the level abuse heaped upon it by our decadent lifestyles.
It is Captain Self’s job to avoid carcinogens in the environment and make decisions that maintain the integrity of the immune system.
When the good Captain is locked into battle with his own crew, nothing good can come of it. The Captain is not at war with the system, but a product of it. The cancerous cells are not at war with the body, but a product of it. Just like the Captain, the cancerous cells are simply misinformed. They are working under their own type of internal delusion. They both have forgotten that they belong to the system and have taken off on their own, following some internal dialog that takes them far from their intended path. In the efficient information processing system, we would expect these processes to be quickly terminated.
In this journey of discovery, we are always on the lookout for repeated patterns. Here we see that an entity can run amuck, endlessly repeating a process because some feedback loop malfunctions. Just as in a computer stuck in an endless loop, sucking resources while producing no meaningful work, cancer cells and human beings have lost contact with their parent system; they no longer have the information they need to stay on track.
Is That Bad?
Depends on your point of view. From the view of the individual and/or species, failure is bad, success good. From the systems viewpoint, although run-a-way processes pose a threat to local subsystems, they also can provide benefits. A run-a-way process puts stress on the local system, causing accelerated learning and adaptation. For example, our separation from our environment has led to a spike in creativity and technology that never would have happened if the human animal had stayed connected to its natural system. For the individual, a diagnosis of terminal cancer can certainly rearrange one’s priorities. The sense of mortality may lead to extra effort going into an unfinished masterpiece.
The System provides the necessary information for all entities, just as it supplies nutrients and carries away their waste. The System also is responsible for any breakdowns in the supply channels. The System is also responsible for successful adaptation. The System knows what it is doing.
The System experiments with agents. There is a competition going on here; not a war, but a contest to determine what improvements need to be made in future models. This unprecedented acceleration of learning and adaptation is oriented towards an intentional outcome. We have a mission. Our job is to learn what that entails and get on with it.