The natural world seems to make the most it can out of apparent waste (in the form of animal excrement and dead organisms) by recycling it all very efficiently and effectively. In keeping with this knowledge we find individuals, communities and industries are now making increasing use of recycling as an economically feasible practice. Perhaps there are other valuable lessons we might learn from nature. Certainly the fact that life on earth in general (if not every species) has survived multiple natural catastrophes suggests it has some valuable survival mechanisms that we might well take note of.
Even some economists of the recent past thought they were borrowing an important insight from the world of nature when they used what they presumed Darwin had learned regarding the mechanisms of evolution as a model for business practices. That is, that nature was “red in tooth and claw.” “Survival of the fittest” became the mantra for laissez faire economic practices. Carrying it a step further many have promoted the view that any external (governmental) regulation of businesses and industries was therefore detrimental to progress and should be all but eliminated from the market place.
But nature has proven more complicated and sophisticated than those earlier simplistic phrases imply. Over the past fifty years we have learned that, although it is true that nature provides many examples of predator-prey relationships, it also abounds in numerous examples of mutualisms, including complicated symbiotic relationships involving three or more organisms that work together to ensure their mutual survival. Our own dependency not just on dead meat and vegetables but on the myriads of living micro-organisms that inhabit our bodies and help ensure our good health is proof of this important feature of nature. Nearly every organism studied has been found to rely on symbiotic relationships with other organisms. Indeed, only the most primitive single-celled organisms are capable of survival without the aid of other species and even they seem to survive harsh environments only by virtue of their ability to form dense colonies protected by a collaboratively produced protective membrane. As we humans purposefully or inadvertently cause the demise of so many other species perhaps we should be more alert to the potential for harm in our actions.
Now we’ve learned that what we thought for the past few decades was a large amount of “junk DNA” inhabiting our cells turns out to be highly important genetic regulatory information. Complicated organisms harboring an extensive variety of cells, each with different functions, cannot function properly without this all important regulation. While one of these cell varieties has evolved to become our nervous system which is a regulatory organ of almost unbelievable complexity. Indeed, we now know that the loss of appropriate regulation within a cell results either in the cell’s death or in a malignant cancer, while loss of species regulation results in a nasty invasive organism or a plague. Might these facts offer our complicated societies some valuable lessons as well?
Questions and suggestions from readers are welcomed and will be responded to in future editions of this column. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.