The Balance of Nature

Nature’s balance is a wonderful enigma. Intricate, inspiring, amazing, and perplexing, the presence of balance among so many moving parts has inspired naturalists and befuddled ecologists from the beginning. Human society, which is all those things and more (complex, dynamic, emergent, confusing), may seek to emulate some aspects of nature in order to be more stable… and avoid chaotic instability. We have much to learn.


1) Think about a local system (e.g., some aspect of your household, your bank account, the city coffers, your backyard, your compost pile, a nearby stream, etc.) and draw a diagram that will help you describe it as a dynamic system, with inputs and outputs, storage, and controls and feedbacks on each part. Then use words to describe the stability or instability in the system and how it works, and where it will be at some future point in time.

2) Reflect on controls that may operate to govern human stability on the planet.


Monika’s kitchen system:



Ian’s eating system:



Matt’s career system:


6 Responses to “The Balance of Nature”

  1. Tamar Bouchard says:

    Currently the system has stability, in that the new house is filled with boxes and no one has the time to spend to empty them and organize the house. Underneath this stability is my personal need to get the house organized and this is the hidden instability simmering below the surface. The boxes will be removed and the items will go into the various storage areas in the new house as appropriate eventually, it is just a matter of time.

    Human stability on the planet may be controlled by our ability to eat a wide variety of foods and to use tools to ensure our continued supply. We have used a variety of technology to maintain our own stability seemingly independent of our natural environment. Humans actually do everything they can to preserve the status quo as much as possible, so that life remains in our own control. We manipulate the natural environment and adapt it to our needs whenever necessary without regard to the larger environmental impacts this might cause. We are the top-down effect on our environment, with our only real threat being the bottom up bacteria who have even more sophisticated proliferation strategies than we do.

  2. Michelle Audas says:

    I think there are many controls that govern human stability on the planet, however I think human stability is a really broad concept. I think to identify the controls, you have break down the aspect of stability that you are considering. For example, one component of human stability is emotional stability. There are social and neurological controls that influence emotional stability. For example, strong family connections can provide systems of control that contribute to emotional stability. Neurological balance is another system that contributes to emotional stability.

    Governments implement controls to create stability within a society through its laws. Laws are established to prevent instability through undesirable activities. They are controls for undesirable human behaviors. They protect the individuals in a society from actions that could create harm, lead to unrest, and create massive disruption.

  3. Michelle Audas says:

    Description- Personal financial resource systems

    In my personal financial resources system, there are few inputs, which are primarily known and stable. For example, there are only so many ways for me to create inputs into my personal financial resources. They do not change often, and they are very predictable. They are all stored in one place, my bank account. My bank account is protected by a system of controls within the banking system that are designed to protect my financial resources while they are stored there. Essentially, these controls create safety in the system. It ensures that while resources are stored there, they will be protected from predators, like other people, who may otherwise try to take my resources. They are also protected from disruptive human behaviors’ which may cause me to lose my financial resources if they were not protected in this system. I have identified the outflows as an unstable system, as there are many more outflows, some are known, however many are unknown and unpredictable. For example, changes to inflation may cause dramatic changes to the outflows from my bank account. A car accident could lead to a significant change in insurance costs. Further, when the outflows surpass the inflows, there is negative feedback in the form of overdraft fees and service charges. However when there is a surplus of inflows to outflows, there is positive feedback in the form of interest earned on the portion that remains unused.

  4. Matt Sayre says:

    The system I’ve chosen to diagram is a simplified system of career advancement. This diagram represents the action within the system. Each of the action items listed involve multiple inputs and outputs. For example, skill development requires natural ability, instruction or access to information, practice, etc. and the skill development process leading toward advancement must result in positive evaluation of outcomes produced. Depending on the type of work, many inputs might be needed to produce the outcome. Some possible inputs might be energy (the most basic being food), motivation, skill, paper, software, technology, etc. Other people are needed for advancement, as careers are a social construct and positions within a career are relative to others. In addition, people, or more specifically decision-makers, are needed to promote other people. Businesses through which one advances require many inputs as well. These range from tangible things like energy and raw materials to intangibles like brand formation and promotion. As one advances one recieves additional money through a compensation plan which serves as an input for a complex diversity of possible personally-financed activities. These activities have a range of impacts and outcomes, but most of these lead to increased human consumption. Even giving away money usually causes increased human consumption. People come to depend upon the resources they have consistently available to them, so over time they become less able to return to a lower level of reosurce availability, or in other words a lower level of inputs. This leads to the desire to advance further or to seek additional income as a primary input, which often requires additional skill development perpetuating the cycle. This system leads to ever increasing productivity and consumtion and since we are constrained by a finite ecosystem, I believe this system will lead to instability and require a steadying influence to moderate the desire for advancement. It is my opinion that research-based data that is now making it into public discourse is leading people to question the desirability of advancement or growth. Research shows that after a certain point of advancement, people stop getting happier and happier or more well off overall. In fact, continual advancement often leads to additional repsonsibility and stress and causes a decline in health. These limits are influencing people to rethink their ambitions, but the forces that govern us incentivize certain behaviors. These market forces and government incentives have probably been the most significant controls on human bahavior historically and human behavior is increasingly being linked to . Corporations structured for infinite growth have incomparable influence over decision makers within our governments which leads to policies perpetuating the culture of consumption which requires ongoing advancement for most people. Until a more ecological economic system emerges, growth and advancement will be incentivized at a cost to human and environmental wellbeing. The current unsustainable economic system has led to instability that has manifested itself in a breakdown of the financial system. To stabilize this system the government under corporate influence is promoting policies that once again incentivize rapid economic growth, which will very likely lead to another “bubble” that will emerge and then deflate resulting in more instability.

  5. Ian Raphael says:

    This system is my body in which stress, exercise and food affect my overall health. At times it can be stable or unstable. All these factors play off each other stimulating the system in positive or negative ways. Healthy food helps provide the correct nutrition and energy for an effective and beneficial exercise program which leads to better health and also reduces stress levels.

    Stress can come from a variety of sources. Home life, work stress, etc. Even though stress is often times associated with negative things, it can also have positive results on the system. The negatives can, in my case, increase the desire to eat more and less healthy food which affects the energy and desire for exercise. Because of this, exercise isn’t used to help offset negative stress which perpetuates negative health. Stress also directly influences health by internalizing it.

    Positive stress can be in the form of something good or bad that initiates better health. Having a child adds stress but can motivate someone to stay healthy for the sake of a child. The onset of summer could motivate someone to get in shape for the beach. News of high cholesterol or blood pressure could stimulate better diet and increased exercise.

    The overall health of my system also influences and regulates stress levels, motivation to exercise, and food choices. This influence can be positive or negative. Times of bad health perpetuates stress, decreases exercise and food intake. Good health perpetuates better habit as well.

    All things in this system are interrelated and can create stability or instability. The future stability of this system will lead to ultimate instability. Because people age, health generally declines as people get older.

    What controls govern human stability?

    I think the environment in which we live governs a lot of an individual’s stability. A positive work and home environment, access to healthy foods, the MEDIA, governments, war, economic systems, globalization, increased pollution, etc is what really drives human stability.

  6. Monika Derrien says:

    The local system of my kitchen remains fairly stable, given that the factors of income and time remain positive. The only way that food enters my kitchen is if someone else brings it into the kitchen. The ways that food leaves my kitchen are when someone consumes food in my kitchen, someone takes food from my kitchen (packing a lunch, for example), or food goes bad before it is eaten and gets thrown away. In my current kitchen, I have no food growing – so no food is produced. I may create new combinations of foods, through mixing, heating, marinating, baking, etc., but everything is created from previous kinds of foods that I have in my kitchen.

    As my kitchen now stands, I am the primary driver – my behaviors are what dictate the inputs and outputs. The control mechanisms are based largely on my time, money, and ability to store surplus. If I have no money, I have a severely diminished ability for bringing food into my house. If I have no time to shop, I will bring no food into the house. If I am going to be away from my kitchen for several days or weeks, I will try to deplete my supplies of perishable foods so that nothing is wasted while I am away. I can only bring as much food into my kitchen as I have room to store. This is particularly important for refrigerated or frozen food, for which I have much less storage space. I can also only bring as much food into my kitchen as I can carry on my person or on my bike – this, perhaps, is the most limiting factor.

    The inputs and outputs of my kitchen system will drastically change if my lifestyle were to change. If I were to get a housemate, a dog, or a family, or if I were to begin an extreme exercise regiment, there would be a much greater flow of food into and out of the system. If I were to take on a new job that kept me away from the kitchen for long periods of time, with long days, overnights, and weekend trips, I would eat more food away from the kitchen, reducing inputs and outputs.

    The strongest feedback is for quantity. If I have bought too much food, it will rot, go stale, grow mold, etc., before I get to eat it. If I have bought more food than I can store, I will not be able to keep it. If I buy too little, I will be hungry. The feedback for quality is a less direct, depending on the physiological responses to what I consume, and how that feedback informs my future purchases. Things I read and hear may also affect my choices.

    The kitchen is a local system over which I have a lot of control. This fact also makes it very temporary and variable, since it is completely subjected to my whim. The next tenant in my apartment may not cook or eat at home at all, making the kitchen a zero input/zero output system.

    What controls govern human stability?

    On the individual scale, human stability is governed by the all the biological processes in our bodies that make life possible on the most basic scale – being able to breathe, move, convert food into energy. Stability is based on the reliability of these systems. When these systems fail, humans have developed vast medical knowledge to fix these problems.

    On the larger scale, the stability of human societies is governed by a complex web of biological, social, and governmental controls. Human stability is governed by feedback and controls from the surrounding world, both man-made and natural. Since humans are at the top of the food chain, top-down controls affect the densities of organisms that humans eat. This density, in effect, dictates how much human life can be sustained. Since most of the organisms humans eat are farmed, humans have a lot of control over the production of their food, and do not have to rely on “naturally” occurring populations – they can create their own populations for consumption. This can have tragic effects on surrounding ecosystems.

    Social controls, or social norms, are general agreements about acceptable behavior that is conducive to the stability of human societies. Why don’t all humans kill each other or steal resources for their own benefit? Aside from the cases where these things do occur (which are fairly small-scale compared to the whole of society), humans have accepted social norms that maximize profitability and stability. Often these social norms are codified so rule-breakers will be subject to punishment. When “natural” (i.e., not man-made) controls are insufficient for ordering human society, governments and laws enter the picture. Of course, this is the subject of much conflict – people disagree about the appropriate roles and controls of government. Most people, however, agree that for human stability, some artificial controls are needed.

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