[Fis] "Ecological Economics and Information"

From: <jlrchand@erols.com>
Date: Fri 24 Oct 2003 - 03:00:02 CEST

Dear FISers:

The topic assigned by Pedro, "Ecological Economics and Information",
is extraordinarily challenging. The vast scope of these terms is
nearly beyond comprehension. In these brief remarks, I can only
touch on a few qualitative concepts of central importance in my work.
Quantitative concepts are addressed in Luis's writings which are
posted in the accompanying post. I am deeply grateful to Luis for
his views and the assistance of Pedro.

Let us start by noting that the root of both "Ecological" and of
"Economics" is the derived from the Greek, oi, oikos (house, home).
A simple implication of this common source of the two terms is that
the pair of words, taken together, enjoy a mutual reflexivity. At
the conceptual level, the common root, "eco", suggests that the
concept of economics is implicit within the concept of ecology. A
rough translation of the reflexivity in a logical sense could be "the
study of the study of the laws of the home."

The semantics of the third term "information" offer many possible
interpretations. I choose to draw from the direct source of the
languaging of the term itself, the notion of information as bringing
form into a system. An example of this usage of the term information
consists of supposing one has an open system and it acquires new
forms. The information acquired by the system introduces new
relations within the system. The acquired forms have a potential to
introduce a dynamic within the informed system. This usage is
closely associated with a general conceptualization of the concept of

To summarize the preceding two paragraphs, one interpretation of the
phrase, "Ecological Economics and Information", is a reflection on
the nature of the rules of the flows of a system. What structures
could provide a basis for such a meditation on the nature of
transdisciplinary relationships?

The concept of a system requires a distinction between the "self" of
the system and the circumstances surrounding the system. But, what
is the self of a system? We might answer this perplexing question by
stating that we can imagine two incommensurate classes of systems.
One class of systems being defined inside of a boundary. The
boundary separates the interior from the exterior. An example of a
boundary is our skin. Our language is rich in terms describing
boundaries. Terms such as wall, container, bank, cup, bowl, room,
building, and so forth imply a boundary of one type or another. The
concept of a boundary serves as an initial step in generating a
concept of specificity of form. Thus, in one class of the two
classes of systems, we speak of boundaries as one source of form of
the system.

The concept of boundary is thus deeply entangled with the concept
identity in such systems.

Boundary-less systems form a second class of systems. Obviously, the
boundary-less systems lack a boundary. But, the absence of boundary
does not mean the absence of an identity. The relation of boundary
to identity in the first class of systems can be replaced by a
non-physical boundary. The boundary becomes an abstraction in the
mind of the student of the system. The absence of a crisp
separation of the interior from the exterior in boundary-less systems
does not mean the absence of form nor the absence of form of
components of the system. For example, we may speak of an ecosystem
such as the "Mississippi River Basin Ecosystem (Miribe)". The
dynamic flow of materials through the Miribe can be roughly estimated
in terms of averages of annual cycles. For example, the cycling of
chemicals (CO2, H2O, Carbon, N2, minerals, and so forth) recurs each
year in greater or lesser amounts. The flow of materials is
creative in biological ecosystems.

The components of boundary-less systems may possess boundaries. The
boundaries of components convey specific forms on the components of
Miribe. Thus, an analysis, a study of the study of Miribe requires
that we ask for a classification of the components of the system.

In earlier work (Chandler, NYAS,vol. 879, 75-86, 1999, vol. 901,
75-85, 2000) a suitable classification of systems was developed. The
proposed classification is organic. That is, a degree of
organization is used to distinguish among components. The chemical
basis of the classification provides a natural relation with
biological systems without discarding the concept of distance. The
organic basis of the scale, grounded in the atomic numbers of the
chemical elements, provides an intrinsic meter for counting and for
accounting of relations in terms of semantic names of components. It
is a simple, direct scientific classification that separates
components on the basis of the degree of organization rather than
linear distance or arithmetic operations .

The categories are:

O 1 subatomic particles
O 2 chemical elements
O 3 molecules
O 4 biomacromolecules
O 5 cells
O 6 organs
O 7 individuals
O 8 populations
O 9 ecosystems
O10 planet

The objective of this categorization is not to give a theory of
everything. Rather the objective is to provide a basis for
reflection on the structure of scientific languages and the potential
for relations among these scientific languages in nature. Other
categorizations can add finer structures to the distinctions. Each
degree of organization provides a "home" for a collection of terms
and scientific theories. Frequently, individual terms may be used in
multiple layers or stages or hierarchical levels or degrees of
organization. The multiplicity of usages generates a polysema that
strongly influences communications among different scientific
subdisciplines. Usage of a term in multiple degrees of organization
introduces uncertainty.

The concept of communication varies with the degree of organization.
At the levels of O1, O2, and O3, communication occurs as a
physical process of interaction. At levels O5, O6, O7, and O8,
the principle means of communication are by active acquisition.
Components of levels O5, O6, O7, and O8, have acquired the
capacity to generate information, to transmit information and to
interpret information. Commutative relations among information
creation, information transmission and information re-arrangements
are essential features of biological and social structures. At the
level of ecosystems, information flows include possible permutations
of information flows among the individual components of each degree
of organization. A general approach to analysis of combinatorial
components of informational signals is needed.

The concept of relation differs among the categories of organization.
For example, a biological relation may be expressed in terms of
descendents and sexual mating activities. A chemical relation may be
expressed in terms of bonds among elements and molecules. A
mathematical relation is ordinarily expressed in terms of functions,
mappings between two abstract objects, a domain and a codomain. The
different nature of the concept of relation between different degrees
of organization contribute to polysema. It also can restrict
calculations and accounting principles for the individual economies
within an ecosystem. Relations within an ecosystem include
mathematical, chemical and biological relations, that is, ecosystems
are polyralational. The polyrelational nature of human health is a
useful metaphor for the polyrelational nature of ecological economics.

The ordinary usage of the term "economics" includes the concept of
dynamic flows of goods and services within a system and among
neighboring ecosystems. The dynamics of flows within ecosystems is
of enormous perplexity which is far beyond the scope of these brief
remarks. A few sentences introduce the critical features. The flows
include physical and material flows. One flow of particular
importance to all ecosystems is the continuous flow of oxygen and
carbon dioxide. The genesis of the planetary balance between plants
and animals depends on the release of oxygen by plants after the
carbon has been separated the "dioxide". This gift of oxygen from
plants to animals establishes the basis for respiration in the animal
kingdom and is essential to the mammalian lifestyle. Other
ecochemical cycles (nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, etc) are critically
important to sustaining the life cycles of both plants and animals.

Quantitative work on ecological information flows is not common.
However, the work of Robert Ulanowicz must be noted. His book, Growth
and Development, Ecosystems Phenomenology (1987) deploys Shannon
information principles in the analysis of ecosystem flow data. The
subsequent work, Ascendency, discusses both theory and observations.
His views have influenced the development of the perspective
presented here.

The perplexity of polyrelational systems requires the study of mutual
relations among systems representing different degrees of
organization. For example, the planetary cycles of chemical flows
are sustained by biological life cycles. Biological life cycles are
sustained by chemical flow cycles. Sustainable flows thus emerge from
both systems with boundaries and systems without boundaries. This
interdependence of systems creates the foundations for ecological

 These few brief paragraphs are directed toward generating a
systematic set of categories that will contribute to a
transdisciplinary discussion of information flows in ecological

Jerry LR Chandler
McLean, VA
Oct 22, 2003.

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Received on Fri Oct 24 02:52:56 2003

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