It is the ecosystem as a whole that evolves, not the species

I have expressed frustration a couple of times now, with myself and my apparently slow rate of progress in writing this blog . I mean, it’s been a whole week and I haven’t found the answer to life the universe and everything yet!

So I keep reminding myself that the process is the purpose, “life is a journey, not a destination”, and the valuable thing is to keep going, not knowing what ‘the answer’ is going to be.

Yesterday I had got to the point of realising that:

And all this was shown by this remarkable short film about trees:

  • We imagine there is such a thing as a ‘tree’
  • And we imagine that there are different ‘species’ of trees
  • All separate, and in ‘competition’ with each other.
  • So we go into a forest and cut down trees willy-nilly, to make timber.
  • But then a researcher goes into a forest and shows us that trees and fungi are all connected together in one large system.
  • (What the film doesn’t say in detail is that the mycorrhizal fungi live in close symbiosis with the trees: the fungi extract minerals and water from the soil and pass these to the tree roots; the tree roots pass carbohydrates/sugars to the fungi ‘in exchange’. In such a system, how can we even say that tree and fungus are ‘separate’?)
  • Trees, even trees of different species, are connected together via the fungi, and are in a constant cycle of exchanging carbon and nitrogen, that continues even.
  • The trees are communicating with each other, helping each other to survive.
  • Together they form a network similar to our brain.
  • The different ‘species’ exist because difference brings resilience to the ecosystem: difference helps the forest to survive, because when external events (such as a drought) happen, different types of tree will be affected to different degrees, and the stronger trees can help the others to survive as well.

As Bateson said, the unit of evolution is not a species: faster antelope create faster leopard, which create faster antelope; taller giraffes create taller trees, which create taller giraffes.

It is not the ‘species’ that evolves, but the entire ecosystem.

(And the ‘species’ is a thing that we imagined in our heads. And an ‘ecosystem’ is a process that actually exists.)


Upon reflection, I realise that what I am doing with this blog is a process of getting to see the world more as it truly is, in the hope that that will enable us all to get better results. That is purpose-driven activity, and that is ok.

Second, sticking with the process (even though it has not yet brought the results I want) is ok too. Today’s post has not ended up where I thought it was going to, but it has reminded me of other things that are useful.

Third, I notice that I seem to need to keep going over the points I have covered so far. Perhaps I am embedding them more clearly in my neural network; seeing them more clearly. Perhaps I need to keep all of them alive in my head at the same time in order to combine them in some new way. ( Or perhaps there is a sort of ‘ecosystem’ of thoughts and ideas in my head, and they all need each other in some symbiotic way??)

Finally, today’s post has reminded me that it is the ecosystem as a whole that evolves, not just an individual species. The same applies, surely, to our economies. It is the economy as a whole that evolves, not just an individual business. One company decides to switch to an ‘enterprise’ computer system and a whole range of suppliers must follow suit. One company decides to switch to ‘environmentally friendly’ operations, and a whole supply chain is affected. One bank (or country) is unable to meet its debt repayments and a whole range of organisations come under stress.

BMW might have sold a lot of luxury cars in the 1980s, but the reason surely has more to do with the fact that the economy boomed during those years and a lot more people could afford a BMW, rather than any particular cleverness on the part of the management team? I cannot imagine them doing anything near as well if the economy had stagnated.

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