Everything is deeply intertwingled

In his book Computer Lib/Dream Machines, Ted Nelson wrote:

EVERYTHING IS DEEPLY INTERTWINGLED. In an important sense there are no "subjects" at all; there is only all knowledge, since the cross-connections among the myriad topics of this world simply cannot be divided up neatly. […]

Hierarchical and sequential structures, especially popular since Gutenberg, are usually forced and artificial. Intertwingularity is not generally acknowledged—people keep pretending they can make things hierarchical, categorizable and sequential when they can’t.

Neil Postman made the same point about an ecology—when you add a new element to one, you don’t simply have the old ecology plus the new element, you have a new ecology, with new relationships added and existing relationships disrupted.

It is necessary to ignore this in order to have any hope of changing an ecology, for the better or just for your own benefit. And the foolishness of ignoring it is what gives rise to the Law of Unintended Consequences—which is not a law, just a recognition that we are fooling ourselves to think we can understand an ecology well enough to predict the effects of any change we make.

I have no idea if there is any truth in what this article says about the reasons that honeybees are vanishing, but I was glad that it recognized the intertwingled nature of the honeybee ecology:

In a recent review paper for Science, a team of researchers argue that the combination of modern stresses facing bees seem to be much deadlier than is often appreciated. Pesticides alone might not be enough to wipe out bee colonies, but studies have shown that they can make bees more susceptible to invasive parasites. Poor nutrition can lead bumblebees to succumb to disease. Fungicides and pesticides are more potent together than in isolation.

“Pesticides alone”, “nutrition alone”, “parasites alone” is how we need to look at things in order to get a control-level understanding of a situation. And so one tweaks pesticides here, another tweaks nutrition there, a third tweaks parasites elsewhere, all in isolation. And once each thinks he grasps the situation, he proceeds regardless of the others.

Now, it might seem totally obvious that chronic exposure to lots of different stresses would be bad for the bees. But surprisingly, the authors note, both scientific research and regulatory reviews don’t always capture these synergies well. "It’s a lot easier to study a single stressor in the lab or the field," says Dave Goulson, a professor of biology at the University of Sussex who coauthored the review. "But we haven’t really tried to tackle how these things all interact."

Good luck with that!


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