WIT Press

Global change and human change: A prescription for adaptive evolution from ecological network theory


Free (open access)


Volume 1 (2006), Issue 2



Page Range

103 - 113

Paper DOI



WIT Press


B.C. Patten


Homo sapiens appears to be evolving into a new kind of species not seen before in organic evolution. This is Homo holisticus, systems man, the first species in the earth's history with a global reach, entailing global selective forces charting its evolutionary change. Living things make models of their reality, converting physical causes to mixed physical—phenomenal ones, a defining characteristic of life. The ontic biosphere accordingly generates a virtual noosphere, the aggregate of implicit biological epistemologies. These operate collectively to shape global change, to which human change is both entrained and contributes. Developing a network perspective on global change, ecology's ‘AWFUL theorem’, resulting from zero-sum transactions (ontic, conservative, energy-matter exchanges), is reviewed and illustrated by two examples of anthropogenic environmental degradation. Indirect relations (epistemic, nonconservative and informational) develop automatically in transactional networks and introduce nonzero-sumness into the causal stream. This enables systems to move and remain away from thermo-dynamic equilibrium, in a process of network aggradation wherein internal negentropy generation exceeds boundary entropy dissipation. A third example shows how more mature ecosystems radiate photons at lower temperatures, reflecting increased internal organization — distance from thermodynamic equilibrium. Six network properties contributing to nonzero-sumness are identified, one being system size (number of components). Nonzero-sumness increases utility, expressed as benefit/cost ratios, and network synergism is the universal tendency in transactional networks to produce ratios >1. However, the degree of positiveness diminishes with system size so that network aggradation experiences diminishing returns as size increases. The organization of nature into a graded series of systems (cells, organs, organisms, etc.) based on size reflects this. Although unlimited network aggradation (negentropic growth and development) is possible with increasing interconnection, diminishing utility returns restrict optimal system size to relatively small numbers of interacting components. The global reach of the emerging H. holisticus may thus contraindicate sustainable entrainment of human change to global change by reducing network synergism even as network aggradation marginally rises.


AWFUL theorem, benefit/cost ratio, Homo holisticus, Homo sapiens, negentropy, network aggradation, network synergism, nonlocality