The Balance of Nature: Ecology's Enduring Myth

By John Kricher | Go to book overview

3
Creating Paradigms

The “balance of nature” is a paradigm, a venerable and littlequestioned belief about how nature is organized. Almost anyone will tell you they think there is some kind of “balance” in nature and that humans tend to upset that balance. Numerous websites are devoted to it, and the history of the concept has been well documented.1 Humans create paradigms for a number of obvious reasons. We wish to make sense of our world as well as the universe of which it is part, but in doing so, we wish to simplify and unify information that, at first glance, appears to be hopelessly complex and disparate. We also wish to feel empowered, to have the sense that we really know about something of major significance to us.

A paradigm is an all-encompassing idea, a model providing a way of looking at the world such that an array of diverse observations is united under one umbrella of belief, and a series of related questions are thus answered. Paradigms provide broad understanding, a certain “comfort level,” the psychological satisfaction associated with a mystery solved. What is important here, and perhaps surprising at first glance, is that a paradigm need not have much to do with reality. It does not have to be factual. It just needs to be satisfying to those whom it serves. For example, all creation myths, including the Judeo-Christian story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, are certainly paradigms, at least to those who subscribe to the particular faith that generated the myth. Creation myths “explain” perhaps the biggest question ever posed by humans, how

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The Balance of Nature: Ecology's Enduring Myth
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • 1: Why It Matters 1
  • 2: Of What Purpose Are Mosquitoes? 8
  • 3: Creating Paradigms 20
  • 4: Ecology B.C. (“before Charles”) 40
  • 5: Ecology A.D. (“after Darwin”) 53
  • 6: The Twentieth Century Ecology Comes of Age 67
  • 7: A Visit to Bodie Ecological Space and Time 84
  • 8: Ecology and Evolution Process and Paradigm 97
  • 9: Be Glad to Be an Earthling 113
  • 10: Life Plays the Lottery 128
  • 11: Why Global Climate is like New England Weather 140
  • 12: Taking It from the Top–or the Bottom 155
  • 13: For the Love of Biodiversity (And Stable Ecosystems?) 170
  • 14: Facing Marley's Ghost 186
  • Epilogue 203
  • Acknowledgments 207
  • Notes 209
  • Index 229
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