A NEW VIEW OF NATURE
Parts and Wholes in Biological Reality
We are Nature, long have we been absent, but now we will return.
— WALT WHITMAN
Imagine that a computer game like the Godgame described in the first chap- ter is available for home use. Assume that the players of this game can view interactions between human and environmental systems from the same godlike perspective in outer space and can zoom in and out at will to observe these interactions from the global to local levels. If a user zooms in on urban environments, human systems appear as extensive networks of highways and tracks that resemble the circulation system of some giant organism. Products from distant factories, farms, and coastal ports are flowing through the arteries of this system to energy-hungry urban cen- ters, and raw materials are flowing to processing and manufacturing plants. The weblike connections between electric power plants, transformers, cables, power lines, phones, radios, televisions, and computers resemble the spine and branches of a central nervous system, and the centers of production, distribution, and exchange can be likened to tissues and or- gans. If a player zooms out and traces the threadlike connections between these systems over the horizon and around the planet, this might conjure up the image of a superorganism that is growing at an alarming rate.
Obviously, the players will not assume that this global technological system is a superorganism in any literal sense. On the other hand, they cannot fail to notice that this system consumes vast amounts of natural resources, massively damages and disrupts environmental systems from the tropics to the poles, and does resemble, in ecological terms at least, a superorganism that feeds off the living system of the planet and extends