The Environment Is Not A System

  • Tega Brain


This paper considers some of the limitations and possibilities of computational models in the context of environmental inquiry, specifically exploring the modes of knowledge production that it mobilizes. Historic computational attempts to model, simulate and make predictions about environmental assemblages, both emerge from and reinforce a systems view on the world. The word eco-system itself stands as a reminder that the history of ecology is enmeshed with systems theory and presup-poses that species entanglements are operational or functional. More surreptitiously, a systematic view of the environment connotes it as bounded, knowable and made up of components operating in chains of cause and effect. This framing strongly invokes possibilities of manipulation and control and implicitly asks: what should an ecosystem be optimized for? This question is particularly relevant at a time of rapid climate change, mass extinction and, conveniently, an unprecedented surplus of computing.