Human advance has come with increasing impact on our natural world, raising questions of ecological health and sustainability and challenging science to provide better ways to manage ecosystems. Implicit in this challenge is a need for better communication. However, meaningful application of environmental and ecological informatics to living systems has been severely limited by historical biases in the definition, design and content of information. In particular, the mechanistic concept of nature objectifies material existence, separating it from formal laws; a program suited only for describing non-living systems. The description of complex living systems requires that we instead objectify whole relationships that have both material and formal aspects. Robert Rosen's theory of relational complexity addresses this problem, providing a new concept of information and nature that is appropriate for complex informatics design. Furthermore, the principle of relational complexity is found to apply generally to nature, such that the principles of mechanism represent a special case. Rosen's discovery introduces a form of analysis appropriate to living, social, and psychological phenomena, with profound implications throughout science and society. Here, the ideas are developed in detail regarding ecological science, policy, and ethics, as comprised in the societal need for better informatics. The approach corrects historically vague definitions of ecological units and terms of reference for ecological theory. Rosen “modeling relations” in nature translate to empirical structures and functions defined as complementary information relations in local and general systems. Naturally complex relations can be represented in an information system in terms of these units, related mutually by means of generalized niche models. Complex architecture can be articulated on this basis to provide more meaningful communication between science, policy and society. Broader implications extend to the roots of conflict and uncertainty in relation to decision-making. Philosophically, the relational view suggests an integral ethical orientation, and a means to relate human values with science. The fundamentally different ways of viewing nature—mechanism vs. relationship—reflect a similar divide between instrumental views of nature and ethics typical of Western industrial culture, and views of intrinsic order and emergent ethics more typical of traditional Eastern cultures. Just as mechanistic and relational informatics must be combined to properly represent ecosystems, instrumental and intrinsic value beliefs must be combined to address human well-being.
|Advisor:||Wessman, Carol A.|
|Commitee:||Banathy, Bela A., Coughenour, Michael, Guralnick, Robert, Pulwarty, Roger, Sturgis, Daniel, Ulanowicz, Robert|
|School:||University of Colorado at Boulder|
|School Location:||United States -- Colorado|
|Source:||DAI-B 68/11, Dissertation Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||Ecology, Philosophy, Environmental science, Information systems|
|Keywords:||Biodiversity, Environmental, Environmental ethics, Ethics, Information, Nature, Niche, Relational, Relational complexity|
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