Natural populations arise and sustain by combining and converting between two distinct and complementary processes of organization.
Naturally dissipative organization maximizes boundary surface exposure in response to external receptive influence through proliferation of particulate, folded or branching structure.
Naturally conservative organization minimizes boundary surface exposure in response to internal receptive influence through integration into packaged or networked structure.
In simple terms, a rough, leaky surface can both absorb and lose more energy from and to its outside than a smooth, impermeable one. Life forms both thrive and survive by dynamically balancing between these two modes of organization as internal and external energy availability varies which is summarized in the in the diagram shown opposite.
The ability to combine and convert between these modes of organization enables life forms to vary their pattern of development to suit changing environmental circumstances in different dynamic localities (‘place-times’). Conversion from dissipative to conservative organization is associated with boundary integration and sealing. Conversion from conservative to dissipative organization is associated with boundary opening and proliferation.
This is the essence of ecological and evolutionary sustainability as a creative, degenerative and regenerative process. A simple lesson, you might think, and one that any of us can learn simply by observing how life forms — including us human beings — naturally attune their development and behaviour to the circumstances we find ourselves in. And yet a lesson that we miss as soon as we mentally isolate ourselves and others, by definition, from our spatial and energetic context. For we then dislocate our thinking from our awareness of how it feels, both inwardly and outwardly to be alive and vulnerable, in need of sustenance and care.
If we try to make ourselves ‘fit’ within a pre-imposed box frame, we will feel ‘restricted’ and in fearful conflict, both internally and externally. We will suffer needlessly and feel angry, frustrated and sad. And that is what, in our current culture we are doing to ourselves, in no uncertain terms we are struggling to survive by making ourselves ‘fit’ some pre-determined niche, instead of thriving, surviving and flourishing in the continually evolving possibility of Life on Earth.