I’ve now watched the second of three films in the series.  To recap, the main title is:

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

A series of films about how humans have been colonised by the machines they have built. Although we don't realise it, the way we see everything in the world today is through the eyes of the computers.

Now we have had:

The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts

This is the story of how our modern scientific idea of nature, the self-regulating ecosystem, is actually a machine fantasy. It has little to do with the real complexity of nature. It is based on cybernetic ideas that were projected on to nature in the 1950s by ambitious scientists. A static machine theory of order that sees humans, and everything else on the planet, as components - cogs - in a system.

But in an age disillusioned with politics, the self-regulating ecosystem has become the model for utopian ideas of human 'self-organizing networks' - dreams of new ways of organising societies without leaders, as in the Facebook and Twitter revolutions, and in global visions of connectivity like the Gaia theory.

This powerful idea emerged out of the hippie communes in America in the 1960s, and from counterculture computer scientists who believed that global webs of computers could liberate the world.

But, at the very moment this was happening, the science of ecology discovered that the theory of the self-regulating ecosystem wasn't true. Instead they found that nature was really dynamic and constantly changing in unpredictable ways. But the dream of the self-organizing network had by now captured our imaginations - because it offered an alternative to the dangerous and discredited ideas of politics.
There was fact upon fact in the presentation, and I so wish they would give transcripts.

One learns something of what made Buckminster Fuller tick, and of Jay Forrester talking at the Club of Rome, in a sort of one-man TED conference.

There were glimpses of the awesome experiments of an ecologist George van Dyne.  Previously, modellers of the ecosystem had grossly simplified their data, giving predictions of an ecosystem returning to balance.  In these experiments, a large number of people were gathering masses of individual data, such as monitoring every mouthful of an individual small antelope, and collecting through a surgically implanted portal the contents of a buffalo’s stomach.  All this did not calculate to the sought-for equilibrium.  More and more data only made thing worse, and the PI died of a heart attack.

Then on to revolutions in recent years, in the Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, whipped up through the internet.  All these have more or less fizzled out.

Back to the communes.  People had not taken on board why these so quickly collapsed.  This, it seems, was because some animals are more equal than others, and the community rules against coalitions prevented any action against dominant individuals who bullied their way to power.

But the myths are still with us, particularly that we are individually free parts of a system.  Is that an oxymoron?

BBC iPlayer link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b011rbws/All_Watched_Over_by_Machines_of_Loving_Grace_The_Use_and_Abuse_of_Vegetational_Concepts/.  More next week, God Willing.