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Technology

Living Systems Theory and Eco-mimicry


We all intuitively understand that water is the foundation of life and the medium
tying all life together; yet, conventional engineering and economic analyses treat
water as a mere commodity. The inadequacy of this narrow analytical context is
demonstrated by unprecedented, converging natural and human-caused threats to
water resources. A much broader understanding of water is essential to secure our
survival, and that of other living beings.
Restoring abundant natural systems and designing a lasting water infrastructure
requires an understanding that humanity is a part of nature, not separate from it.
Water is the essential common substance uniting and supporting natural and human
ecosystems.
Every ecosystem, from the microbial to the planetary, is physically based on water. It
seamlessly cycles within and among these ecosystems, forming one integrated living
system. What happens at one level or location within the system can have significant
effects in other parts of the system.
According to James Grier Millers Living Systems Theory (1978), All nature is a
continuum, from a sub-cellular level to the whole system. The theory provides a
conceptual basis for understanding and analyzing the value of water across a broad
range of situations, according to consistent physical principles.
This interaction of systems within systems is greater than the sum of its parts.
Human society cannot exist without strong, healthy ecosystems, and wise human
involvement in ecosystems can boost their productivity and staying power beyond
what is possible if left alone.*
Water technologies designed to promote such a mutually beneficial relationship are
the key to productive, healthy human and natural communities.
Such technologies recognize that water is not only an economic commodity, but also:

The basis of the food chain


Intimately tied to climate issues
A basis of human health
A source of beauty and inspiration
And much more.

The Living Technology Institute has been established to bring this broader context to
the advancement of analytical approaches and infrastructure technologies. The
Institute will focus primarily on human communities. Not only are the technologies
most needed in this context, but also these communities are often the source of the
most significant impacts to nature.
LTI will maintain the holistic perspective by focusing on technologies that are based
in the concepts of eco-mimicry. Eco-mimicry can be defined as the application to
technology design of principles and processes from large-scale natural systems
(ecosystems). Water systems offer one of the most fruitful applications of this design
concept, due to the essential role of water as the medium tying all life together.
Specific ecosystem principles are significant in considering the redesign of water
infrastructure. These principles include the facts that ecosystems:

Are decentralized Activities are carried out at a small scale in close proximity
to the need.
Are fractal There are a large number of similar components performing
similar roles at different scales and locations.
Are interdependent The components of an ecosystem depend on the
continuous interchange of material, energy, and information among a myriad of
entities.
Close cycles locally Even though there is some transport of nutrients and
materials over long distances, the vast majority of cycling in an ecosystem (even
for water) occurs in micro-cycles, as water, nutrients, and other components are
used and reused over and over in a small area.
Use waste as a resource Any waste produced in nature creates an
opportunity for other organisms to develop a food source and habitat. Human
pollution has overwhelmed this natural recycling by the quantity of waste and the
new chemical compounds released. Ecological water technology can apply
enhanced natural processes that allow significant quantities of wastewater and
excess nutrients to be harvested for use.
Use the least energy path As with nutrients, energy is used and reused
many times in a small area. In addition, natural systems have evolved to use the
most effective energy conversion and biological processes.
Aggregate these decentralized, local functions into large, integrated
regional systems Implementing this concept in human water systems means

that the watershed scale is usually the smallest context within which to apply the
eco-mimicry principles.
Applying these and other ecosystem principles to our water systems will guide the
new conceptual approach that LTI brings to water infrastructure technology. To this
understanding of ecological science, we will add, the knowledge of 21st Century
environmental engineering and information technology. It is this tripartite
foundation that allows the creation of Living Technology, and its application to begin
reintegrating human and natural ecosystems.
Solving our water challenges requires understanding these consistent physical
principles of water at multiple levels and building ecological infrastructure that
reflects that understanding. Our goal at LTI is to find and advance these practical,
cost-effective ecological water treatment and reuse technologies.