Everyday entropy: unmappable


A forest cannot be mapped, and no meaningful information can be extracted from it.  The forest exists in three dimensions, so any cross section, whether vertical or horizontal, will miss the essential relationships entirely.  Not only that, but a forest lives in time, so that every interaction depends on what came before and what will come next.  To speak of a forest in terms of trees per hectare or healthy versus dying trees misses the point of ecology entirely, as if fungus were an infectious agent or decay had no value.  A forest should be dying in patches and growing in others.  Meadows should appear and the be subsumed again.  The growth and decline of the fungal underworld cannot be underestimated, both for the health of the trees that will grow into the next generation and the wildlife that can be supported.

The only way to get information out of a forest is to clear it and replace it with something simpler.  The living forest contains so many meaningful relationships that it behaves relativistically.  A conformal field of infinite dimensions could map the informational content of the forest, but these fields are hypothetical at the scale of a single protein, and incomprehensible at the scale of handful of the canopy.

The cost of a degraded forest is surprisingly high:

“When the Europeans came here [the Hudson river valley] hundreds of years ago, they clear-cut nearly all of the forests to plant crops and raise livestock.  They also cut down trees for commercial use to make masts for ships, and for firewood.  Since then a lot of the forest has come back — but it’s not the same forest as before, he says. Today it’s all broken up into little pieces, with roads, farms and housing developments.  Without as many foxes, hawks and owls to eat them, mice crank out babies. And we end up with forests packed with mice — mice that are chronically infected with Lyme and covered with ticks.  So all these little patches of forest dotting the Northeast have basically turned into Lyme factories, spilling over with infected ticks.”





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