In “Self Comes to Mind”, Antonio Damasio writes of the homeostatic range associated with the well-being of living creatures. Venture too close to the periphery of this range and you get pain. Inhabit the middle and you get pleasure. The nice thing about a range is that things don’t have to be perfect to feel good. You don’t need to hit the sweet spot – just stay within the range. Now compare the concept of the homeostatic range to the idea of homeostatic balance. Homeostatic balance is a perfectly respectable concept meaning a condition of equilibrium. But my interest is in the “use value” of the word ‘balance’: what it is meant to evoke and accomplish in discursive communities.

With balance, you’ve got equilibrium and with equilibrium, you’ve got a ‘point of equilibrium’. With points, there’s not much wiggle room. An internal temperature around 98.6°F is pretty much a point – venture a degree either way and we have a problem Houston.

Ranges usually have a lot of wiggle room. One doesn’t hear a “delicate range’. Ranges are sturdy; ranges provide options. Ranges imply tolerance of insults, at least to a degree.

Balance is another matter. Balance is often coupled with “delicate” (over 3 million results on Google!). Delicate balance implies fragility, vulnerability, and lurking danger. Hence, reference to a “delicate balance” as a call to action, often evoked in perceived threats to biological systems, especially from outsiders – whether those outsiders are unnatural chemicals or invasive species.

Reference: Antonio Damasio (2010) Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain; Vintage Books, New York, NY