Systems Theory recognizes four different types of systems. For the purposes of this analysis, we only need to focus on Type 1 and Type 4 systems.
Type 1 – Simple Systems
Type 1 Systems are simple and limited. This makes them predictable in their behavior and the trajectory of their existence is predictable to the point of being inevitable. The most commonly quoted illustration of a Type 1 System is a ping-pong ball dropped into a large glass bowl; it is predictable and inevitable that the ball will eventually end up stationary in the bottom of the bowl. Every time it is dropped into the bowl it will bounce around in a slightly different way – but every time it will end up stationary in the bottom of the bowl.
Type 4 – Complex Adaptive Systems
Type 4 Systems are also known as Complex Adaptive Systems are the most sophisticated. They are characterized by their ability to self-organize and respond to “perturbations” or challenges and threats to the system by recovering, repairing and restoring to an optimal state. Commonly quoted illustrations of such systems include the economy and ecologies. Each one of us can be considered a Type 4 System – in fact, there are more cells in and on our body that do not have our DNA than there are cells that do. This is due to the billions of microbes that are present in our gut to assist with digestion, on our skin etc. So each of us is a “biotic system” made up of our own cells and all these other organisms existing synergistically.
All Type 4 Systems have a natural innate ability to respond to environmental perturbances by adjusting, restoring and healing themselves back towards the stability of their optimal state.
In fact, Type 4 Systems are defined by this ”autopoeitic” or self-organizing capacity. In the terminology of Systems Theory, it is said these higher orders of System exhibit ”emergent” qualities.
Emergence is the manifestation of a property of the “whole” – the Type 4 System, that is not a property of any particular component of the “whole” and is lost if the “wholeness” of the System is disrupted or destroyed.
In Type 4 Systems these emergent self-organizing qualities empower the System with the capacity to resist and recover from disruptive challenges or “perturbations” from the environment that might threaten the sustainability and integrity of the System. This is described as “inertia to disruption”.