Natural Systems

If only we had an owner’s manual for complex systems, structures, and institutions, it would guide us in mending the things that aren’t working. Then again, what if we could create the manual? Can this be done? How? Maybe we already have what we need to make the manual. Maybe we’ve had it all along, but haven’t recognized it.

According to the fossil records, there has been life on Earth for over three billion years. The earliest forms of life for which we have evidence were relatively simple one-celled organisms. In time, according to evolutionary theory, some of these single-celled organisms transformed or evolved into larger plant and animal life forms.

Eventually these larger plants and animals transformed themselves further into more new organism types. As this formation and evolution advanced, interactions between these different organisms became more complex, with new life strategies hinged not just upon the natural environment, but upon the other life forms. For many millions of years on Earth, these life forms have developed, adapted, interacted, and reshaped themselves and each other. While over very long time periods the specific types of plants, animals, and microscopic life forms have ebbed and waned, they continued to adapt, interact, and develop into complex and interdependent groupings.

Today, these plants, animals, fungi, and microorganisms inhabit essentially every nook on and near the Earth’s surface. The number and variety of plant and animal types, or species, that now occur is astounding—including land and sea, several million are believed to exist. Even now, these millions of species continue to live and interact in complex, interdependent groups that are often referred to as ecosystems or natural communities. Like the ability of each species to adapt to changes, these ecosystems and natural communities also change through time, adjusting and readjusting to each other and to the environment. The Earth’s ecosystems and natural communities have probably always been a source of survival interest and curiosity for humans, as they are now a continual source of scientific intrigue.

When it comes to complexity and survival through changing conditions, there is probably no equal to these ecosystems, natural communities, and the organisms that inhabit them. They display perhaps the most widespread and wondrous abilities to maintain or sustain themselves in the midst of uncountable situations, interactions, and changes. Fundamentally and over long periods, these systems and organisms are tightly held to the laws of nature. That which works best, spreads. That which works least, disappears. Systems that can sustain themselves remain. Systems that cannot sustain themselves transform or disintegrate.

This natural push toward functionality and sustainability has led to many amazing system designs that have an ability to persist and reproduce themselves, despite what might look like challenges. To view nature is to behold a university that has stood—not for an admirable three hundred years—but more like a humbling thirty thousand or three-hundred thousand years.

Just what do these natural systems do, or how is it that they have “learned” to be so sustainable? Herein, there will be an attempt to understand the wisdom of these complex systems.

Natural Systems continues