Properties of Environments

There is obviously an immense variety of system environments, just as there is an immense variety of systems. But all of these environments have some common general properties. These properties will be reflected in systems. These reflections, or basic orientors, orient not just structure and function ofsystems, but also their behavior in the environment. The term orientor is used to denote (explicit or implicit) normative concepts that direct behavior and development of systems in general. In the social context, values and norms, objectives and goals are important orientors. Ecosystems and organisms tend toward certain attractor states whose specific characteristics can be viewed as orientors. Orientors exist at different levels of concreteness within an orientor hierarchy. The most fundamental orientors, the basic orientors, are identical for all complex adaptive systems. Orientors are dimensions of concern; they are not specific goals. Their satisfaction can be determined by observation of corresponding indicators, which can also be used to define goal functions for model studies.

In addition to the physical constraints of exergy and material flows, ecosystem and species development is determined by the 'general properties of the environment':

1. Normal environmental state. The actual environmental state can vary around this state in a certain range.

2. Scarce resources. Resources (exergy, matter, information) required for a system's survival are not immediately available when and where needed.

3. Variety. Many qualitatively very different processes and patterns occur in the environment constantly or intermittently.

4. Reliability. The normal environmental state fluctuates in random ways, and the fluctuations may occasionally take it far from the normal state.

5. Change. In the course of time, the normal environmental state may gradually or abruptly change to a permanently different normal environmental state.

6. Other systems. The behavior of other systems changes the environment of a given system.

Basic Orientors

If evolution enforces fitness of (natural) systems, then persistent systems must reflect the properties of their environment in their structure. More generally, the basic properties of the environment require corresponding basic system features. Since the basic environmental properties are independent of each other, a similar set of independent system features must exist, and it must find expression in the concrete features of the system structure.

There is a one-to-one relationship between the properties of the environment and the 'basic orientors of systems' (Figure 2):

1. Existence. Attention to existential conditions is necessary to insure the basic compatibility and immediate survival of the system in the normal environmental state.

2. Effectiveness. In its efforts to secure scarce resources (exergy, matter, information) from, and to exert

Normal environmental state

Normal environmental state

influence on its environment, the system should on balance be effective.

3. Freedom of action. The system must have the ability to cope in various ways with the challenges posed by environmental variety.

4. Security. The system must have the ability to protect itself from the detrimental effects of variable, fluctuating, unpredictable, and unreliable environmental conditions.

5. Adaptability. The system should be able to change its parameters and/or structure in order to generate more appropriate responses to challenges posed by changing environmental conditions.

6. Coexistence. The system must modify its behavior to account for behavior and interests (orientors) of other systems.

Obviously, the system equipped to secure better overall orientor satisfaction will have better fitness, and will therefore have a better chance for long-term survival and sustainability. In persistent systems or species, these orientors will be found as emergent objectives (or system interests).

Properties of Orientors

Each of the basic orientors stands for a unique requirement. Attention (conscious or unconscious) must therefore be paid to each of them, and the compensation of deficits of one orientor by over-fulfillment of other orientors is not possible. Fitness forces a multicriteria response, and comprehensive (conscious or unconscious) assessments of system behavior and development must also be multicriteria assessments.

In the assessment and orientation of system behavior, we deal with a two-phase assessment process where each phase is different from the other.

Phase 1. First, a certain minimum satisfaction must be guaranteed separately for each of the basic orientors. A deficit in even one of the basic orientors threatens long-term survival. The system will have to focus its attention on this deficit.

Phase 2. Only if the required minimum satisfaction of all basic orientors is guaranteed is it permissible to try to raise system satisfaction by improving satisfaction of individual orientors further.

Adequate satisfaction of each of the basic orientors requires, on a lower level, system- and environment-specific satisfaction of thermodynamic, structural, functional, ecophysiological, and system orientors. Network analysis suggests complementarity of different formulations of extremal principles as orientors describing ecosystem development.

Characteristic differences in the behavior of otherwise very similar systems (animals, humans, political, or cultural groups) can often be explained by differences in the relative importance attached to different basic orientors (i.e., emphasis on freedom, or security, or effectiveness, or adaptability) in phase 2 (i.e., after minimum requirements for all basic orientors have been satisfied in phase 1).

The basic orientor proposition has three important implications:

1. If a system evolves in a normal environment, then that environment forces it to implicitly or explicitly ensure minimum and balanced satisfaction of each of the basic orientors (and of lower-level orientors contributing to this satisfaction).

2. If a system has successfully evolved in a normal environment, its behavior will exhibit balanced satisfaction of each of the basic orientors.

3. If a system is to be designed for a normal environment, proper and balanced attention must be paid to satisfaction of each of the basic orientors.

The third implication has particular relevance for the creation of programs, institutions, and organizations in the sociopolitical sphere, among other things. Note that for a specific system in a specific environment, each orientor will have a specific meaning. For example, security of a nation is a multifacetted objective set with very different content from the security of an individual particular organism. However, the systems theoretical background for satisfaction of the security orientor is the same in both cases.

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