CASUS Institute Seminar, Wolfgang Castell, Helmholtz Zentrum München

Complex adaptive systems constantly react upon changes in their environment. On the one hand, a system’s inner organization reflects certain hypotheses concerning the nature of the environment the system is acting in. On the other hand, long-term sustainability requires a system to be open for change, since the action of other systems outside of its own boundaries, induce changes challenging these internal hypotheses. The adaptive cycle metaphor by Gunderson and Holling claims that the urge of every system in maintaining its own survival necessarily induces a loss of resilience, which eventually leads to system breakdown and renewal. Despite its plausible nature, the adaptive cycle resisted qualitative assessments due to the abstract nature of the underlying characteristic variables potential, connectedness
and resilience.
Using concepts from information theory, we provide a method for quantifying these variables in a quite universal way. Doing so, we can estimate the positiion of a system within the adaptive cycle quantitatively. This does not only allow to assess the qualitative hypotheses underlying the metaphor, but also to scrutinize the mechanisms underlying drivers of change. Our analyses confirm the conceputal dynamics of the adaptive cycle und underline its usability in understanding system development.