It is important to have a sense of the contrast between linear systems and non-linear ones as one engages with creative processes (processes of individuating novelty). As a novel assemblage individuates, the form of causality and the system shifts from being linear to non-linear.
Linear Systems rest like small temporary islands in a vast sea of non-linear causality. They are the spaces where “this causes that” – they are rare and limited in scope but as a way of engaging with reality they are far more pervasive than would seem appropriate.
Linear causality is additive, proportional and works via aggregation. A simple way to visualize this is how we build with lego: Many things add up proportionally to a whole which is roughly a sum of its parts. And in the end it is reversible (decomposable) – you can take it apart the same way you built it and you will have the same parts at the end as you had at the beginning.
Non-linear causality is neither additive nor proportional. You cannot trace anything directly to anything. Outcomes are not proportional to inputs. This is because non-linear systems involve emergence. Emergent processes are ones where the emergent whole (the “outcomes”) is different than its parts in an irreducible manner – and equally importantly where the whole makes its parts (system causation). And, there is no solitary outcome but a pattern of possibilities.
Linear and non-linear are not in opposition but part of a dynamic tension (contrast). The key is being able to work dynamically across/with/through both.
Additional reading: Emerging Futures - Vol 81: Who Is the Individual and Who Is Creative?