Monday, April 2, 2018

RhizoRhetoric: 4 Open

I just realized that I merged two characteristics of complex systems in yesterday's post. Cilliers' third characteristic has to do with direct and indirect feedback loops, but I won't correct my mistake here. I think I covered it sufficiently yesterday.

Cilliers' fourth characteristic reads this way:
Complex systems are open systems—they exchange energy or information with their environment—and operate at conditions far from equilibrium.
In my previous post, I explored how complex systems exchange energy and information among the elements within the system. This is the complementary process in which the system exchanges energy and information with its ecosystem. In some ways, this is the external process that feeds the internal process. A complex system (think here of a zygote or a writing swarm) may bring an internal store of energy and information (think of DNA and college degrees), but without regular exchanges of energy and information from the ecosystem, any complex system will die. Again, this is a fundamental process that accounts for the formation and functioning of stars and atoms as well as of writing swarms.

One cannot understand a writing swarm without understanding the energy and data streams that feed that swarm. The identity of the swarm emerges as the nexus of all those internal and external flows and exchanges of energy and information, and the swarm functions and sustains itself only so long as flows and exchanges persist.

The energy and information flows are dynamic, constantly evolving, which means that the complex system such as a writing swarm operates "at conditions far from equilibrium." Direct and indirect feedback loops are at work between the swarm and its environment just as they are within the various elements of the swarm itself. New information and energy feeds into a swarm, which processes that energy and information, dampening some and amplifying other but all the while modifying itself to accommodate and respond to that new data, and then the swarm feeds back new information and energy, which modifies its ecosystem across all scales. Constant feedback cycles process energy and information and feed back energy and information at both local and global scales.

This processing is at times synchronous within a writing swarm, but more often it is asynchronous as different writers across the world work and write at different times, so that documents emerge in fits. A whole section can emerge in a somewhat new direction with new energy and information, and then the entire swarm must process that new direction and adjust itself to it. Sometimes the new section finds a home, sometimes it is pruned. It is always edited and always leads to other edits as the swarm reconfigures itself.

This network of dynamic exchanges within and without the writing swarm defines the swarm and the writing that it produces. Eventually, the exchanges of energy and information stop and the document attains equilibrium. It is completed. The writing swarm, however, does not attain equilibrium; rather, it remains dynamic if it does not disband or die. Tension can emerge between the static, completed document and the dynamic, constantly reforming swarm, which can move beyond or away from the document in a very short time.

Swarm writing, then, can be a very messy process. While the swarm will try to manage its internal processing, it is always open to new information and energy streams which can surprise, delight, and confuse the swarm. Swarm writing makes great demands on the resourcefulness and resilience of the swarm to find its place within its ecosystem. This has certainly been the case with our swarm, which has struggled to find a way to express itself within an ecosystem not quite ready to listen to its song.

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