Thursday, April 5, 2018

RhizoRhetoric: 6 Emergence

The sixth characteristic of complex systems covers the concept of emergence:
The behavior of the system is determined by the nature of the interactions, not by what is contained within the components. Since the interactions are rich, dynamic, fed back, and, above all, nonlinear, the behavior of the system as a whole cannot be predicted from an inspection of its components. The notion of “emergence” is used to describe this aspect. The presence of emergent properties does not provide an argument against causality, only against deterministic forms of prediction.
The identity and value of a writing swarm is not the result of some characteristics or features innate to the various people in that swarm or to the various tools they use or the topics they write about; rather, the identity and value of a writing swarm emerges from interactions and exchanges among the actors and activities of the swarm. For instance, the topic of swarm writing was not a concept that we were all thinking about; rather, the topic emerged from our discussions and our interactions as we struggled to identify what we were observing people do in the #rhizo14/15 MOOC.

The swarm emerged and was defined from within, not from without. For instance, the various actors in the swarm were not selected by MOOC leader Dave Cormier beforehand based on some specific expertise of each and some goal of #rhizo14/15; rather, the swarm organized itself around discussions and tasks that interested various people at various times. People dropped in and dropped out of the swarm for their own reasons and according to their own trajectories, and the characteristics of the swarm changed as the swarm's actors and tasks changed. Enough actors have persisted to maintain the identity and some of the memory of the swarm, but enough actors have changed so that the swarm can respond to new ideas and tasks and take new directions.

As Cilliers points out, this is not a chaotic process that undermines causality and reason. The trajectories that all actors and activities in the swarm follow can be traced back to sufficient causes; however, the complex interactions of the actors do undermine our ability to predict absolutely what the swarm will do next. There is no guarantee that past activities will be accurate predictors of future activities. While the swarm does have memory that preserves past activities and structures, it is also open to new energies and information that can change those activities and structures.

This is all a way of saying that a writing swarm should expect novelty. What emerges from the swarm cannot be absolutely predicted by even a thorough examination and analysis of the constituent elements. The properties of a complex system such as a writing swarm emerge at a different scale, and the swarm develops its own agency, rules, and trajectory. The unexpected is not necessarily a sign of malfunctioning, and a writing swarm should not suppress the unanticipated new out of hand.

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