Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Pretty much everything worth talking about, from global civilization to a human relationship to an individual thought, is an example of a complex system with emergent properties. [Oh noes! Math!]
These systems are driven by the evolutionary algorithm: differentiation, selection, and exploration. When differentiation, selection, and exploration happen you get thinking, relationships and cool civilizations, when they fail you don’t.
Exploration is about going down a path and discovering a punch of other paths. It requires the time, energy, and information to properly explore.
Differentiation is about understanding which options are worth pursuing. It involves looking at a bunch of options and saying “these few are the interesting ones.” It’s often about understanding, expressing, and absorbing emotion. If you don’t pay attention to emotion, you’ll go down a path that makes people cranky.
Selection is about making plans to explore an option or a set of options. It involves good planning, solid commitments, mobilizing resources, and having the necessary expertise. Selection requires tasklisters, trust and training.
The evolutionary algorithm tends to operate across scale. An evolving highschool is made up of evolving groups, which are made up of evolving relationships which are made up of evolving conversations which are made up of evolving thoughts. This creates a fractal-like structure. It also creates “Black Swan” uncertainty in which big, totally unexpected events happen out of nowhere.
Our brains are tribe machines. (If I’m reading Dunbar right.) We evolved them to think about relationships with other people, not to do abstract algebra. This means that we’re much, much better at thinking about the way that human relationships evolve than we are at thinking about anything else.
Unfortunately, the way that we talk about relationships fundamentally limits this power. The concepts that we use to describe relationships (“finding the one,” “just friends,” “networking,”) tend to prevent meaningful connections from forming. They get in the way of the evolutionary algorithm doing its thing. Someone could probably find a nifty way to blame this on something, but I don’t really care.
This means that in most human situations the evolutionary algorithm is somehow being suppressed. If you know how to identify and remove that suppression, you can create disruptive self-organization pretty much anywhere.