The idea of a web of meaning as a more realistic vision of how a CAS evolves has been gaining depth beyond the obvious metaphor for a number of years. A web of meaning is more like a field in which novel possibilities arise than, for example, some deductive rules-based model or an ideological approach to understanding a CAS.
Here the word field isn’t used in any scientific way. Rather, a field of meaning is one where unseen interaction produces novelty and disruption as a normal part of its dynamic. You can think of novelty as a variation that pops up, maybe disappears (like virtual particles), or may dynamically impact the ongoing evolution of the field.
In addition to the metaphor of a field, the flow of a river gives some insight into the evolution of a web of meaning.
As anyone who has watched a river in spring knows, the apparent chaos of the river’s flow is deceptive. The turbulence seems unknowable at first glance, but there are rough patterns for eddies and other forms of turbulence. In fact, people who embrace the extreme sports of travel in river turbulence become adept at navigating the apparent chaos. (There are lessons from the development of rough water expertise for our efforts to change that I leave for a later post.) If we think of meaning as illustrating the dynamic flow in a CAS, the patterns of meaning in the turbulence take on changing possibilities and changing roles in the understanding of our Macro-CAS of sabotage.
Turbulence in a river represents the large-scale correlation of water molecules acting as roughly coherent, if temporary, flows. The turbulence is not made up of static parts, obviously. But we often treat it as though it is when we talk about it. The same is true of the insurgent turbulence. Simple conversation can ignore the reality of flow, but if we persist in “objectifying” turbulence for conversational convenience, we will make many bad choices in trying to alter the flow of the insurgency CAS.
The point of this post is really to get us to see the need for engaging those flows, to develop in our systems change efforts the intuitions and skills that are second nature to rough water sports enthusiasts in their engagement with turbulence. The context of the further posts in this series is this understanding of turbulence and our need to engage it if we wish to have some say over the direction of the evolving Macro-CAS.