I’m continuing my Church 2.0 posts (Web 2.0 thinking applied to church leadership) today by talking about the concepts of emergence, chaos, and nonlinearity.
The title of this post is likely confusing for some. I intend to talk about emergence and chaos as phenomena, and relate those phenomena to the Church 2.0 series. As such, it doesn’t have any direct link to the Emerging Church Movement (if I capitalize it, am I making it into a denomination?). Incidentally I think Emerging Church is a great name, because of what emergence means. But this post is about emergence and chaos, not the Emerging Church Movement proper. Capiche?
Emergence refers to the process of a complex pattern forming from simpler rules. The termite "cathedral" on the left is an example of emergence in nature. None of the individual termites planned the structure, it just "emerged" from their collective termiting (or whatever it is termites do).
The Internet itself is an emergent phenomenon – there is no central database of links, no planning committees that decide what cool new web pages there should be. It’s simply a massively decentralized network, yet a structure emerges as pages get linked to from other pages. This is why even though anyone with Internet access can get to my blog they’re far more likely to end up on this one.
Emergence means that the end result cannot be reliably predicted from the initial conditions. It implies unpredictability and nonlinearity (1 plus 1 may or may not equal 2). Chaos theory is all about studying apparently random systems and finding their inherent, though hidden, order. All these concepts relate closely with one another:
Emergence = functionality/order without specific design
Chaos theory = "hidden" order in what looks random
Nonlinearity = 1 plus 1 doesn’t equal 2
In Web 2.0 thinking, emergence means you can’t predict the end result when you start the project, many times because you’re creating systems that are "hackable", or scalable – systems that are fueled by user participation, and because you can’t control how users participate (entirely), you can’t predict what the thing will look like in the end.