This semester’s most prominent theme has been about emergence: the formation of order from the interaction of many individual actors.
It was sparked by the book of the same name I read over the summer.
It has been carried on in my classes by the recognition that any successful business phenomenon is fundamentally propelled by lots of individual choices, and never by the imposition of anything on a large group. (though the rules and limitation of choices by what big companies choose to make of course has some effect)
It is repeated in all my sociology study: how does one person’s weird clothes become a fashion trend? Why do individual scientists often pursue the same research and make the same discoveries on opposite sides of the world at the same time?
It’s especially relevant in my systems class: how can a city (which came about because of the millions of people who chose to move in) act as a unit or a whole and get those people coordinated – without losing the fundamental reality that the city itself is only an abstraction and it’s only the individuals who matter?
And it only became clear to me that it’s truly an important issue when I was thinking about why all those people started chanting – spontaneously – “yes we can” at Obama’s speech earlier this week. Is it possible that a similar impulse – if focused more poignantly in a somewhat smaller group – could cause the spontaneous formation of coordinated dancing like we see in the movies?
At any rate, it’s all too little understood and needs to be exploited more effectively.