This is the first in a series of six blogs posts excerpted from the introduction to Gina Campbell’s book, Panning for Your Client’s Gold: 12 Lean Clean Language Processes (2015)
The science of emergence
Emergence attempts to explain how a collection of individual units become complex, self-directing systems. From evolutionary leaps in nature to the growth of cities, from busy ant colonies to sensitive stock markets, self-organizing systems and patterns emerge from innumerable small interactions of the system’s parts in response to simple guiding rules, repetitions, and feedback.
When a system reaches a level of complexity for which the existing management structure is no longer adequate, a transformation occurs. Something new, something that is more that just a sum of its parts, comes into existence. By definition, emergent features are unpredictable; there will be characteristics of the new whole that do not exist among its component parts. Thus you cannot know in advance what the “new” will be. Nor can you predict precisely if or when a shift will occur.
Shifts in organizational patterns sift down through the system. In a process termed downward causation, the original component parts that made up the system are affected by the new structure. They change because the individual’s system has a feedback loop: it learns from itself. The parts are no longer exactly as they were before.
From the micro-level of quantum physics to the macro-level of the global economy, there are numerous examples of emergence at all levels when conditions give rise to some new structure of organization. Fundamental to this concept is that the reorganizing of the system happens naturally, without needing a structural organizer from outside the system. Over the long term, the system self-regulates.
Guiding concept #1: We are self-organizing, self-correcting systems
David Grove applied emergence theory to the individual, regarding him as a system of interrelating parts with numerous bits of information, experiences, and coping strategies accumulated over the years. At any given time the system has an organizing structure, a modus operandi or way of functioning.
When the individual has a problem, a contributing factor may be that his system’s organization is not optimized to resolve it. Healthy or helpful functioning is not a result of what the interrelating parts are; it is a matter of organization, of how the parts are interacting, which is why, for example, two soldiers with similar combat experiences may experience very different long-term effects.
According to the principles of emergence, with enough pieces of information relating to the problem, a system with a less-than-optimal way of organizing that information will eventually find a better way. This new structure of organization leads to the clients’ having a different way of coping or managing, which can in turn, mean new choices and outcomes are possible.
For some clients, the shift filters through the system’s parts rapidly. The old structure may have proved to be so inadequate that it collapses and spontaneously disappears entirely. Other times, the new pattern of organization that emerges may incorporate some or all of the old pattern.
Still other times, the old pattern gradually fades away. Given our mind/body system’s natural tendency to self-correct to function efficiently and beneficially, as the new structure demonstrates to the mind/body system its more beneficial, stable way of functioning, it becomes the go-to pattern of responding.
Depending on the pressures on it, the new emergent state exists for awhile (maybe for a very long while) until some new dilemma challenges it. This creates a pressure for change, and at some point, a new order will again emerge.
It is a dynamic process of self-correction.
So what might happen when a client’s system reorganizes? Of course it is different for each individual, depending on what’s needed. In terms of observable effects, I have had clients finally leave a job or relationship, change careers, decide to have an operation, start exercising regularly, lose weight, start Alcoholics Anonymous, have a difficult conversation, cease debilitating grieving, forgive themselves, and do all sorts of things that they had agonized over for months, if not years. Sometimes the effects are more about a pervasive feeling: a sense of relief or joy or engagement with life. Their systems evolve a new coping strategy that allows them to establish a new modus operandi.
Suggestions that come from the outside, that is, any external source such as a therapist’s or coach’s ideas or solutions, may or may not penetrate to the system level; if they do, they may not override old patterns and beliefs. David Grove maintained that comprehensive and lasting change, change that resonates throughout the individual’s entire system, requires structural reorganizing from within.
How do Grovian processes apply emergence theory?
All Grovian processes rely on the characteristics of emergent systems to naturally self-correct, even those David Grove developed before he began to study the science of emergence specifically. Grove’s intention with Clean interventions was to optimize the conditions whereby the client discovers, accesses, and accumulates information from his mind/body system, including relevant data that may have been inaccessible or unrecognized before. The processes focus the Clean facilitator on structuring the exploratory experience rather than introducing any new content.