School or Swarm

04.12.08

Let’s see if I can reconstruct this thought chain from my ride home tonight. The setting: my car, driving home from work, listening first to The Sports Bash, with Erik Kuselias, on ESPN radio. On Sports Bash tonight, the predominant subject was the flawed nature of the B.C.S. System in college football. Rapid Fire is the segment on the show that features quick questions and answers with call-in listeners that occupies the last ten minutes of the show. People can get dropped for making stupid comments. There really are not hard and fast rules or structure. But there is a strong sense which organizes perception and decision making. In essence, there is a feel, and there is being in tune with that feel. There can be different takes on the feel, but everyone participates on the same page. This sort of penumbrant organizational schema, somewhat like a subnewtonian fluid, does not exist formally, that is, in the concrete, though from the plasma, the general milieu of what is understood, do coalesce rulings on what is right and wrong, where the limits occur, what works, what’s cool, what’s STUPID, who’s hot.

While listening, I suddenly realized that what makes the segment so great ā€“ so fun ā€“ so entertaining ā€“ so surprisingly complex, is this self-generating, internally consistent, unspoken rule of order. Then I realized that what I just described as so fascinating about this segment on the show is exactly what tonight’s participants and host are railing against the B.C.S. System for embodying. The B.C.S. ‘s flaw is resultant of the same self-generating and homeostatic organizational structure.

Then I realized, this organizational structure is found in other places. It is the value-setting mechanism for most of us in our daily lives. There is a beauty to it, and a tremendous value. I wondered if there have been any studies on this mechanism. I should find them. This societal organization could be analogous to Bruce Lindsey’s emphasis on the significance of the manner in which a school of fish travel together. Everyone is in sync. Also, and conversely, there is the swarm…of bees or ants, let’s say, for which expendibility of energy and of individuals accomplishes the same. More chaotic, less coordinated.

This led me to realize that swarm and school are sort of like opposites. With the swarm, each agent follows the exact same rules but the overall system may seem chaotic as those rules are applied by each agent independent of the activities of the agents acting in close proximity. Conversely, with the school, the coherence of the overall pattern is maintained, but doing so means that each fish may need to vary its behavior as the context changes so that the outcome from the group overall is similar. In the case of Kuselias’ show, the interactions are more like a school, wherein there is variability in how individuals act with other individuals, but the overall pace, tenor, and resulting feel of the show is maintained.

Could this train of thought be used as a segue to discuss the benefits of rate of change occurring at such a rate that allows for the equivalent of the synchronized school of fish as opposed to a more intense, less focused method that expends more energy and uses its populace as expendible? Could studies be found to really illuminate exactly what the organizational structure is which exists in these communities where what’s right and wrong is more felt and sensed than clearly delineated? And how do we ‘just know’ how to navigate the complexities of tasks and environments as described here.

One response to “School or Swarm

  1. That is an intriguing thought! I fear you have set me off on an interesting tangent; one that I will likely spend time the next week thinking about as I interact with various groups/committees etc. at work.

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