on the difference between emergence and spontaneity

“Complex systems have a process of emergence…Emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions.” — Nick Obolensky

i write this because i’ve been in convo with a few folks about an observed pattern in some movement spaces: a conflation between the concepts of emergence and spontaneity. i write this because i hope that by us being clear about the difference between the two, we can practice emergence and let our spontaneous shit just be spontaneous, haha.

so first, some definitions:

my favorite example of emergence is starling murmurations.


adrienne maree brown has drilled this message into me, for sure. but even going back to myself as a child on the florida coast, watching groups of small birds or schools of fish create dazzling displays as collectives has been in me for a long time.

murmurations happen when all the individuals in a collective follow the same set of rules to determine their individual movement. the outcome is a beautifully complex pattern that no individual bird is (or even has capacity to) orchestrating. but the way the pattern arises is from the rigor of everyone following the same set of rules (ex: don’t touch, always stay 6” apart from all other birds, move with the wind, follow the sun, etc etc).

spontaneity is a much simpler behavior. it is action or behavior that come from within and without (apparent) external stimulus.

life is an emergent property of all the biochemical elements that make up living things. life doesn’t happen spontaneously.

i am excited for our movements to be emergent. i am concerned if our movements are spontaneous.


words / writing / post-processing
330w / 13min / 5min