Chaos, Complexity and a Bunch of Questions.


July 18, 2010 by Willy Cardoso

Will I ever be on the edge of chaos? Will you? Or have you already?

Life is caught in the tension between order and chaos. Too much order makes things calm, predictable, under control. Sounds good?

No! We need chaos to create, innovate and move forward.

When these two dancing partners are in sync we have the edge of chaos. Absolute awareness, feet on the ground and head in the clouds, creativity at a peak, enough unpredictability to excite and thrill, enough predictability to comfort and plan.

Is it a dream? Utopia?

Mathematically speaking, no.

Spiritually speaking, neither.

Imaginatively, creatively, rationally, systematically; no, no, no, no!

According to the new field of Complexity Studies (complex adaptive systems, chaotic systems, non-linear systems, systems ecology), there is more to everything than meets the eye. But we knew that already, right? So what’s new?

Assuming (or for some people, proving) that the two things we (English teachers) can’t live without to make ends meet,

1 – The English Language

2 – People willing to learn it by being taught

So, assuming these are complex systems. And believe me they are. Haven’t we perhaps been barking up the wrong tree by frequently separating these two things when formulating theories or making classroom decisions, and even more uncertain than that, by breaking these things into identifiable parts, thinking that if we understand the parts we can understand the whole?

E.g. How can one study, teach or formulate theories of the English grammar without doing the same with its agents/users in their context and time? How can one study the motivation of L2 learners without doing the same with their history, physiology and environment?

How to teach one of the most complex things human beings created, language, to THE most complex being of our time, bipedal primates belonging to the mammalian species Homo Sapiens, by using deterministic/reductionist/positivist informed methods? (imagine a BIG question mark here)

I’m not pessimistic, not desperate, not discrediting everything or everyone. I’m just trying to find better questions, in order to have better answers. Until I can find these very good questions myself and spend eternity trying to find the answers, I’ll keep working on what’s already out there.

Check this out:

What if applied linguists should be seeking to explain how language learners increase their participation in a second language community rather than, or in addition to, how they acquire the language of the community?

What if learning another language is a matter not only of learning conventions, but also of innovation, of creation as much or more than reproduction? It would follow that teaching should not be characterized as helping students develop the same mental model of language that the teacher possesses, even if this were possible, because such a view would encourage the teaching of conformity to uniformity.

What if absolutist prescriptions and proscriptions about teaching are doomed to fail because they do not take into account the organic nature of change and the fact that pedagogic interventions are more valuable when they are adaptable, rather than expected to sustain standardization? If, instead, for example, we see learners and teachers as continually adapting to what others in the classroom do, then we have new ways of understanding why certain teaching interventions may fail and of developing better ones.

Larsen-Freeman, D. & Lynne, C. (2008) Complex Systems and Applied Linguistics Oxford Press

Great questions, aren’t they?

(The latest evidence that I’m going nuts is that I will talk (a bit) about Complex Systems in Language Learning at the Braz-Tesol Convention. The word cloud below makes up for a third of my paper. In case you’re there, come go nuts with me.)


One thought on “Chaos, Complexity and a Bunch of Questions.

  1. […] where my presentation is on complexity thinking, it’s time for another fuzzy-musings kinda post (this is the first), in the good sense of course, just to warm up. The conference by the way is TESOL France, where I […]

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