Abrahamson, D. (Chair & Organizer). (2018, June). A complex-dynamical-system’s view on the situated emergence of coordinated activity: From single cells to human collectives. 

Symposium presented at the annual meeting of the Jean Piaget Society, Amsterdam, May 31 – June 2.

Our symposium would present four research projects all working from a complex-dynamical-systems perspectives on development and learning. The projects share a fundamental commitment to ecological-cum-epigenetic models of skill development as emergent in complex biological–material-environmental dynamical systems in flux. The session reaches from primitive organisms through to humans learning as individuals, in pairs, and in groups.

We begin with single-cell organisms. In “Lessons from non-living dissipative structures for learning and development,” the authors write: “The diversity of biological systems capable of perception-action suggests that, rather than reflecting a particular biological specialization, perception-action has its origins in a general physical principle that biology has richly exploited. We propose that this general physical principle resides in the thermodynamics of dissipative structures, giving them a rudimentary end-directedness…. The implications for theories of learning and development will be discussed.”

A phylogenetic leap forward takes us to, “How to design for embodied dynamic development toward proportional actions, perceptions and descriptions?,” where the authors set off from this premise: “As design researchers of mathematical education, we are interested in how to promote students’ embodied dynamic development toward culturally accepted mathematical practices…. In line with enactivism, we assume that knowing is doing and aim to implement environmental constraints that enable learners to self-organize relevant mathematical behavior flexibly…. The results showed a variety of doings not yet described in the literature [whose] occurrence changed nonlinearly.”

And then there were two students. In “Vygotsky’s psychological systems as complex dynamical systems: Theorizing multimodal data of student–tutor collaboration on an embodied mathematical task,” the authors used dual-eye-tracking data to find that, “Synchrony and coordination between a tutor’s perception and a student’s action reveal the emergence of inter-subjective coupling between the tutor and student’s respective perception–action systems. At a critical stage of embodied interaction, the tutor’s multimodal cultural intervention is interlaced with the student’s personal embodied activity through iterative open-ended attempts to re-orient the student’s attention towards the cultural meaning.”

Finally, in “Exploiting self-organization: Skills for ‘emergence management’ in complex interaction dynamics,” the author opens with, “Micro-genetic studies of joint improvisers (e.g. dance, martial arts) suggest significant applicability of dynamic systems concepts, but also point to a question previously overlooked by DST: coupling based expert skills for dealing with evolving interpersonal dynamics.” The author argues that “interaction research should incorporate insights of enactive cognitive science (participatory sense making, non-serial processing, cascades of active sensing “directives” and co-evolving goals)…”