The wind was lightly blowing through the palms, and the waves were gently breaking on the white shoreline as I sat with the smooth sand beneath my feet. The gentle sea breeze blowing in the salty, yet fresh ocean air was complemented by the vibrant turquoise water shimmering underneath the warm sunlight. There I sat, waiting for the right affordance (i.e., an opportunity for action) to jump into the warm ocean water just off the coast. Calmly waiting, I kept searching from left to right, working my eyes across the water, looking for color changes, and listening for the light slapping noise of a fish jumping up and then returning to the water.
My interest in complex systems isn’t limited to the pitch, field, court, or rink, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I was searching for schools of fish moving through the water near the coral! Our world is bursting with complex adaptive systems that are open to exchange energy where behavior is channeled through information acting as constraints on behavior. Thus, I was looking for an invitation to dive in, therefore scaring the fish, channeling a beautiful display of self-organization, where the fish use surrounding information to guide their behavior. Observing the emergence and adaptation of the fish and seeing their sensitivity to the environmental energy helping guide their synergy formation through local interactions was breathtaking.
As I swam around the coral, I was captivated by their use of the perpetual motion of the waves. They seemed at one with the energy of the sea, using it to move over, underneath, and around objects to feed and hide. A few fascinating things about their behavior occurred when I moved at different speeds and directions toward them. If I swam slowly around them, they would carry on about their business, not threatened by my presence; they rejected the affordance to flee for safety. However, If I made any sudden movements toward them, they would form a school and flee the scene. Through exploring the spatio-temporal relationship between myself and the fish, I found that I could move quickly to either side or away from them, and they carried on about their business. So it seems the sudden movements that reduced the interpersonal distance between us is what threatened them the most, giving rise to the school moving as one.
I have snorkeled hundreds of times in my life (I lived in Puerto Rico for a year), and I seize every opportunity to see the beautiful examples of open systems exchanging energy, which acts as information to specify opportunities to act in the world around them. Next time you’re out for a walk in the park, navigating through a busy mall or train station, or at a sporting event, I encourage you to look and listen a little harder to see what you find.
If these ideas intrigue you, then I encourage you to pick up our flagship course titled Underpinnings, which takes deep dive into the ideas that form an ecological dynamics rationale.
Tyler is the Co- Director of Education and Co-Founder of Emergence. He has held strength and conditioning positions at Northeastern State University and the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Over his career, he has delivered over 200 domestic & international continuing education courses, workshops, and conference presentations in 14 countries. Tyler is currently pursuing his doctorate in sport and exercise at the University of Gloucestershire (UK), exploring skill adaptation through an ecological lens. Through applied practice and research, his goal is to support practitioners in designing representative learning environments that enable American football players to skillfully regulate their behavior in context.