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Emergent emergencies in complex ecosystems : reflections on the limits of narrative cognition and a revisiting of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park (1990)

Scherr, Alexander


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URN: urn:nbn:de:hebis:26-opus-120606
URL: http://geb.uni-giessen.de/geb/volltexte/2016/12060/

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Freie Schlagwörter (Englisch): emergence , narrative , narrative cognition , ecosystem, ecology , chaos theory , Jurassic Park (Michael Crichton)
Universität Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen
Institut: International Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture
Fachgebiet: Gießener Graduiertenzentrum Kulturwissenschaften
DDC-Sachgruppe: Sozialwissenschaften, Soziologie
Dokumentart: Aufsatz
Zeitschrift, Serie: On_Culture : the Open Journal for the Study of Culture ; 1
ISBN / ISSN: 2856008-5
Sprache: Englisch
Erstellungsjahr: 2016
Publikationsdatum: 30.05.2016
Kurzfassung auf Englisch: This article argues that ‘emergent emergencies’ in complex natural systems or ‘eco-systems’ can be understood as the ethical consequences of cognitive failure or “epis-temological error” (Gregory Bateson). More specifically, I hold that complex systems display emergent behaviors, and that narrative cognition — our human default way of making sense of the world — is not particularly well suited for understanding emer-gence. Building on previous narratological work on the incompatibility of narrative and emergence (H. Porter Abbott, Richard Walsh), I argue further that narrative think-ing and complex systems are each characterized by distinct types of ‘agency,’ or ways of conceptualizing agency. In its second half, the essay turns to Michael Crichton’s classic Jurassic Park (1990), reading the novel as a fictional thought experiment which not only simulates an emergency situation, but also explores the reasons for the collapsing of the control system in the fictional theme park from the vantage of chaos theory. It will be shown that the emergent emergency staged in the novel is the result of cognitive failure on the part of the park managers, who are misled by a ‘narrative of centralized control’ (Abbott) in their attempts to control the park and a reductionist conceptualization of ‘life.’ Such reductionist approaches to life are contrasted with ecological frameworks in this article.1
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