The Challenge of Complexity in Society: Meaning Making at the Edge of Chaos

Marty Jacobs


The pressing social problems we have are demanding that we build our capacity for meaning making to address them effectively. Meaning making at the edge of chaos is the type of meaning making we engage in when our current worldview is profoundly challenged by new information and experiences and, when the world is complex and chaotic, we are continually challenged and disoriented. This paper introduces the concept of meaning making at the edge of chaos and its theoretical basis in transformative learning theory, logotherapy, constructive developmental theory, complexity theory, chaos theory, and complex adaptive systems. In particular, it focuses on the concepts of disorienting dilemma, critical reflection, and the components of a meaning system derived from transformative learning theory. From logotherapy, it draws on the notions of will-to-meaning, meaning of life, and freedom of will. This paper includes the theory of the socialized, self-authoring, and self-transforming minds from constructive developmental theory. Finally, the concepts of nonlinearity, self-organization, emergence, learning, adaption, the butterfly effect, dissipative structures, and far-from-equilibrium are some key aspects from the world of complexity. These theories are integrated and form the basis for a model of meaning making at the edge of chaos.


meaning making; chaos; complexity; transformative learning; dialogue; complex adaptive systems; far-from-equilibrium

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