Rhizomatic Meta-Learning VII: Acting On and Acting Within

This is the seventh and final episode of a series on rhizomatic meta-learning. Read episodes onetwothreefourfive, and six.

How you conduct yourself when confronted with a rhizomatic domain depends on your orientation. If you favour a finite game orientation—you play to win—you’ll be concerned with mastering the rhizome. Your efforts will centre on removing the fog of illegibility, creating well-hewn pathways for yourself, and generally organising the chaos within. In essence, you’re trying to make the rhizome your bitch. You want to own it, to dominate it.

Infinite players—those who play just to keep playing—don’t act within the rhizome, as finite players do. Instead, they act on the rhizome. They are concerned with interestingness more than victory. And their actions reflect this preference. When faced with a rhizomatic domain they glory in the seeming chaos and messiness and actively perpetuate it. They do this in four ways.

  1. Expanding the rhizome: they find relevance in previously unrelated or disconnected topics.
  2. Mutating/evolving the rhizome: they cross-polinate ideas within the rhizome with those outside of it.
  3. Exploring the rhizome: they go off-piste, away from established pathways and into the fog.
  4. Undermine the rhizome: they challenge or raise questions about the current assumption ground of the domain.

​Now, this is where it gets interesting. Again, we add in time.

Over time, finite players are acting in the rhizome, trying to master it for themselves and their charges, whilst infinite players are trying to propagate illegibility and perpetuate fuzziness. Infinite players are encouraging the chaos to reign. Finite players are trying to rein it in. It’s a never-ending tug of war.

When the finite players triumph, the infinite players move on. Organised, hierarchical, legible domains don’t hold their attention, so they depart, leaving finite players to squeeze all they can from the domains they’ve mastered. 

When infinite players triumph, the levels of illegibility and fuzziness reach a threshold finite players cannot handle. For them, the risks and costs far outweigh the potential benefits, so they leave for domains which have a higher yield of status, recognition, respect and profit.

In this case, when infinite players are left to act on a domain without the restraining efforts of finite players, chaos truly reigns. Paradigm shifts roll in and out with great frequency, people and institutions whose wellbeing are tied up with the domain rise and fall rapidly, and generally, the rate of innovation, death and evolution is enhanced and accelerated.

Eventually, it tails off and slows down, which is when the finite players come sniffing, and then the cycle begins again. Rhizomatic domains are discovered, grown, fogged and fuzzied, organised, left behind, and revisited when possibilities for re-introducing interestingness arise.