I wanted to summarize a fascinating conversation Eric Harris-Braun, Arthur Brock, Katin Imes, and I all had yesterday. Arthur and Eric have been developing the idea of a "flow language" for a while, but on the call we were all trying to make sense of what this new type of language is actually all about. The following is my crude attempt to describe the basics.
The purpose of a flow language is to enable the expression of flows in a system as opposed to discreet causal events. The standard form of language is subject / predicate. This structure makes differentiation between objects / actions very easy, but integration of those objects / actions into coherent patterns within wholes very difficult. Individual relationships can be easily isolated, but patterns in the whole are very difficult to express (or even perceive). A flow language makes these larger scale patterns visible and able to be engaged with efficiently.
The most basic “word” in a flow language is a currency. A currency allows one flow to be described. For instance, if we were going to describe the flow of water in an ecosystem, we would want to know how the water cycles through the ecosystem as a whole and how this flow affects the different parts. These parts are the core units, the relationships between which describe the flow in the system. Think of these units as accounts. A currency only exists as a series of relationships between accounts. Accounts are analogous to "letters" in the flow language since they make up the most basic unit, but they lack meaning in and of themselves.
Boundaries between accounts can be arbitrarily drawn. For instance, in the currency describing the water cycle, we could describe three accounts: land, ocean, sky. There are certain basic relationships between these accounts. We know that water does not flow from the ocean to the land unless it goes through the sky first. We know that the sky can rain water onto the ocean or the land. And that the land can transpire water to the sky or run off into the ocean. While this is a very crude mapping of the water cycle, the relationships between these three accounts do tell us something useful. We could easily get much more granularity by drawing account boundaries with more differentiation. For instance, we could draw a grid on the land, each square with its own account. This might allow us to see which parts of the land transpire the most water, and what parts allow it to run off. There is of course a series of relationships between these accounts that could be described (non-proximal squares of land can’t directly have water pass between them without going through the sky first). We could also draw account boundaries between species, or even between individual life forms. In any case, the account is the “letter,” and the currency is the “word” (describing the relationships between the accounts).
If we want a sentence in flow language, we must look at the interplay between currencies. To continue our metaphor, we might also look at the flow of nitrogen in our ecosystem. We could similarly divide the space into the necessary (and sensible) accounts, and examine the relationships between them. Perhaps where nitrogen accumulates, we see more plant life, which in turn allows the land there to hold more water and transpire it directly to the sky without running off to the ocean. It is these interrelations between currencies that allow for the full construction of a flow sentence. For now, I have been calling a “flow sentence” a “currency complex.” As dozens of currencies interplay with each other we see that more and more complex flow sentences can be constructed.