Exploration: Networks of Networks


I will develop this more, but am just leaving this stub here for now.

The network metaphor and the use of graph theoretic modeling methods are becomming increasingly useful in biology, cognitive science, sociology, etc. While this approach is really useful for putting relationships rather than objects on center stage, there is much I find rather mysterious. For instance, when you look at any "node" in a network, especially a social or biological one, that "node" can itself invariably be thought of as a network in some other discipline.

Social Networks

Social networks have long been a metaphor in sociology, growing increasingly popular of late because of the power of computers for not only modeling but also gathering data. Not too long ago, building a social network model meant an ethnographer following a bunch of villagers around for weeks, recording who they interacted with. Now, email correspondance, website linking patterns, and other electronic data allow researchers to build huge datasets to analyze social dynamics.

But these networks are usually construed as relationships between people. But of course, this relationship is an abstraction, isn't it? It's only realized in people being able to interact with one another, remembering names, etc.

Another way to model social networks is as a reaction network. Consider the people in any organization. All of them perform inderdependent transactions which have the result of reproducing that very organization/network. This would be an autopoietic network. A big challenge in modeling this, however, is that if each node is an interaction, or a transaction between human or non-human actors, then how the heck can we ever identify it as the "same" transaction? Clearly, no transaction is ever exaclty the same, so its sameness has some intentional aspect. This starts to get very confusing, as keeping this network the same, or even introducing changes, starts to beg all sorts of questions of the network's identity, who conceives of the identity, "where" it is, etc.

This may be related to RK's question of whether intentionality is located in a robot or in the robot's designer.

This line of thought is rather confused right now, and it's late, but I wanted to get it started.

-- JL - 28 Feb 2005


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