Networkologies – A Manifesto (Version 1.0)
[For more information on the book length expansion of this manifesto, currently a work in progress, see here].
The network is increasingly one of the fundamental metaphors whereby we have described the character of our age. Despite this, there has yet to be a philosophy of networks. A Networkological approach aims to address this fact.
A Network is a diagram for the thinking of relation. This diagram can help us to understand the structure, dynamics, and potentials of our networked age.
Our age is one in which relation is increasing, reified entities are being reworked, and previously existent relations are becoming ever more evident. These changes, which have given rise to what might be called the ‘networked age,’ are partially due to the rise of the internet, the World Wide Web, global capitalism, etc. But this change cannot be reduced to the sum of its parts – change is the result of the interplay of material and ideal, actual and virtual.
The entire world can be viewed as composed of networks. A chair is a network, and so are atoms, concepts, words, societies, organisms, brains, economies, etc. Understanding the different styles and interactions between networks is the work that needs to be done to create a philosophy of networks.
To paraphrase a famous philosopher – “To those who look at the world networkedly, the world will look networkedly back.” This is the fundamental wager of the networkological project. The Networkological approach takes the notion of relation and works to elevate it to the notion of a concept, diagram, and project.
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The Networkological approach is fundamentally a philosophy of relation. It does not deny the existence of isolated elements, so long as these are seen as ultimately related to the contexts and processes of their production. The Networkological approach is, however, against any theory which presupposes the fundamental division between mind and body, epistemology and ethics, social and natural, space and time, science and culture, or any approach which views any given binary opposition, reified entity, or limited list of terms as ultimate or fundamental. The only ultimate is the open, the background from which any network individuates and eventually must return.
The Networkological approach, as a philosophy of relation, is also necessarily a philosophy of process, for relation is both spatial and temporal. These commitments are at once epistemological, ethical, ontological, and metaphysical. Any entity which has individuated itself from a background is necessarily related to that background, and to other entities which may be related at a higher level of abstraction. No entity is ever absolute, but rather an element of more encompassing frames of reference, and no product is ever more fundamental than the process of its production. Thus all networks are necessarily dynamic, that is, relational entities in process. As expressions of the whole from which they emerge, each entity and network are ultimately perspectives thereupon. The Networkological approach is therefore not only processural, but also holographic. Within the bounds of all that we know that exists, the Networkological approach is also, in a weak and relative sense, fractal in nature. That is, within the limits of the existent at either end in regard to the open, all networks are the product of networks at the micro-scale, and produce other networks at a macro-scale. From its ethico-epistemo-ontological commitments to relation, process, fractality, and holography, the Networkological approach articulates its relation to the wider world of nature, meaning, mind, and society.
The Networkological approach is therefore transgressive of traditional atomizations, distinctions, and reifications. The Networkological perspective is therefore also a method and a critique. Any reified entity or distinction will necessarily be broken down by a networkological critique, and re-related to the wider contexts within which it exists and from which it has emerged. Networkological critique blasts apart reified entities, revealing the dynamic networks contained within. Drawing inspiration from the methods of Deleuze, Simondon, Hegel, Marx, and Bergson, the goal is to demonstrate the relations hidden behind, beneath, within, and around what others view as elementary.
As a result, networkological critique is necessarily also transgressive of traditional disciplinary boundaries. It ranges freely from physics to metaphysics, societal analysis to abstract math, literature to art and culture, politics to ethology. It also is transgressive of the sharp division between word and image, or styles of writing or other modes of symbolic interchange.
Networkological texts are necessarily polyform, and seek to increase potential modes of relation between texts and their viewers. Networkological texts also aim to be use many different voices and forms of writing, such that many different types of viewers can access these texts. Reified categories which dictate what form of writing need be used to express certain types of ideas are simply not applicable to our networked age. That said, Networkological texts do not necessarily dispense with all forms of division or separation of elements within them. Rather, these texts often increase the atomization of their components so as to allow greater multiplicity of forms of (re)combination. In this manner Networkological texts, symbolic assemblages really, take the Brechtian imperatives in theater and apply them to the realm of theoretical text. Parts are separated out so as to both allow for multiple forms of their potential interrelation, while also breaking up any myth of the text as a unitary whole. Images, citations, captions, and written bits all float, and various textual, graphical, and organizational devices are deployed so as to the assist multiple linkages between the various parts. All reading thus becomes modeled on that which people already do on websites, full of surprise jumps and tunneling, thereby going through distraction to new forms of ideational proliferation and association. Networkological writing therefore aims to be viewed in a manner which is inherently multiple and complex.
The Networkological approach is closely aligned to many new movements within contemporary ‘continental’ philosophy. It has much in common with approaches such as speculative realism and transcendental materialism. Due to the relational nature of a networkological approach, reified terms such as matter, energy, mind, knowledge, and consciousness are ultimately seen as derivative products of larger contexts and processes. As such, it necessarily has much in common with any approach which is fundamentally relational in nature.
The Networkological approach also has much in common with radical approaches to the broadening of the concept of media. This mediological approach is central to the project in question, as are the potential for a more networked notion of the intersection of media and semiotics might mean. In its analysis of any given media structure or signifying element, a network analysis will nevertheless break down any component into its networks of microfeatures, as well as its linkage to macronetworks. Worlds mediate themselves via their networked interrelations, and it is here that the commonalities between networkological and mediological approaches can be seen.
The Networkological approach, which frames itself via the notion of individuation at the border between the node and the link as they emerge from a given background, is ultimately neither a philosophy of ‘the One’ or ‘the Two’, but of the ‘Oneand’ – the one which exceeds itself. Thus, it finds common ground with any approach to entities which finds them in the process of self-differing, becoming other. As the products of self-differing substance, networks are fundamentally dynamic in nature. Networks may thus shift in structure and form over time, and channel flows and entities within dynamic processes.
Much of the inspiration for the Networkological approach comes from the new sciences of complexity. Complexity studies examines the ways in which notions of emergence, non-linear dynamics, differential networked topologies, can allow new perspectives on what is at work in many previously underexplained scientific phenomenon. One of the major goals of the networkological approach is to extract the philosophical potentials from this emergent point of view. This is particularly essential in regard to the notion of emergence, whereby the radically new emerges from a whole which exceeds the sum of its parts. The science of complexity aims to track the manner in which such shifts occur, in particular by means such as fuzzy systems theory, complex network analysis, and genetic/evolutionary algorithms and multi-agent systems theories. These approaches are currently being applied widely beyond the domains of their origin, and are increasingly demonstrating a wide variety of scientific, philosophical, and cultural implications. From quantum indeterminacy to the emergence of mind from matter in neural networks, emergence is one of the primary manner in which networks bring novelty into the world.
The Networkological approach is also a theory of matter. Space and time are network phenomena, created due to the distribution of perspectives on what exists. Each perspective entails a view of the whole which emphasizes certain aspects over others. From the self-differing of what exists into bodies, space, and time, matter becomes multiplicity, giving rise to particles and fields, action and interaction. Matter comes to know itself as such via life, and overcome space and time via mind. Perspective, embodiment, space, and time are co-constitutive with the division of matter, as part of its self-differing. These divisions create bodies which, via perspective, relate to some elements more than others. These elements and the patterns they give rise to lead, in conscious entities, to concepts, and the combinatory of concepts to meanings. A Networked approach to semiotics works to understand the ways in which mind, matter, and meaning intertwine in ever more complex and nested networks whereby self-differing substance comes to know itself.
Networks are closely related to the notion of symmetry. Wherever there is a symmetry, even amongst otherwise radically heterogeneous elements, there is a network. When there is a symmetry between elements, physical or symbolic, each of these elements can be understood as elements of a set (when viewing the elements as a static network) or morphism (when viewing the elements as part of dynamic network). Symmetry takes many forms – for example, the radical disparation of a system in the process of changing form is composed of singularities which define its topology, and these singularities can also be seen as composing a radically heterogeneous network which gives shape to processes in/of a space and time. Physical laws and structures can also be understood as symmetries, as can the non-changing parts of any changing structure. Thus, the grammar in a language indicates a form of symmetry, as does the rules for addition as used in common mathematics. The expansion, contraction, alteration, and disparation of symmetries indicate the manner in which relative forms of invariance give structure to worlds of various sorts. Notions of symmetry and symmetry breaking are therefore crucial for understanding the manner in which networks, dynamic and otherwise, can be seen at work in the structure of the processes at work in physical, symbolic, and mathematical worlds.
Maths and Logics
Networks therefore also relate to mathematics and logic. According to many contemporary theorists of maths, which for networkology must always be thought in the plural, maths are composed of two fundamental gestures – the figure, or geometry (a relation within space), and the count, or number (a relation within time). All practical and applied maths can seen as networks of relations between aspects of these terms. As regards logics, another term which must always be thought in the plural, and relations between maths and logics, it is essential to remember that networks are composed of three primary structures: field, node, and link (and within networks nested within each other, the module). Each of these structures comes to be by a process of individuation. Set theory, the logical foundation of ‘modernist’ mathematics, focuses on nodes and their conditions of individuation within static networks, while category theory, the foundation of ‘postmodern’ mathematics, operates on the level of the link within dynamic networks. Both perspectives are ultimately limitations, and the networkological conception of a fuller logic must encompass both of these approaches within a structure which is potentially relational at all levels. Multi-valued, Fuzzy, and Intuitionist logics are steps in this direction, but ultimately the form of logic most germane to the networkological perspective is that presented in the dialectic of the Concept as presented in Hegel’s Logic, in which the node acts as the particular within the universal structured by the conditions of its individuation. From this logical conception of the node, a dynamic logical structure can be derived, and from there, the more particular logics, including of the propositional sort, needed to think specific aspects of the world.
Mind indicates a unique type of network, one which along with quantum phenomena, can overcome the separations inherent in networks of space and time. Rather than see mind and matter as radically distinct, the networkological approach to mind is based on the notion that what we self-conscious thought is complex emergent phenomena which develops the potential for mind within even the most fundamental building blocks of matter. To use the vocabulary of A.N. Whitehead, quantum events retain an interiority which prehends the world around them and react thereto. Such an interior reactivity to a perspectival and perceptual condensation of the world around it indicates the most basic form of mind, and the more developed forms of mind that we see in advanced organisms are simply more complex forms thereof. The philosophy of networks see no firm division between mind and matter. Both copermeate at all levels of scale.
The Networkological approach to thinking minds must take their fundamentally distributed and emergent nature into account. While psychoanalytic and psychological concepts may be of use to it, these often reify separations such as conscious or unconscious, ego or superego, etc. A Networked psychology needs to think in terms of nodes linked in nested hierarchies in ever more complex systems of interrelation. Thus, it becomes necessary to think of the manner in which perceptual and affective states are metabolized, reworked, and shattered, then cohere into networked nuclei within the psyche of individual, the collection of which forms dynamic schemas whereby subjects create patterns of filtering, emphasis, and regulation in relation to the world beyond them. Networked psychoogy needs to think in terms not only of nuclei but also fragments and flows, statics and dynamics, and the manner in which the psychic and the physical are fundamentally topologically related to one another.
A Networked aesthetic is based upon forms of artistic praxis which highlight aspects of the fundamental commitments of the Networkological perspective. Thus, art that is relational, holographic, fractal, or processural, or that indicates complexity or emergence in process, give body to a networked aesthetic. These concerns can be played out in multiple forms and in multiple media, so long as the reified nature of artistic praxis is undermined by the work in question.
The Networkological approach is also a praxis with a political component. The Networkological approach is fundamentally against the politics of fear and paranoia. It is an ethics which is also a politics. It is therefore anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-misogynist, and anti-anti-immigration/migration. Paranoid antagonisms of this sort ultimately keep networks from developing to their maximum potentials.
The Networkological approach thus takes a definite attitude in regard to the politics of life. Life is a complex network. In order to live more fully, we need to live at our most complex and most sustainable. Complexity and sustainability are the core tenets of a networked ethics. Racism, homophobia, misogyny, and anti-immigration and anti-migrancy all hinder the development of greater complexity and sustainability of this complexity. Extraction of surpluses from the natural and social worlds can also lead to the restriction of complexity and sustainability. The Networkological approach therefore is necessarily against contemporary forms of capitalism exploitation. The Networkological approach is in this sense an ethics, politics, economics, and ecology.
Based on what is stated above, we can formulate the basic principle of a networked ethics: Let all your networks operate at maximum robustness. The components of robustness are complexity and sustainability. And since all networks are ultimately connected via the open, all networks are your networks. Because the nature of this ethical approach is based on relation, it is fundamentally context specific, and is against rigid moral codifications. It is an ethics of life, one which requires specific agents to make specific judgments in specific contexts.
There are definite precursors, and in some cases, fellow travellers, to the Networkological approach. Some key predecessors include the following: Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, Henri Bergson, Baruch Spinoza, G.W. Leibniz, Alfred North Whitehead, Gilbert Simondon, F.W.J. Schelling, John Dewey, The Stoics, Karl Marx, Jacques Lacan, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, G.W.F. Hegel, Alain Badiou, Slavoj Zizek, Yuri Lotman, Ernesto Laclau, R.W.D. Fairbairn, Guy Debord, Bernard Cache, Bruno Latour, Manuel Delanda, Brian Rotman, Graham Harman, Jonathan Beller, and the Complexity Theorists associated with the Santa Fe Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico. While not all of these are necessarily complete theorists of relation, many have contributed to the structure of the contemporary Networkological perspective. In its commitment to relation, the Networkological aproach is generally anti-Kantian, as well as anti-Cartesian and anti-Platonic.
As regards fundamental philosophy, the Networkological approach views all views on the world as part of the great network of perspectives which gives rise to the diversity of what is. The Networkological approach is therefore necessarily partial, and finds its only justification in its relation to the larger project of life in its development at the particular time, place, culture, and situation of its emergence. Its ultimate foundation goes no further than this. As such, its relation to its foundation is most similar to that of emergence within complexity science.
The Networkological perspective views relation as at work at all levels of a network diagram – node, link, background, and, in the case of nested networks, module. Thus it is not only concerned with these entities as such, but their modes of relation and change, including notions such as the individuation/emergence of nodes, the topology of links, the nesting of networks within each other, and the different types of components, rules of individuation, structures of components, etc. Networks may be homogeneous or heterogeneous, material or conceptual, fluid or atomistic, hierarchical or distributed, continually changing or relatively static, etc. While networks in the world may reify any of these levels, or the structural forms any of these may take, the networkological approach needs view these as ultimately derivations of the potential forms a given network may take. While networks may take many forms, networkological analysis must be open to all the potentials within networks as such.
Networks can be thought of spatially, dynamically, and also genetically, that is, in relation to the logical process whereby a network emerges, or individuates, from its surroundings. Such an approach requires that we expand the basic structures of a network – background, node, link, (and module) into a typology of moments and relational configurations which ultimately derive, however, from the original tripartite structure. From such a perspective, the first stage of network development is that of indifference, a state in which everything is possible, but nothing particular has taken shape. From this emerges an event, then events, and then series of events. When there are multiple events, either temporally or spatially, we can begin to speak of these events as indicating a structure which has begun to differentiate itself from its background. Such a structure indicates the presence of what Alain Badiou has called a ‘count-for-one’, in that when there is structure, one can begin to distinguish its parts. These parts may exceed the structure in question either partially or nearly completely, or be completely determined thereby, and the structure in question may be spatial or spatial and temporal. In regard to a given structure, the elements of which a structure is composed can be understood relationally as nodes within a network, and the conditions which determine which things count as a node determine the requirements of individuation within a given network. These nodes imply a structure/field which is structured by these nodes/elements, as well as a background from which nodes and field have emerged. The relations between nodes and a field are expressed by connections or links, and these links can take many forms – abstract, ideal, material, dynamic, etc. Links can also be gated or directional in a variety of ways, giving rise to structures of regulation, coregulation, resonance, and other effects whereby nodes interact within specific types of networks. Links can also connect nodes by means of a variety of meta-shapes, or topologies, such as chain, grid, star/hierarchy, distributed, or combinations thereof. By means of the types of separations between nodes, the space of a network, or netspace, is created. And by means of such netspace it becomes possible to determine relational rates of change, allowing a related nettime to emerge. Networks can connect to each other and constrain and contain each other. When networks or their parts indirectly influence each other by means of interactions between a shared or layered background, we speak of resonance.When networks contain or nest within each other, such that networks are partially or completely contained within other networks as their modules, or it the networks in question are composed of different matters, they may layer on top of each other. It must not be thought, however, that the terms just described, such as background, node, field, structure, link, topology, module, layer, or individuation are elements which exist separately from each other, for they are only defined relationally. That is, as some theorists have argued, a node is ‘where a network intersects itself’, or ‘ a node is a shortened link, a link an extended node.’ In many networks in process, we see network elements transforming into each other, and thus a network can only be understood from perspective of one’s own position within a network of reference. Networks are ultimately perspectival diagrams whereby relation can be understood. Ultimately, however, they are nothing more.
From such a perspective, all the world can be viewed as a network of one type of another, and all that is is a nested series of networks of different types, in different modes, etc. The Network is ultimately no more and no less than a diagram for thinking relation. It is a lens upon the world which may have much to tell us about our hyperconnected age.
© Christopher Vitale, 2009.