Book Description/Proposal: The Networked Mind

Ok, here’s the proposal/description for the companion volume to Networkologies, called The Networked Mind. This is the book that was actually written first, but in the middle of proofreading this, the opportunity came up to fix up my original networkologies manifesto to send to Speculations. I wasn’t planning on doing this just yet, but I was/am really excited by Speculations, so I put editing Networked Mind on hold, and figured I’d get back to it soon.

Well, editing the networkologies manifesto, it just expanded, expanded, kept expanding, and is now a full book in its own right. So that’s how I ended up having two books getting finished at about the same time.

The Networked Mind was designed to show why we need a philosophy of networks, while introducing networked models from cognitive neuroscience and artificial intelligence in the process to make this case and give a sense of what this would look like.

Anyway, the proposal/description is below, as well as now on the sidebar. Anyway, please send advice/comments before I send this out!


The Networked Mind: A New Image of Thought for a Hyperconnected Age

How does matter emerge from mind?

The Networked Mind: A New Image of Thought for a Hyperconnected Age shows how recent  developments in complexity studies, soft-computing, artificial intelligence, and cognitive neuroscience can help continental/post-structuralist philosophy conceive a new ‘image of thought’ beyond the dead-end cycle of binary paradigms and the perpetual critiques thereof. Contemporary post-structuralist approaches to the question ‘what is thought?’ are still haunted by the ghosts of the Manichean Cold War ideologies of cybernetics which were key to the development of structuralism and its the works of its critics, the latter of which form the foundation of much of contemporary theory.

By means of a genealogy of the role of the binary opposition in regard to theories of computation, the mind, and theory, The Networked Mind shows how binary paradigms emerged, and then examines new ‘soft’ computing technologies to show how binary models are being displaced within cutting edge computing and artificial intelligence research.Relational and networked oriented approaches at the level of units of computation (fuzzy systems theory), relations between units (artificial neural networks), and meta-relations between modules (genetic/evolutionary programming) provide models for non-binary thinking at the level of node, link, and module.

Relating these advances in computation back to analyses of the human brain, The Networked Mind then details how recent theorists have had remarkable success using these newer networked models to describe thought as a complex, networked phenomena which emerges from networks which are intertwined at multiple levels of scale. When applied beyond the brain to the larger networks within which the brain is embedded, such as the body, life-world, language, and culture, it becomes possible to see the world as a series of intertwined and nested layers of networks giving rise to the emergent phenomena we call evolution, culture, and even theory.

Framing the science of networks within the larger frame of complex systems theories, The Networked Mind shows precisely what non-binary thought looks like, concluding with an analysis of the ways non-binary thinking  requires us to recast aspects of contemporary theoretical practice.

Beyond simply describing networked thought, however, The Networked Mind also performs it, for its content is presented via a mode of graphic design intended to sync with the new forms of reading which have come about due to the rise of the internet. The text is therefore written in titled ‘nodes’ which can be read in linear fashion, or ‘surfed’ in a manner more common to the reading of websites. Supporting citations and images are often ‘floated’ in the margins, to be linked or delinked from the main body of the text at will. Seeking to interface form and content, The Networked Mind aims to create a book-form which speaks to the modes of reading increasingly being deployed by texts in the age of the internet.

Written in language accessible to non-scientists, and graphically designed so that its form is as networked as its content, The Networked Mind provides a new image of thought for our networked age. The text is fully written, consists of approximately 100,000 words, and is undergoing final proofreading in preparation for solicitation of publication.

  • – Chapter One: The Myth of the Binary Opposition. A genealogy of the binary opposition in contemporary society, presented by means of two intertwined trajectories. The first contextualizes the rise of binary thinking in contemporary thought, tracking the influence of cybernetics and the political mindset of the Cold War on early structuralist thought of the 1950’s and 60’s. While contemporary theory in its post-structuralist guises is often based on the critique of these binary models, it has yet to come up with a viable alternative. The second trajectory traces the rise of the binary paradigm in modern computing, from Leibniz to the development of mainframe computers in the postwar period. The contingent politico-social foundations at work in the binary paradigm, along with the history of successes whereby network models have begun to displace binary ones in contemporary artificial intelligence and ‘soft’ computing research shows the limits of the binary model, and the need to move on.
  • – Chapter Two: Beyond the Binary – ‘Soft’ Computing. New technologies collectively known by the name of ‘soft-computing’ are increasingly being used to displace binary approaches in contemporary computing research. In language accessible to the non-scientist, yet detailed enough to show what’s ‘under the hood,’ this chapter describes the ways in which non-binary approaches to the unit of computation (fuzzy systems theory), relations between units (artificial neural networks), and relations between groups of meta-units (genetic and evolutionary programming) provide entirely new paradigms whereby to think about how computers operate, how they are built, and the foundational assumptions of the discipline of computer science itself.
  • – Chapter Three: Networking the Brain. The brain is a network. Examining advances in cognitive neuroscience, this chapter will debunks the myth that neurons function like binary switches, or that groups of neurons function like the chips in modern serial computers. From there, this chapter shows how recent developments in complexity studies, along with the insights provided by soft and networked computing models described in the preceding chapter, have opened up new avenues for understanding the brain as a complex network that is continually working to sync with both itself and its relation to the outside world. Integrating cutting edge neuroscience with a tour of the work of a variety of  early twentieth century philosophers, such as John Dewey, Henri Bergson, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, many of whose ideas on the brain are only now beginning to be confirmed, this chapter will show us how a networked approach to the brain can work to integrate science and philosophy within a new way of thinking about the very notion of thought itself.
  • – Chapter Four: Wideware. The brain is never truly alone, it is always within a world, and a networked model of the mind works to show how the brain is only the central node within an extended network of the mind in its world. Starting with an analysis of embodied cognition theorists, the chapter will show how many contemporary theorists argue that the mind ‘downloads’ much of its thinking to the physical structure of the human body. From there the chapter will describe how evolutionary linguists are increasingly convinced of the extent to which tool usage and language have and continue to mold the structure of the brain as its develops both in one lifetime and in our species as a whole. By examining all the extensions of the brain in our world – the brain’s ‘wideware’ – this chapter shows how the body, tools, and language are essential to understanding the networked brain and mind in relation to its world and culture as a whole.
  • – Chapter Five: Networking Thought. Tying the technical findings of the preceding chapters to the wider concerns of the introduction, this final chapter will argue the need for a networked theory of culture which can help us make sense of the increasingly relational demands of our current age. Using the work of a wide range of philosophers  and critics, including Richard Dawkins, Manuel Delanda, Alfred North Whitehead, Ernesto Laclau, and Guy Debord, this chapter ends by sketching what would be required to construct a comprehensive philosophy of networks to meet the needs of our hyperconnected age.

    ~ by chris on June 16, 2010.

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