[NetBehaviour] new PBS show "Networld"

Max Herman maxnmherman at hotmail.com
Thu Mar 19 17:25:00 CET 2020

Hi Alan,

I appreciate those references (Watt, Minsky, Schutz) and will be checking them out ASAP.  Libraries are closed here but I found some copies online.

For some time I have been interested in the way that many disparate areas of both epistemology and ontology have network aspects to them.  This began during my college days as an English major and continued through grad school and beyond.  At first, I did not use the concept of networks to describe what I was seeing (or looking for) in literature, but communication.  I felt that communication was a theme that permeated much of literature, and got to the core of much it was about.  Not to reduce literature to communication, but simply to say that "communication is an important part of this vast set of phenomena we call literature."

Of course communication implies the movement of information within systems, and the impact of that movement of information on the behavior of the system.  The WWW was "born" while I was in college, so of course that was an influence too.

Over time, I have noticed that the principles of networks seem to apply at least in some way to most phenomena.  There is plenty of work out there which adds a "network-" prefix to almost every sphere of human activity and study: network biology, network medicine, network neuroscience, network math, network art, network economics.  This is not to reduce these spheres to a simple cookie-cutter definition as "networks only," just to recognize that most phenomena occur within some type of larger system that has network aspects.  Also, the study of networks themselves or "network theory" is something I personally find scientifically and aesthetically very interesting.

Take Minsky's Society of Mind, which I have ordered but not yet read:

"A core tenet of Minsky's philosophy is that "minds are what brains do". The society of mind theory views the human mind and any other naturally evolved cognitive systems as a vast society of individually simple processes known as agents. These processes are the fundamental thinking entities from which minds are built, and together produce the many abilities we attribute to minds. The great power in viewing a mind as a society of agents, as opposed to the consequence of some basic principle or some simple formal system, is that different agents can be based on different types of processes with different purposes, ways of representing knowledge, and methods for producing results.
This idea is perhaps best summarized by the following quote:
What magical trick makes us intelligent? The trick is that there is no trick. The power of intelligence stems from our vast diversity, not from any single, perfect principle. —Marvin Minsky, The Society of Mind, p. 308"

I find the concept "Society of Mind," not just in terms of groups of people interacting with each other but as a process within the individual mind itself, to be compelling and interesting both scientifically and aesthetically.  It seems to present some pitfalls but also some positive adaptations which might help humanity in the decades ahead.  I am the opposite of an expert however on Minsky; I can only claim interest not expertise in the study of his works.

There is no certainty in what I'm trying to articulate, and like any hypothesis it might be wrong, but I view the exploration of the hypothesis as having both scientific aspects which involve research and proof and aesthetic aspects which pertain to creativity and the emergent properties of expression.  Of course I have also developed a suspicion (perhaps a bias) that a lack of "network thinking" (as described by neuroscientist Olaf Sporns) in how we look at phenomena both in the world and in ourselves could represent a sort of blind spot.  At least I see it as a blind spot in myself, and try to focus my interest in science and art on it.

My interest in this area can most certainly result sometimes in tunnel vision or myopia, so I absolutely appreciate hearing diverse views and often learn the most from ideas and works that differ from my own.

So thanks much as always for your ideas and many contributions to this list!

All very best,


From: Alan Sondheim <sondheim at panix.com>
Sent: Wednesday, March 18, 2020 9:50 PM
To: Max Herman via NetBehaviour <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
Cc: Max Herman <maxnmherman at hotmail.com>
Subject: Re: [NetBehaviour] new PBS show "Networld"

very confused about your emphasis on networks as fundamental but there's a
book you might like that's relevant -
Small Worlds: The Dynamics of Networks between Order and Randomness,
Duncan J. Watts, Princeton Studies in Complexity, 1999 - connects to ideas
of coagulations, biomes, naming of communities, power within networks,
of course there's a lot lot older work - Minsky on formal neurons here and
and Schutz's work. so the older the better perhaps? in any case the Watts
wk. might be in your local library?

- Alan

On Thu, 19 Mar 2020, Max Herman via NetBehaviour wrote:

> Is anyone watching this? Interesting ideas about the world as a network of
> networks.

web http://www.alansondheim.org/index.html cell 347-383-8552
current text http://www.alansondheim.org/wx.txt
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