Saturday, August 04, 2012

The Structural Architecture of Idea Networks

A summary of Randall Collin's structural architecture of philosophical social networks (the philosophical order):

First: Intellectual creativity is concentrated in chains of personal contacts, passing emotional energy and cultural capital from generation to generation. (379)

Second: Creativity moves by oppositions. [...] Chains of oppositions creat the inner content of philosophies; new ideas unfold by negating the major points of rival positions on a shared topic of argumetn and a common level of abstraction. [...] Not zeitgeist, but structured rivalries constitute the successive moments of intellectual history. (379)

Third: The emotional energy of creativity is concentrated at the center of networks, in circles of persons encountering one another face to face. (379)

Fourth: The law of small numbers sets upper and lower limits to these oppositions [3-6 schools; more and you get skeptics or synthesizers]. (380)

Fifth: The law of small numbers structures dynamics over time, connecting the outer conditions of social conflict with the inner shifts in the networks which produce ideas. (380)

Sixth: Because intellectual life is structured by oppositions, leading innovators are often conservatives. [...] Conservative opposition under new conditions of heightened abstraction and reflexivity results in innovations under a veneer of pseudoconservatism. (381).
This seems to be the structure of social networks in the gift and divine economies. I would argue that philosophy qua philosophy properly belongs in the divine economy -- a statement that is certainly far more controversial now than it would have been a few hundred years ago (in the West -- it would be uncontroversial in most of the world even now).

Further, since the gift economy is also structured around ideas, we would expect it to be similarly structured. There are different theories (schools of thought) in physics, for example -- loop quantum gravity, string theory, M-theory. There are different schools in economics -- neoclassical, Austrian, post-Keynesian, etc. There are different literary movements -- postmodernism, new formalism, magical realism, etc. A close analysis would find that at any given time, there are typically 3-6 such movments in play and in opposition.

If we take literature, we can see that new formalism arose in opposition to postmodernism. New formalism is typically understood to be a "conservative" movement because of the emphasis on rhyme and meter. However, it is a conservatism in light of postmodernism and all of the movements that took place in the 20th century. Thus, it is in fact something new.

Given the fact that we now have online social networks, one has to wonder what effect it will have on these sorts of creative networks. Can it replace face-to-face? Or will that necessarily be part of it? Perhaps it can help strengthen what in the past would have been small movements made up of distantly scattered people by letting them connect and stay in contact until they can have face-to-face contacts. I have little doubt that both have been in play in my life. Those I have met face-to-face have helped me get to know people online, who I was then able to meet face-to-face. And I am able to connect with people across the world, whereas in the past movements were localized -- most of Moderism took place in Paris, and probably all the networks led back there.

The internet is thus going to alter these networks Collin talks about somewhat, but perhaps not all that radically. If we can get past childish ad hominem attacks on everyone who disagrees with us online, we may be able to realize it more than we currently do.
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