Section 2 – Modulating Dynamics of Cognitive Networks


Unit 1/4 – Basic Concepts from Network Science

In the previous section we have learned how to enhance observational skills through constructing ad-hoc cognitive networks.

The essence of this approach is to represent a situation as a set of dynamic relations (a network) and to then take different positions within the network to change the perspective and get several points of view (zooming in to the local singularities). The constructed set of relations itself should also be reconfigured and transformed, so it is possible to access several different global view points and change the context of observation (zooming out).

The next step, after learning to observe the networks, is to find how one can find intention and act within. In order to do that, we will introduce several basic concepts and tools from network science. We will then use these tools and ideas to show how to modulate structural properties of the cognitive networks that we construct.

Networks are made from the nodes, which represent more or less stable entities, and from the edges, which represent relations / connections between those entities. 

Any situation or process can be described with many different network graphs, depending on what you choose to encode as the nodes and the edges. This is important to realize, because it shows that there can be many different network representations for one situation. Each will provide a different point of view and that is the first step in cognitive reconfiguration practice: to be able to observe from different network perspectives at once.

For example, you could describe a social network in a group as a graph where the nodes are the people and the connections are the relations between them (the edge is drawn between the nodes that are “friends”):

social-network-nodes-edges-relations

In this graph, Ali is friends with the most people: Ben, Dora and Mike. Mike and Dora are also friends. However, Alice is a friend of Mike and is new to the group, while Ben is only friends with Ali. 

Over time, as those people met and had a conversation, they positioned themselves differently in space and self-organized themselves into small circles and subgroups:

social-network-nodes-edges-proximity

Ben really liked Mike’s friend Alice, so moved closer to them and is not sitting next to Ali anymore. This is a new graph representation of the social situation where the relations are encoded on the basis of spatial proximity rather than “friend” status.

At first, Ali, Dora and Mike were the dominant group, a cluster, or a community based on “friendship”  because they were more closely connected together than the rest of the people. However, over time, a new cluster emerged: Mike, Ben and Alice, which is now constructed on the basis of personal interest and spatial proximity. 

Let’s model another kind of situation. You are reading this text, which is talking about network science, which you are accessing through the internet, which was modeled using those same concepts as well:

network-graph-nodes-edges

This graph shows us relations between the processes and entities that we are engaged in, from a certain point of view.

We can already see that some nodes are mode densely connected together than others, forming communities. In this case it’s “this text”, “network science” and “internet” that belong to one cluster (each of those is connected to one another. “You” are connected to that cluster through the “internet” and “this text”, which both let you access some ideas about “network science”.

network-graph-nodes-edges-communities

Now you can start adding more information into the graph, which will produce a more enhanced point of view on the situation. 

For instance, we can say that you were drawn to this whole topic because of your work and while you’ve been making a research on internet / Google you somehow arrived to the website of NodusLabs, which has a lot of articles on network analysis written by Dmitry (just like this text) and that’s how you discovered what you’re reading right now:

network-dispositif

This graph is a very simplified version of what Bruno Latour refers to as the actor-network theory or what Foucault called dispositif: a network of relations that come into play and define a particular situation. It reveals power structures (you would not have access to this information if we did not optimize this page to show up in internet / google search results), relations between individuals and content (you bringing your work in relation to the subject of “network science”), as well as potential gaps and links that can be made between them.

To summarize: dynamic network construction of the relations that are in play at a given situation and their constant reconfiguration is the key to expanding awareness and becoming more conscious of the relations that are at stake.

It is important to particularly note the basis for building relations that are utilized in the network, because this basis defines the communities that are created and affects power relations that are present within. 

If you want to transform the power relations, as we have shown above, there are at least two ways to do it:
1) by relinking the nodes while keeping the basis;
2) by introducing a different basis for the relations between the nodes;

 

The first approach accepts the rules of the game and acts within them.

The second approach changes the rules of the game and lets the new constellations emerge within the new context.

You can also combine both approaches to modulate structural dynamics of networks that you are involved in. 

In the next unit we will introduce a practical strategy for contextual reconfiguration based on the concepts that we presented above.