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Dr. Von, experimentalist physicist, educational innovator and an extraordinairily able writer of Federal grants, was moved to give some expert commentary on my consilience post:

“The idea of ‘resiliency’ is important in scale-free networks. While there are many nodes in any sort of complex network, whether social, business, electronic (i.e. Internet), biological (food webs, metabolic processes, etc.), or other, what makes a network scale-free is that some small number of the nodes have many more links than the vast majority of nodes (which only have a few links). These highly linked nodes are the hubs of the network, and in some sense are responsible for holding the network together.

From the standpoint of software, perhaps the biggest fear is the computer virus wiping out a company’s computer network. Of course, the obvious choice is to hit the network servers and routers, which are the hubs. And these hubs are the most obvious parts of the network to protect. But what one cannot forget is that if nodes on the periphery are infected, it is very difficult to kill the virus completely.

Now add in Wilson’s idea of ‘consiliency.’ How can a network make use of fundamental principles from a variety of fields to enhance the performance of the entire network? In everyday terms, to me this almost sounds like multitasking. One needs to have members of the network who have studied and are trained in multiple fields, or small numbers of individuals who know something about a lot of different fields…research shows this multitasking tends to *reduce* productivity if you take the individual route. I may be a bit off on this, but in network theory, there is a hierarchical structure to some real networks that was discovered in ~2002. There are naturally forming, self-emergent networks within networks. There is still a scale-free mathematical structure to the more complex networks, and they are now called modular networks. A large company does this by having different departments, which by themselves are networks of workers. But the hubs, department managers, perhaps, are the links between the departments (modules) to form an ever more complex structure. The Internet and biological cell are naturally occurring modular networks, and the more people look, the more this structure is found in real networks.

Modularity makes use of a variety of local information for the global success of the overall network. The fact that this occurs naturally through the evolution of many types of networks is intriguing. Perhaps this is what Wilson’s intuition was telling him. If I were a manager, I suppose I would encourage interaction between my department and others, to cross-feed each other with our knowledge and find out how to push the boundaries of our business.

This is one thing I wish happened more in schools, as Wilson also suggests in education, because teaching techniques and methodologies can be used across disciplines and subject areas…this seems to be an efficient and effective way of promoting horizontal thinking, because teachers can break away from ‘standard’ ways of teaching our own subject and learn some new ways of teaching from someone else in a different department. We need to take advantage of the departmentalized, intellectually specialized modules in such networks in order to help find new insights and breakthroughs. “

Von detailed some thoughts on network theory and al Qaida a while back as well. Before the Drs. Eide went on vacation, they posted on multidisciplinarity vs. interdisiplinarity models, which has some bearing on Dr. Von’s description of human ” modular networks”.


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