5. "Network Theory" or: The Discovery of P2P principles in the Cosmic Sphere

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5. "Network Theory" or: The Discovery of P2P principles in the Cosmic Sphere

5.1.A. Distributed networks and 'Small World' theory

5.1.B. Equipotentiality vs. the Power Law

5.1.A. Distributed networks and 'Small World' theory

Note the difference in the above section title. Here we are not speaking of emergence, but rather the recognition or discovery of principles within the natural world, which obey P2P principles. They were always-already there, but we have only recently learned to see them. Technology reflects, to a certain extent, humanity’s growing knowledge of the natural world. Technological artifacts and processes integrate and embed in their protocols, this growing knowledge. And lately, we have learned to see the natural (physical, biological, cognitive) world quite differently from before. No longer as mechanisms or hierarchies, but as networks. Thus, the fact that engineers, software architects, and social network managers are devising and implementing more and more P2P systems also reflects this new understanding. Studies of distributed intelligence in physical systems, of the swarming behavior of social insects, of the ‘wisdom of crowds’, as well as of collective intelligence in the human field, show that in many situations participative distributed system functions more efficiently than command and control systems which create bottlenecks. In natural systems, true centralized and hierarchic command and control systems seem rather rare.

Though there can be said to exist hierarchies in nature, such as a succession of progressively more enfolding systems, and many pyramidal systems of command and control in human society, the former are better called 'holarchies', as actual command and control systems are actually quite rare. More common is the existing of multiple agents, which through their interaction, create emergent coherent orders and behavior. The brain for example, has been shown to be a rather egalitarian network of neurons, and there is no evidence of a command center . And there are of course multiple scientific fields where this is now shown to be the case. Network theory is therefore focused on the interrelationships of equipotent, and distributed agents, and how complex systems arise from them. Network theory is a form of systemic reductionism, which focuses on the interaction of agents, without looking much at their 'personal' characteristics, but is remarkably successful in explaining the behavior of many systems. Thus, if historians are starting to look at the world in terms of flows, social science in general is increasingly looking at its objects of study in terms of social network analysis .

An important contribution is the work of Alexander R. Galloway, Protocol, because he clearly makes the important distinction between 'decentralized' and 'distributed' networks. First we had centralized networks. In this format, all links between nodes must go through the center, which has to authorize or enable them. Think about mainframe computers with dumb terminals, or the central switches in telephone systems. In a second phase, networks are decentralized, which means the center is broken up in several subcenters. Here, linkages and actions between nodes must still pass through one of these subcenters. An example is the American airport system, organized around hubs such as Atlanta. To go from one regional city to another, you must pass through such a hub. In distributed networks, such as the network of interstate highways or the internet, this requirement no longer applies. Hubs, i.e. nodes that carry more links than others, may exist, but they are optional, and grow organically, they are not obligatory or designed beforehand. Abstract network theory, seeing hubs in both cases, may miss this important point. Peer to peer is the relational dynamic of distributed networks! A distributed network may or may not be a egalitarian network (see just below).

Nexus is a book by Mark Buchanan, who summarizes network theory investigations for the lay public, focusing on small world networks. These differ from totally random networks, where it takes many steps to go from one node to another, and are characterized by a relative 'low degree of separation'. Typically, human society is determined by no more than six degrees of separation: it never takes more intermediaries to contact any other person on the planet. Such networks come in two varieties: 1) aristocratic networks, where it is larger hubs and connectors who are responsible for linking the network together as a whole; and egalitarian networks, where the nodes have largely a same number of links, but while the majority has strong links to a few surrounding links with whom they interact a lot, a minority has weak ties with faraway nodes, and it is they who are responsible for holding the network together, and rapidly moving information from one local or affinity group, to another different one. Each forms has its strength and weaknesses: aristocratic networks are very strong in resisting random attacks, but vulnerable when their connectors are attacked, while egalitarian networks are more vulnerable to random disruption.