A NY Times review yesterday judges that a new book on network theory is both obvious and brilliant. Connected, by Christakis and Fowler, provides a comprehensible look at a fairly new way of thinking about causation and social groups.**
It occurred to me in looking at the review that perhaps much of our thinking about how to improve the lot of women in philosophy is done without much attention paid to the fact that professional philosophers form networks. There might be ways in which we could be more influential if we thought in terms of taking action within networks.
One of the basic ideas of network theory is that actions of a person/node in a network can influence people that are not directly connected to that node. Your friend’s friend’s gaining weight may influence your weight, for example.
One problem is that using networks effectively for change depends to some extent on knowing how things flow through the network. And that may be far from obvious. For example, it looks as though heavy drinking by a woman will have much more of an impact on people connected to her than will that of a man; it spreads from her more easily.
One thing that is possible even with little knowledge is looking at examples to get ideas. One example suggested to me at least that in addition to putting information out there, we should try to get people act within their more local networks. We may find we’ve been better at disseminating information than we have been at disseminating actions. Actually, that strikes me as so true, I’m going to underline it. Please, share any thoughts you may have.
One ominous part of the review says what is really interesting is the phiosophical implication about minds, agency, and so on. Groan. Yes, we’re back to the mind of the group and so on. We little nodes are mere cogs, and so on.
ADDED: If you have a colleague in another department who knows about network theory, it might help us if you have a talk with them and shared the results.
It was reflecting on the easy aquisition of this book that prompted the ode to my kindle.