The advantage of seeing humans as networks is we can say interesting things about them parsimoniously.
A network is an organization of parts that are all connected.
Humans are networks of language. It is quite easy to see that language is a kind of network. Words connect in many ways and any word can be added to an existing network without difficulty. One word is defined by other words and we understand how it is used by how it functions among other words.
Humans are networks of semiotics. Semiotics function and are networked much like words, though a single semiotic may require many words to describe.
Meaning or what things mean is another network that is a fundamental part of being human. Meaning can be expressed in words, it can be apprehended through semiotic analyses, and it very often has a strong emotional component.
Emotions are another network that is fundamental to humanness. Emotions are often not as easily analyzed as the other networks since they can be vague, changeable, and based on complexities that are difficult to see while the emotion is happening. I am pretty sure that most, if not all, complex emotions are socially determined. Since semiotics are by definition communicative, the emotional aspect of all semiotics is a major aspect of both the semiotic and emotional networks. For this reason, emotions are often best analyzed through their accompanying semiotics.
Humans also have biological networks, perceptual networks, chemical and electrical networks.
All of these networks are hooked up with each other and all of them send signals internally and to the other networks.
If we conceive of a single human being as being a vast network that includes all of the above mentioned networks and others that have not been mentioned (aesthetic, gustatory, sexual, etc.), we can see that that vast network that is all of the other networks must have a basic need to be unified.
The biology must cohere and be healthy and the mind and feelings that exist together with that biology must be unconfused enough to guide the biology toward what it needs to maintain itself.
The cognitive networks (language, semiotics, feeling, reason, etc.) must have a strong tendency to forming basic conclusions about the world around them.
For example, all humans live in fundamentally uncertain circumstances. We don’t know when we will die, what happens after we die, how stable our social lives are, our economics, our biology, and so forth. To function, our cognitive network(s) must have a basic answer to the question of uncertainty. Here are some ways that people answer or respond to the fundamentally uncertain nature of human existence:
- Many just declare that this is how it is. People like this might say, “Life is tough and you gotta do what you gotta do ’cause that’s how it is.” Or, “I growed up poor so I gots to be rich now and that just how it is.”Answers of this sort, while not complex, can be very motivating. I am sure that many conventionally “successful” people deal with uncertainty on terms like these.
- For many, religion, science, or philosophy answers this question. “God said so.” “Science has shown that.” “Do as thou wilt.”
- Another common response is “No one has ever been able to answer that question, so I am going to ignore it and get all I can because you only live once.”
- In my limited experience (wish it were more limited), a good many alcoholics love the feeling of being sure or of knowing how things are. Booze activates an easy confidence of this sort and can even be charming in an occasional drunk. By the time booze is an addiction, though, this form of confidence becomes a bad habit, declining in charm as the cognitive functions are eroded by the alcohol.
- In cultures that have a belief in rebirth, the question of uncertainty is often answered by what happened in the past or resolved by what might happen in the next life.
- Some people deal with this question by focusing entirely on one thing—their career, their children, their nation, their business, etc.
- Some deal with it by facing it and finding that nearly everything produces a sense of wonder because hardly anything is known for sure. Others feel anxiety by facing it. Others anger or frustration.
I am sure that readers can add many more examples of how humans deal with fundamental existential uncertainty. What I find most interesting in thinking in this way is you don’t need t imagine a person’s ego or wonder too much about how or why their emotions developed as they did. You really just need to ask them how they deal with uncertainty and they will tell you.
The vast cognitive and biological networks of individual humans often can be understood as being based on a simple answer to a simple question like that.
Since psychological explanations are the coin of the realm today, many people will confuse themselves and others by further adding long stories about the development of their personality or how their parents treated them. These factors can be interesting and are real, to a point, but it is much simpler and more profitable to focus directly at the answer/response to the basic question of life’s uncertainty. A major bias or unifying principle of the human network can be found in a straightforward answer to that question.
Beyond this basic question discussed above, there are many other questions we can ask about a particular human network. Is the network closed or is it open? Is it complex or simple? Is it independent of social definitions/constraints or dependent on them? How well does it see itself, understand itself? Does it perceive other networks or does it see other people as two-dimensional aspects of its own network? Is it willing to interface with other human networks in complex ways or only in simple conventional or established ways? Is it secretive? Does it see the vastness of the networks outside and beyond itself? Does it see how it is connected to them?
The advantage of analyzing humans as networks is it avoids many of the ambiguities of psychological analysis. Rather than focus on such dubious concepts as personality, ego, the subconscious, or self, a network analysis simply asks how is the network functioning. From a network point of view, a personality or self is little more than a focal point, a unifying principle that provides an illusion of certainty where there need not be one and cannot really be one. A human can function perfectly well without an ego, self, or well-defined personality. Indeed, there is greater stability in seeing yourself as a complex network that is always open to analysis and always willing to add or remove parts as they show themselves to be either good or bad.
After basic network questions have been asked and answered, I think the best starting point for a more detailed analysis is an examination of semiotics and how they are functioning in the individual’s life, and especially in their communications with others. This is best done through FIML practice.
In this context, as in so many, it is important to remember that humans are entry-level conscious semiotic animals. As such, we are prone to processing semiotics with the abrupt and often violent instincts of animals. A network approach provides specificity (what semiotic are we talking about), malleability (oh, I didn’t mean that), an appreciation for the functionality of network nodes, what they are doing and how or why. Since FIML partners have a prior agreement to do analyses of this sort, it is fairly easy for them to segue from ordinary conversation to analysis of that conversation and then back to the ordinary conversation.