Monday, May 15, 2006

Resilience and Consilience Revisited

There has been a lot of posting the past few days on the topics of resilience and consilience in networks, led by Zenpundit. An old post I had from August of last year looked at these topics in the context of modular networks, with one section of it reprinted here:

"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. "

As far as education, I am excited about some work I'll be involved with this summer as we are attempting to finally take a step in this direction. Our science, math, and applied science and technology departments will be working together to help each other out, ranging from possible coordination of when various topics are taught (to give students dual exposure to certain topics), sharing activities that work, using the same language and vocabulary so students are better served, and applying apprpriate technologies into the mix. Who knows how far we can take this cross-talk between 'modules' (i.e. departments), but combining expertise and experience from multiple distinct subject areas will lead to improvements for everyone involved. Through a type of consilience, we may in fact become more resilient in dealing with the academic, intellectual and psychological challenges many of our students are facing in technical subjects.

1 comment:

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