Thursday, December 25, 2008

Society as a neural meta-network

Today I was thinking of parallels between a spiking neural network and the society as a whole - it's interestingly looks quite similar.

Let's take a separate neuron - it takes its inputs from a lot of other neurons, with various propagation delays and strengths of the connections. As soon as the neuron is nudged well enough, it spikes, and in turn propagates this impulse to those who are connected to it.

Now, look at humans, with a simple case of no TV and other mass media. Everyone "connects" to the set of their friends, acquaintances, and periodically takes the information from them. Again, depending on the "nudge", this person might propagate the "impulse" - being in this case a piece of the information, to other connections.

The difference between the models is the number of connections - in the brain a typical neuron has something like 10000 connections, whereas a typical first-order "human network" is more like 100-500 people (if we assume the facebook's & other social networks "friends" count as a rough estimate).

Now, putting the Internet into the picture - you can have 10000 inputs pretty easily - you just need to ensure you can process this. Also, you do not need to call/meet to exchange the information - which drastically increases the speed of the exchange.

Now goes a funny question - assuming these two models are somewhat similar, can the meta-network exhibit the self-conscience, similar to its lower-order components, and if yes - how would it show up itself ? And, as parts of the whole, can the individual humans recognize this, or is it something fundamentally impossible ?

Within this line of thought, it is also interesting to consider political systems as "rules for operation" of this kind of meta-network. Then it is pretty clear why the democracy is a reasonably robust system - it attempts to ensure the reasonable levels of connectivity within the network. I've long been saying that the dictatorships are the most efficient forms of government for the period of time that you manage to have a benevolent dictator - but the robustness of those is the worst. The efficiency is obviously the highest - because effectively the whole network is a giant amplifier for a single member. But, there's absolutely no feedback mechanism, so as the key member of the network either destroys itself over time, or "spikes randomly" - there's no mechanisms to prevent the negative effects of that.

With the democracy, on the other hand, a lot of "individual instabilities" are taken care of by the feedback mechanisms. The implications are that "collective thinking" employs a lot of low-bandwidth communications which cap its efficiency.

Is this just a kind of a time-space tradeoff, or there could be a way to leverage the benefits of all ?

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