The great project of the twenty first century – understanding how the whole of humanity comes to be greater than the sum of its parts – is just beginning. Like an awakening child, the human super organism is becoming self-aware, and this will surely help us to achieve our goals. But the greatest gift of this awareness will be the sheer joy of self discovery and the realization that to truly know ourselves we must first understand how and why we are all connected.”
In their widely acclaimed book, Connected: The Amazing Power of Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, Nicholas Christakis MD, PhD & James Fowler, PhD examine human connection through social networks. The book reveals some startling insights about human interrelation. Understanding the degree of human connectivity is of primary importance if we are going to change our world.
Working Together Generates A Higher Form Of Life
Working together, cells, generate a higher form of life that is entirely different from the internal workings of a single cell. For example, our digestion is not a function of any one cell or even one type of cells. Likewise, our thoughts are not located in a given neuron; they arise from the pattern of connections between neurons. Whether cells, ants, or humans, new properties of a group can emerge from the interactions of individuals. And co-operative interactions are hallmarks of most most major evolutionary leaps that have occurred since the origin of life – consider the agglomeration of single cell organisms into multi-cellular organisms, and the assembly of individuals into super organisms.”
Social Networks Reflect Our Inter-Connectivity
The networks we create have lives of their own. They grow, change, reproduce, survive and die. Things flow and move within them. A social network is a kind of human super organism, with an autonomy and a physiology – a structure and a function – of its own. From what no person could do alone. Our local contributions to the human social network have global consequences that touch the lives of thousands every day and help us to achieve much more than the building of towers or the destruction of the walls. A colony of ants is the prototypic super organism, with properties not apparent in the ants themselves, properties that arise from the interactions and cooperation of the ants. By joining together, ants create something that transcends the individual: complex ant hills spring up like miniature towers of Babylon, tempting wanton children to action. The single ant that find its way to a sugar bowl both of achievements are made possible by the co-ordinated efforts and communication of many individuals. Yet, in a way, these solitary individuals – ant and astronaut, both parts of a super organism – are no different from the tentacle of an octopus sent out to probe a hidden crevice. In fact, cells within multi-celluar organisms can be understood in much the same way.
Like a world wide nervous system, our networks allow us to send and receive messages to nearly every other person on the planet. As we become more hyper connected, information circulates more efficiently, we interact more easily, and we manage more and different kinds of social connections everyday. All of these changes make us, Homo dictyous (Network Man), even more like a super organism that acts with a common purpose. The ability of networks to create and sustain our collective goals continues to strengthen. And everything that now spreads from person to person will soon spread further and faster, prompting new features to emerge as the scale of interactions increases.”
The Necessity To Understand Human Connection
Individualism and holism shed light on the human condition, but they miss something essential. In contrast to these two traditions, they miss something essential. In contrast to these two conditions, the science of social networks offers an entirely new way of understanding human society because it is about individuals and groups and, indeed, about how the former become the latter. Interconnections between people give rise to phenomena that are not present in individuals or reducible to their solitary desires and actions. Indeed, culture itself is one such phenomenon. When we lose our connections, we lose everything.
Scientists are also increasingly seeing events like earthquakes, forest fires, species extinctions, climate change, heartbeats, revolutions and market crashes as bursts of activity in a larger system, intelligible only when studied in the context of many examples of the same phenomenon. They are turning their attention to how and why the parts fit together and to the rules that govern interconnection and coherence. Understanding the structure and function of social networks and understanding the phenomenon of emergence (that is the origin of collective properties of the whole not found in the parts) are thus elements of this larger scientific movement.
The great project of the twenty first century-understanding how the whole of humanity comes to be greater than the sum of its part-is just beginning. Like an awakening child, the human super organism is becoming self-aware, and this will surely help us to achieve our goals. But the greatest gift of this awareness will be the sheer joy of self discovery and the realization that to truly know ourselves we must first understand how and why we are all connected.”