The study of complex networks has a fascinating relationship with philosophy. On the one hand, a number of philosophers pre-empted some of the findings of Complexity science, having not constrained themselves with particular ways of looking at the world. For example, in the Romantic Economist, Richard Bronk demonstrated how particular schools of philosophy have used the metaphor of an organism, rather than a machine, to understand society. A great deal of Western social science in effect uses the machine metaphor both to make sense of society and to decide on action, including policy. Complex networks help us move away from such framings, which are inaccurate and can be damaging. In a sense, complex networks have legitimised approaches to understanding human nature and social systems that were previously discredited or side-lined.
On the other hand, the study of complex networks has influenced a number of debates within the philosophy community. For example, within a number of branches of philosophy there is a question of internalism versus externalism, which broadly speaking translates into a question of whether people operate independently of the rest of society, or whether they are in fact constructed by society. Complex networks help us to appreciate that this is not an “either / or” but a “both / and” issue.
In a sense, what we aim to achieve in Synthesis is to bring about ontological (i.e. real) change through epistemological (i.e. our understanding of reality) change.
Within this community, we are exploring the relationship between complex networks and Eastern philosophies, notably Taoism. This ancient Chinese philosophy has some remarkable similarities with the cutting edge field of complex networks, which arose out of Western science.