What do six degrees of separation, “It’s a Small World,” Kevin Bacon, and your brain all have in common? Networks. BoingBoing.net reports on research about the ways in which the “Small World” network research is helping to make sense of how our brain works. According to BoingBoing:

Inspired by the same mathematics behind “six degrees of Kevin Bacon,” neuroscientists are creating models of how the human brain work. In this “small world” architecture of the brain, clusters of cells link to their nearest neighbors with some neurons connecting to distant clusters. It’s the same phenomenon that social networking pioneer Duncan Watts of NYU and Steven Strogatz of Cornell previously showed emerges in the electric-power grid, relationships between professional actors, and the brain cells of worms.

They point to a report titled “Net Heads” in Science News. According to that report:

Small-world networks have a distinctive structure: There’s a cluster of nodes, each connected to its immediate neighbors, with a few that connect to distant nodes. This structure enhances the power and efficiency of these systems, Strogatz and Watts argued.

More and more neuroscientists agree. Motivated by Milgram and his mathematical progeny, researchers are now devising models grounded in the small-world effect to explain how the human brain works. These scientists are looking for small-world setups within the brain’s massive, interconnected cell networks and for moment-to-moment electrical manipulations that, they suspect, foster thinking and learning. Their efforts are a sharp departure from popular brain-imaging efforts to pinpoint neural niches that specialize in particular mental capabilities.

What this points to is the ongoing significance of the network model of reality that we find so commonly in postmodern life.

It also might suggest that the dominant paradigms of the day may shape how we see ourselves. In the past our brains have been said to function like a muscle, a machine, a computer, and more. Of course these models of the brain have all yielded interesting insights into how the brain functions, but it may be that the revelation has as much to do with the paradigm as it does the brain itself…

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