Internet: Towards a Holistic Ontology       Contents | Chapters 1 2 3 | Conclusion | Notes | References | Appendices A B

A Holistic Ontology

This thesis originated in an attempt to understand what lay behind the blurring of distinctions between technological categories, a phenomenon which effectively amounts to a technological convergence most evident in the Internet, or the Net. This attempt gelled into a holistic approach towards an ontological inquiry into the Net, treating the Net more as a system of fluid processes than a clearly definable artifact.  The thesis, then, aims to identify and study the processes which have determined the genesis and structure of the Net.

     Unlike others who have theorized the Net as a formal entity based on purely physical technicalities (December, 1996) or on less tangible terms of "information and services" (Barrett, 1996: 12), we shall instead seek an ontology that takes into account how the Net as a matrix of interconnections produces synergistic relationships.  This holistic perspective is a reversal of Newtonian atomism and reductionism, and is necessary if only because the Net must be understood as a dynamic whole comprised of parts — and not merely physical parts at that.  The essential characteristic of the Net, to bring the diverse into convergence, or at least cater for disparate possibilities, is the central subject of our inquiry.

     The role of metaphor will be twofold throughout these chapters.  First, it will serve to point out parallels between the premises of diverse fields of study and a theory of networks, in an effort to understand the underlying workings of the Net.  Second, it will suggest that at a fundamental level, there is in fact an identity between the Net as an evolving cybernetic system and the analogical figures to which it is compared.

     Although this thesis was submitted formally on paper, the HTML-formatted version on the attached disk must be taken to be the primary version.  This is because the paper version has been stripped of the hyperlinks which are essential to the explication of particular concepts, especially those in Chapter 1.  This chapter deals with the notion of the rhizome, which Deleuze and Guattari themselves explain in a section of their book composed not of chapters but of "plateaus" (see Note 1) which can be read in any order.  Their "Rhizome" plateau is itself composed of mini-plateaus, and because the plateau style of writing is nonlinear, a full understanding of the notion of the rhizome cannot be easily reached without the reader forming rhizomatic links between the six principles through repeated readings.  This presents a Catch 22 situation in which the reader does not know what a rhizomatic link is before understanding the reading, and a full understanding cannot be reached without a rhizomatic reading.  The plateau therefore demands an intuitive, if vague, formation of rhizomatic links in the reading to begin with.  The use of hyperlinks in Chapter 1 admittedly constrains the formation of these rhizomatic links by the reader, but the hyperlinks are intended to provide a nonlinear way of navigating through a concept which could not be easily expressed in a more linear technology of writing.

     Chapter 1 begins the investigation by sketching out the Net as a positive analogy of the rhizome as described by Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus (1987).  The horizontally proliferative rhizome is held in contrast to the vertically structured tree.  Each of the six rhizomatic principles — connection, heterogeneity, multiplicity, asignifying rupture, cartography and decalcomania — is successively detailed and its relevance applied in the context of the Net.  We shall see that, although there is a degree of negative analogy if we hold the Net strictly to the six principles, Deleuze and Guattari also assert that the rhizome must intrinsically allow for arborescent tendencies — and this is also true of the Net.

     Chapter 2 follows up with an exploration of a series of biological metaphors from Rothschild, Dawkins, Lynch, Routt, and Kelly.  Much of this chapter will focus on the characteristics of what Kelly terms "neo-biological civilization", a notion asserting that, in terms of organizational structure and the relationships therein, artificial systems are approaching biological ones.  Kelly‚s ideas are similar to, but less abstract than, those of Deleuze and Guattari, and these similarities will be pointed out.  From a suggestion by Dawkins, the line between analogy and identity begins to blur, as we seek a general evolutionary theory of cybernetics to describe systems such as the Net.

     Chapter 3 reconsiders the ideas in the previous chapter by outlining criticisms of Rothschild and Kelly by Metcalfe, Newman and Schneiderman.  Newman and Schneiderman in particular indicate the downside of Rothschild‚s proposals on capitalist forms of organization, and point out the need for collectivism in human social systems.  We shall see how these criticisms help to develop a perspective on the Net as a hybrid allowing for a multiplicity of potentialities, some of which may appear to contradict one another.  To help understand the ontological status of potentialities, we turn finally to the philosophy of quantum theory.

Chapter 1