Probing the six degrees of separation

Are you six degrees away from someone, or somewhat less?Discover has a good article this week about a couple of social scientists and their attempts to confirm Milgrim’s infamous ‘six degrees of separation’ experiment. Milgrim gave a number of people a letter and asked them to get it to a person they didn’t know directly though people they did know, then a person that person knew, etc. He found the chains averaged at 6 people, leading to the urban myth and the game ‘Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon’, in which people link up actors in a similar way (from personal experience, it almost always seems to go via Dan Ackroyd). Kevin Bacon even has a website called Six Degrees, linking celebrities and people with charitable organisations.

The scientists found that in both Milgrim and their follow-up studies, the six degrees often held up but people only completed their chain of connections a small amount of the time. They found that although often the six degree connection was about right when the link was completed, the likelihood of them reaching their target usually depended on the willingness or hostility of the people inbetween. For instance, for someone like Morgan Spurlock looking for Osama Bin Laden the last couple of chains are probably extremely resistant to taking part, so it’ll be hard to find him! I’d be interested to see if, as internet networks grow in popularity and sophistication, whether the number of degrees actually decreases in a hyper-connected future.

Discover also has a look at six physicists who could be considered ‘the next Einstein’. Personally I think Richard Feynman should hold that title and anyone now should be considered ‘the next Richard Feynman’ but the article is a nice brief overview of some leading lights in theoretical physics all the same.

[story via Discover, image via Wikipedia Commons]

2 thoughts on “Probing the six degrees of separation”

  1. The concept of Six Degrees of Separation is an attempt to convey the idea of interconnectedness. It is reasonable to assume that there probably exists an average number depicting interconnectedness between members of a set. This number is most likely to vary depending on how the set is defined (Most likely inversely proportional to the size of the set). For instance there are more than likely more than six degrees of separation between any two people on the planet. But if we reduce the scope of the set to say actors in hollywood, the number is a lot smaller. The website has an application to see how actors are connected either through movies or personal relationships. After a few attempts it’s becomes clear that most actors in hollywood have less than 4 degrees of separation between them.

  2. This post popped up as one related to the one I just posted. Five more degrees to go…

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