Saturday, July 25, 2009

Six degrees

"Six degrees of separation" is the concept that everyone on the planet is somehow connected, through the people they know. The ultimate network, as it were.

Here's how it works:

1. If I know someone personally, I am "one degree" or "one step" from that person.

2. That person knows other people besides myself, people that I don't know. I would be "two steps" or "two degrees" from those people.

And so forth. The theory being that by 6 steps, you are webbed with everyone on earth, somehow, someway. I don't know who came up with this absurdity in the first place, and I don't know how they would propose to prove it.

But it is sort of fun, especially if you allow "proxies." In fact, UNLESS you allow proxies, it isn't much fun at all. Proxies mean you get to count people you simply "have heard of" rather than having to actually know them in person.

For example, let's say I go to a movie, say the musical "South Pacific". I don't know. Let's just say it is an old theater that runs old movies. Don't ask hard questions. :)

Anyway, let's say that in that movie, one of the actors is a guy named Ray Walston.

Well, I don't really know Ray Walston (and can't because he is dead now, but bear with me) but I get to count him as a step one (or one degree of separation) because "I have heard of him."

Next step, second degree: Let's say Ray Walston acted in a TV series called "My Favorite Martian." He did. And that show also starred an actor named Bill Bixby. "By Proxie" I am two degrees, or two steps back, from Bill Bixby. See?

And, let's say Bill Bixby starred in another tv show called "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" and in that show was another actress named Miyoshi Umeki. That would be 3 degrees away from me.

Then, let's say that actress once starred in a movie called "Flower Drum Song". In that movie were other actors. Pick one. Jack Soo. (This was mostly an Asian movie, so it had mostly Asian actors.) So Jack Soo is 4 degrees separated from me.

Jack Soo starred as a police detective in a TV sitcom called "Barney Miller". Other actors were in that show, too: Pick one. I choose the venerable Abe Vigoda. Fish. 5 degrees from me.

Abe Vigoda acted in a movie called "The Godfather". Fish went to live with the fishes in that one. Also in that movie were lot of other actors. I choose Marlin Brando. So Brando is 6 degrees from me.

We can go on and on even more, but you would stop reading this if we did.

Anyway, the theory of six degrees of separation is that by the time you get to the sixth step, all of those people would have interacted with a huge number of people, and they in turn more and more people, that you could actually (theoretically) have a list of all the people on the planet if you followed each link through to its completion.

Or you could have said that Ray Walston acted in a movie called "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and was the teacher of Spicoli, played by a young unknown actor named Sean Penn. Then you could say Sean Penn was Married to Madonna and Madonna knew every man on earth. Or something like that. See?

This post is only for people who like to analyze things, btw. Not much fun for the rest of you. But the post will only be up for one day.
Edit: Make that "one month."


  1. Why only one day? That's not fair, and you know that. You're trying to slip it past me, but that's not going to work, Max. Oh no.

    I love the idea of six degrees of separation. In Scotland and Ireland, you can count on 2, sometimes 3, degrees. Everyone knows pretty well everyone else.

  2. Have you heard of the Queen of England? Yes, so have I. One degree of separation. What's your name again?

  3. Somehow proxies seem to take the fun out of it for me. I mean, hadn't you already heard of Marlon Brando?

    By the way, I DID have a quote-a-thon last Saturday on the subject of change, per your request. And I wrote a post for Apollo 11 on Sunday. I wondered why you hadn't commented on them.

    I pre-wrote them before my trip and scheduled them to appear on the appropriate day.

  4. @A. - Knowing me it will be up a month. Everyone in Ireland marries their sister, don't they? Don't know about Scotland. No sure how they reproduce. They seem to, though. Okay, so it was a dumb idea. Not mine, though. I was just dumb enough to think it was cool.

    @Stephanie - Ok, I get it. I could be 1 degree from all of them. It doesn't take much to amuse me. I am a simple country boy.

    I looke for Saturday's quotes. That post is missing. No Saturday post last week. I will look again but I don't think so. And those were supposed to be the ones I wanted.

  5. Well, I won't go look. I will click on your links.

  6. 6 degrees huh? I am on LinkedIn and I have 28 contacts, people I personally know. Knowing those 28 people means in theory I have the potential of 386,000 contacts. People I will never really know. Why one day on the post? Are you ashamed of it? Do you think we will be ashamed if we miss it? I did not and I am not. Whatever.

  7. I don't know why it wasn't showing up. I can see it on the edit post list. I know others were once able to see it once.

    I don't know why it disappeared. I'm glad you finally found it.

  8. Dear mathematically-challenged Ettarose - If you think your potential human network is only 386,000 people through 6 degrees, we need to talk about some oceanfront property I own in Arizona. Even with only 28 on each level, you have become part of a network of over 481 million people. And that doesn't count anyone you know who is not on that thing you mentioned. 28 x 28 x 28 x 28 x 28 x 28...

    What have you been up to lately? Not teaching math, I hope?

  9. Facinating concept, wish it is possible to prove. With the above maths it certainly looks possible considering USA has just over 300 million people then Ettarose could be webbed in to the whole USA population! Imagine if you know someone in China and India the figures can be staggering

  10. One thing I do wonder about is whether you have to have met, I mean face to physical face, to claim you know someone. I met someone online a few years ago and we realised we worked in the same organisaton, if not the same campus. We met over a cup of coffee and discovered three degrees of separation already existed. My point, and I'm finally getting there, is whether we had changed the degrees of separation by meeting in person. Do online presences count? Do I really know you Max? You may not really be a little dog. Does that count as a degree of separation? You could even be Sean Connery for all I know. I suppose.

    And when we've finished this subject we can go on to degrees of freedom. I like them too.

  11. we have a theater that shows old movies...

  12. I don't think proxies should count.

  13. You've had this up longer than a day...tsk tsk

  14. @Frostygirl - I must admit it is an interesting concept. If unprovable. But mathematically possible. I don't know about all the Chinese people, though. :)

    @A. - Online counts! And yes, you've found me out - I am really Sean Connery. :) I don't know about degrees of freedom. Do I want to know? Tell.

    @Debbie - Hi! I thought you had left already. Retro theaters? Art theaters? I don't know what you call them. Come back safely.

    @Janet - But it is hard for those of us who have no real-life friends! We have to depend on our "pretend" encounters!

    @Caroline - Yes. A very long time now. I will think of something. It's so good to see you.

  15. Hmm. I mainly meant I don't think I can count someone just because I saw them in a movie. But I think I could count my blogger friends even though I haven't met them IRL because I have actually uh, talked to them. Sort of.

  16. So theoretically I know Sam Raimi, or Wes Craven..... too cool. Or perhaps even the Marque De Sade.




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