Thursday, June 29, 2006

Who are you? Do I really know you?

So the theory suggests that each and everyone of us is separated from or connected to anyone else on the planet by no more than six degrees of separation. To better understand this, my personal friends are “one degree” away from me, and my friends’ friends are “two degrees” from me, and my friends’ friends’ friends are “three degrees” away and so on. But is it true? Have you ever wondered where this theory comes from? Why six degrees and not ten or fifteen?

From a review, the "six degrees of separation" theory, originates from the 1967 sociology experiment by the American social psychologist Dr. Stanley Milgram. In his "small world experiment" in 1967, Milgram asked supposedly random people, from psychologically distant locations like Kansas or Nebraska, to send a document through the mail, to a target person in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They were given information about the target person and written instructions to send the document to someone they knew on a first-name basis who would be more likely to know the target. That person was to do the same until the document actually reached someone that knew the target and was thus only one degree away from the target. Milgram found that while only 30% of the documents actually made it to the target person (due factors such as participant apathy or not knowing anyone that might have a chance of knowing the target), of the documents that actually made it to the target person, the number of intermediate friends needed to deliver the document ranged from 2 to 10, with a median of 5. Five intermediate friends equals six links or degrees between the first and the last person, and this is what inspired the phrase "six degrees of separation". There have been other experiments on this. For example, Duncan Watts, a professor at Columbia University used e-mail in 2001 and similarly found that it took around 6 or so intermediaries for the e-mail to reach its target.

It seems that many are intrigued and some very much inspired by the concept of six degrees of separation. There have been a number of interesting more recent experiments and projects based on the concept. There has also been an acclaimed Broadway play and a movie based on the theory. There's also a game know as "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon". Some of these will be discussed in future posts and then of course there's the Six Links Rule, stay tuned....

Six Links Rule, Paris Hilton

So, according to the "six degrees of separation" theory, you are connected to me through a chain of acquaintances of no more than five others! Small world, huh? In fact, when you think about it, it's really kind of scary. The trick to all this I guess is to try and work out the six degrees, between us, it's just finding those six people that make the link!

What about working out the six degrees of separation between you and the Dalai Lama? Or, if you prefer, you and Paris Hilton or whomever else you might fancy?