Wednesday, April 3, 2013

"So Close No Matter How Far" - Six Degrees of Separation

What if you have to send a message to some person you don't know directly and communication mediums such as email, mail or telephone were unavailable? Then the only method of communication will be via personal contacts. We can search for a friend of us who directly know the intended the recipient. But what if, none of our friends know the recipient directly? Then probably we have to depend on some other intermediate person who can connect one of our friends to the intended recipient. What if there is no such person. Then another intermediate person is required. 

This gives the rise to an interesting question , "What is the maximum number of such intermediate people needed to make sure that we can send a message to anyone in the world ? " or in other words "What is the minimum number of people between any two people in the world ?".

In six degrees of separation concept it says that this value is 6. This concept was introduced by the
The Film
Hungarian Author Frigyes Karinthy in one of his short stories in the year 1929 named "Chains". This was later popularized by a play named "Six Degrees of Separation" written by John Guare. There is also a film titled "Six Degrees of Separation" based on the same story (Will Smith is the main actor.Yet this film is boring) .

So there are at most only five intermediate persons between any two people in the world. I can personally send a mail to Barrack Obama via five intermediate persons. I can contact Chuck Norris via five people. I can connect with Mr.ABC from country XYZ through just five persons. It sounds so amazing and fascinating. So the real question is "is it true ?" Though this was initially introduced as a concept many people have tried to prove it mathematically and practically and amazingly most of those attempts have been somewhat successful. 

In 1967, American sociologist Stanley Milgram devised a way to test the theory, which he called "the small-world problem." He randomly selected people in the mid-West to send packages to a stranger located in Massachusetts. The senders knew the recipient's name, occupation, and general location. They were instructed to send the package to a person they knew on a first-name basis who they thought was most likely, out of all their friends, to know the target personally. That person would do the same, and so on, until the package was personally delivered to its target recipient.Although the participants expected the chain to include at least a hundred intermediaries, it only took (on average) between five and seven intermediaries to get each package delivered. Milgram's findings were published in Psychology Today. This has confirmed the number of links is actually close to six.

Apart from that experiment there were many other experiments and theories. Some of them used mathematical derivations and assumptions as well. With the advancement of technology there are several internet experiments which have tried to check the validity of this concept. One of the interesting experiments is the game "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" which was invented as a play on the concept. The goal is to link any actor to Kevin Bacon through no more than six connections, where two actors are connected if they have appeared in a movie or commercial together. It was created by four students at Albright College in Pennsylvania, who came up with the concept while watching Footloose. On the 13th of September, 2012, Google made it possible to search for any given actor's 'Bacon Number' through their search engine. The "Oracle of Bacon" gives a version of this game based on the IMDB database. Using this we can search for the connection between any two actors. Even the Sri Lankan Actors are connected with Kevin Bacon or any other International actors with a very small degree of connection. As an example "Kamal Addaraarchchi" is connected with "Kevin Bacon" via just three intermediate actors. 



There may be tribal groups in the world who have never encountered other civilizations. Thus finding a connection with them will be an impossible thing. In that case this concept will not be true. Apart from that fact all other improvements in technology has resulted in a well connected world. Thus the six degrees of freedom will most probably be true for most of the people in the world. And it is expected that this value of six will be further reduced with the development of the communication technology, transportation facilities and multimedia . Thus the connectivity in the world is so tight and as humans we are "So Close No Matter How far" .



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