James Leroy Wilson's blog

Friday, April 07, 2006

Six Degrees of Separation

My Partial Observer piece on Stanley Milgram did not discuss his "six degrees of separation" experiments. The theory is that "anyone on earth can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than four intermediaries."

I don't know how specific it must be. I'm assuming what is meant by "acquaintence" is that two people would be able to remember each other and their first name - even if their relationship was from the distant past, like childhood classmates. On the other hand, shaking hands with a politician or getting an autograph from an athlete probably wouldn't count.

If that is the case, six degrees is easily believable. I have no idea how many people I've known, and I haven't a clue who all they're acquainted with. And I've known countless missionaries, soldiers, sailers, peace corps workers, and foreign exchange students.

Even if the definition of "acquaintence" was fairly narrow, I could see the six degrees easily working for the entire country if not the world. I bet everyone in the country has acquaintences who are acquainted with a Congressman, a prominent athletic coach, and a famous entertainer, and I bet that every American is at most two steps away from the President. Famous people's own networks of acquaintences, famous and non, span the entire country if not the globe.

The only reason we don't know for sure about the six degrees of separation, is that we don't know who all the people are that our acquaintences are acquainted with. But I'm sure we'd be quite surprised. The numbers would be staggering, and the names would be surprising.


  1. thanks for the welcome back. as for six degrees, i have been a firm believer in it, but as we push into the digital age, i sadly think the degrees will go up to maybe twelve in the real world and less than six in the digital. welcome to the evolution of man.

  2. I know a woman who knows a guy who knows a guy who knows the Pope. So far, this has not helped me much.