Two Degrees of Separation

The West Coast Dowsers’ Conference, where I taught one of the sessions 6 weeks ago, was at UC Santa Cruz. We stayed in the dorms and ate in the dining hall of one of the residential colleges.Although I’m fairly shy, I did manage one night to sit down at dinner with some strangers. Of course, we had a lovely conversation — the people at the Dowsers’ Conference are all lovely, and we obviously have something in common. The woman who sat diagonally across from me was from Milwaukee — and she was a real estate agent, so we had that in common. In fact, our discussion was mostly about commercial property. She looked to be of South Asian ancestry, and had a South Asian name, but I honestly didn’t think twice about that. We exchanged business cards, and I added her to my mailing list.

Last week, I wrote about the Oak Creek shooting, and posited that perhaps it was not random violence.  Since my weekly email contains a teaser for my blog post, she got that teaser, as well as the link.

A day later, I got an email from the Milwaukee woman, saying that the Oak Creek temple was her temple! She said she knew 3 of those who’d died, and several women who’d been hiding in the kitchen with the kids. That makes me only 2 degrees of separation from the people who died — and you only 3 degrees of separation. It’s a really small world. How is this possible?

It’s possible because of small world networks.

Consider the  game, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, where players try to tie a given actor to Kevin Bacon in as few steps as possible, based on the movies they’ve acted in together. So if an actor has worked in a movie with Mr. Bacon, he has a Bacon number of 1, if an actor has worked with an actor who has worked with Mr. Bacon, she has a Bacon number of 2, and so on. As you can see in the table below, using data from the internet movie data base, www.imdb.com, which has over 500,000 actors, the vast majority of actors are within 3 degrees of separation from Bacon, and virtually all are within 4 degrees:

Degrees of Separation      Cumulative Bacon Percentage

1                                                .3
2                                            24.1
3                                            84.9
4                                            98.8

The book, “Six Degrees”, by Duncan Watts, from which the above data is abstracted, is all about “small world” networks, looking at networks as different as movie actors and the power grid from a mulitdisciplinary approach. After considering several models and research from the 1930’s onward, he concludes that “As long as individuals are more likely to know other people like them, and — crucially — as long as they measure similarity along more than one social dimension, then not only will short paths exist between almost anyone almost anywhere, but also individuals… will be able to find them.” And other research suggests that the two most powerful dimensions to explore are geographical connections and professional ones.

Hollis Polk is a personal coach (www.888-4-hollis.com), who has been helping people create lives they love for 15 years, using neurolinguistic & hypnotherapy techniques, decision science, clairvoyance & the common sense learned in 20+ years of business. She is an NLP Master Practitioner, hypnotherapist & has a BSE in engineering from Princeton & a Harvard MBA. She is also a successful real estate broker, investor & business owner.