Almost everyone has heard about the Small World Phenomenon. It was first introduced by philosopher Stanley Milgram, who exhibited that everyone in this world is networked with each other using a chain of acquaintances not more than 6 degrees long. Since then, a lot of experiments, both online and offline, have been performed by various researchers to basically prove the hypothesis. It is infact pretty amazing to realize that I am just about 6 degrees away from knowing Bill Gates or even the Pope!
The emergence of the Internet has helped us form boundary-less social networks. It is now easy to communicate and share with people irespective of where they are physically located. These online social networking websites are a very good place to see the small world effect in real time. As you must have noticed, I talk about the Internet a lot in my posts. I think the Internet could very well be the most important invention in the lifetime of the entire mankind.
Some movies have also drawn themes from the small world effect. The latest that I watched was “My Date with Drew” in which this young aspiring film-maker ventures out to use his “small world network” in order to get a date with Drew Barrymore. He was ultimately successful, although I wouldn’t exactly credit the small word phenomenon for his success.
One very simple question comes to mind. Why six degrees of separation? Why isn’t it 5 or 10? Well, 5 is too small, and 10 is too big. What I mean is that the theory merely states that we are connected to everyone else in this world by at most a 6 long chain. It could be shorter. But, no longer than 6. I think the magic number 6 also has to do with the fact that the human brain is typically not good at remembering anything bigger than 7 long. For example, there are 7 days in the week, 7 digits in a telephone number, 7 stages of progressive development of the disembodied soul according to Indian beliefs, the 7 seas, etc. In fact, the number 7 holds a high degree of prominence in the Hindu religion. A much more scientific synopsis of the importance of “7” can be read here.
All this makes me wonder; Are our thoughts separated to others’ in much the same way? Is it possible to propagate our vision and ideas throughout the world using the small world phenomenon as a reliable base? I personally think that the answer to all these questions is a resounding “YES”. I was watching this movie called Waking Life the other day and there was a scene where this couple (from the movie Before Sunrise, btw) were talking about dreams and reality. They mentioned something very interesting. In a scientific experiment, a group of people were given crosswords puzzles to which the solutions were already printed a day earlier, but unbeckonst to them. Surprisingly, their performance was stellar. It appears that there is some way by which thoughts and ideas get communicated subliminally.
Can this explain why some innovations happen at the same time but at separate places? I think this has broad implications. We are theoretically at the same level of intelligence and/or awareness as others, although a little bit late. So what’s the role of education? Maybe the purpose of education is to enable us to be thought leaders. After that it’s the small “mindscape” phenomenon at work! How many CEOs of tech companies are actually techies? Very few. They lead with their thoughts, their ideas, and their vision. Just because they are onto the next wave of ideas even before the employees assimilate the first wave makes them leaders.
Can we predict the future using this? Of course! If we can program our brain with expected outcomes to actions and then propagate ideas successfully, we can in fact be the cause of major changes in the world! We are an exceedingly networked society right now. If the mind networking theory holds truth, we should all look forward to a more balanced, and happier earth. An Earth that has been shaped by the collective thoughts of billions of people from all over the planet. It is a small world after all!