The Human Super-Organism
Our Web of Connections and What Passes Through It
Six Degrees of Separation — or Less?
The concept of Six Degrees of Separation probably originated in a short story published in Hungary in 1929. The protagonist of the story makes the claim that he can find a connection to any of the inhabitants of the earth, through a chain of at most five acquaintances (mediators). The term “Six Degrees of Separation” was invented in 1967 following a famous experiment conducted by social psychologist Stanley Milgram in the US. Next came a play (which I saw in NY), a TV series and a trivia game starring actor Kevin Bacon.
Facebook has done some research to measure the average distance between two members of its network. In 2011, with 721 million users, the distance was 3.74 people. In 2016, with 1.59 billion users, the distance decreased to 3.59 people. The global village is converging.
In their famous book “Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives”, researchers Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler documented the deep impact we have on the people we know, and through them on other people. In his TED talk Christakis describes how ideas, norms, desires and emotions spread though our social networks like viruses. For example in the image each dot represents a person. A yellow dot denotes a happy person, a blue dot denotes a sad person and a green dot is in between. It is evident that the points are clustered by color rather then being randomly distributed throughout the graph. Or level of happiness is directly influenced by (and influences) the happiness of others in our social circles. Christakis concludes that human beings are actually a kind of a super-organism.
Infections: Bad or Good?
The Corona virus is painting the network of connections between the 8 billion people on our planet very tangibly. Our lives are interwoven, and we must be aware of that. Black Lives Matter and Women’s Lives Matter and Elderly Lives Matter because they are MY life. We should reject our individual egoistic perception and rise to a higher level of connected consciousness. We can see clearly what happens when viruses, competition, egoistic thoughts, negative relations, and hatred spread through the network. But we can use that same powerful “network effect” to instead spread healing, collaboration, altruistic values, empathy and love. Indeed we can turn the world Upside-Down!
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead