Six Degrees of Separation

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Six Degrees of SeparationDocumentary unfolding the science behind the idea of six degrees of separation.

Originally thought to be an urban myth, it now appears that anyone on the planet can be connected in just a few steps of association.

Six degrees of separation is also at the heart of a major scientific breakthrough.

That there might be a law which nature uses to organize itself and that now promises to solve some of its deepest mysteries. (Excerpt from bbc.co.uk)

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72 Comments / User Reviews

  1. Jeb Murphy

    Tremendous documentary on a most fascinating subject!

  2. itsMecca

    nice indeed.

  3. Seb

    Thanks Vlatko, love this site. Been a fan for a while now and loving the new ones up.
    Anything you can find to do with space would be good :)
    Thanks again
    Seb

  4. Thomas

    another absolutely brilliant BBC documentary!!!

    5*/5

    it manages to explain a very complex matter in a very comprehensive way. not only giving insight in the principles laying underneath the science, but also giving great examples of how it is put into practice... great job!

  5. Jeff D.

    very good documentary indeed...I was completely unaware of this new science and it is remarkable to see how it applies to so many things!

  6. DancingSpiderman

    The purveyors of the concept MUST re-title it for what it REALLY is... "TEN TO FIFTEEN Degrees of Separation, but no more than fifteen degrees."

    In the final scene alone, the package exchanged hands 3 times, yet these "degrees" of separation were not even counted in the six degrees of separation. And yet, if any of those final three people had not passed on the package, the package gets tossed in the round file, as is what happens countless thousands of times a day around the world.

    Back when I allowed myself to be an employee I had people within the company I was working for who did not pass the package on to me, but had been told by the sender that in fact packages just like those UPS packets were sent off to me. So I have a special negative reaction to the glib use of the false phrase.

  7. Ildar Samit

    Brilliant. They touched on some very interesting concepts. It's amazing how the "hubs" are all around us. Makes perfect sense.

    It also made me think that maybe the number 6 is about right. Those people could not possibly know the best route for the package, but some still made it. So with perfect knowledge of the network it might be possible to connect just about everyone.

  8. KC

    It really doesn't matter whether it is six or `x' degrees separation, as long as `x' is manageable in normal human term, this concept of connectivity that exists in all natural groupings has far reaching implication and potential. It's akin to finding the `worm' in space travel.

  9. Mejdlo

    I guess the FACEBOOK has a potential to statistically prove this theory right or wrong. If someone reasonable gets all the data about everybody's friends in that network and uses it to find out all the good links, the hubs and the error links. OOOuuuu, someone save us from thaaaat !!!

  10. sunny1

    Well, the network applications were interesting but the idea of networks is something I've instinctively/intuitively known all my life as I'm sure have most people on this planet but maybe not so concrete...They never did find the answer to the crickets, heart rates or lightening bugs (or did I miss it)...also, the synchronicity or coincidence of how these scientists found each other and the other information they found wasn't completely explained either, what causes some connections to manifest into reality (be noticed and applied)??...it seems there must be some kind of intent for these events to meet, otherwise it would seem we would be overwhelmed with connections everyday or be totally alone...CG Jung had some good ideas on the subject of synchronicity...Watson's diagrams reminded me of Sacred Geometry...I'd like to know more about this sciences applications, how would you apply this to pollution, greed, war etc?? and lastly 3 pkgs delivered out of 40?? this doesn't appear to be a very significant amount...what would six degrees of separtation have been in 1602 or 1000 BC? How long would it have taken, so is this theory more valid now that we have more efficient technology?

  11. Karen

    New Science, hardly. I wonder how much seperation there was between the mathematician and the Psych department or the library. Apparently to much, because clearly someone forgot to do research before he did research (the discovery was already discovered), as he would have found out if he aquired a copy of Michel Foucaults extensive discourse on power, networks, and information nodes that has been available since the 60's. Fun repeatable experiment though, but could have saved time, effort, brain strain and postage by opening up a book.

  12. Ali

    The human network in 1000 BC or 1602 wouldn't have those random links that shrank the distance from one to node to another, so I guess you have to be a part of network that has grown naturally for this to apply. But I do agree that there is some intent that all these people found each other or 'stumbled upon' each other's work. It is also interesting to note that a lot of mathematics discovered and inventions are made in the same time period by different scientist e.g. Newton and Leibiniz coming up with calculus roughly in the same time period.

  13. as

    Why six and why not seven?

  14. Oliver Nasht

    It's not another great BBC documentary but another great ABC documentary.

    C ya from OZ!

  15. Katalin Palmai

    I've learned from an extended interview that the world was already small in 1000BC as soon as early humans were mobile enough to connect distant tribes. This in accordance of what the theory says - the first few random links shrink the world significantly and adding a few more links is as small as it can get. It means that all these telecommunication devices can't shrink the world much smaller as it was small already.

    It doesn't really matter 6 or 7 or 19...as it doesn't matter either how many packages reached in this film the target. Most of the time people don't pass things, can't be bothered. But the connections even if they remain invisible are there. But for the sceptics read teh giant experiment conducted by Microsoft - delivered the same result!

    Cheers.

  16. Sha Supreme

    I stumbled upon this doc completely by accident while on YouTube.. Very interesting, must watch doc even for the non-science enthusiasts out there..

  17. J. Miller

    Great documentary. I would like to see a follow up to this. Its clear that computer science can use this theory and from what i read, many companies are using this to do research in order to understand and then later to mold the behaviour of those who use their websites. I think there may be another hidden part of this idea that they didn't examine, and that is that people often forget that nobody is unique and that every single thing that they do, whatever they are doing right now for example, there are probably hundreds and thousands of people who also do that behaviour and there will be many people doing exactly what you are doing right now. For example, i'm typing an entry on this website from my home computer. There are probably millions of people right this second doing almost exactly that, typing an entry onto some website. I'd say that the idea of networks and multiple universes have a lot in common. I think there is more that can be mined from this theory.

  18. Yavanna

    WoW - a must see doc - this is the quantum theory of human realtionships. supremely interesting. Soooooo who amongst you can i connect to.....

  19. Hunter

    Very interesting. Again for those who lack quantitative intelligence like myself I can see the potential but I wouldn't say I have any skill on the subject. There seems to me however to be a connection between this theory and chaos theory. Perhaps the network theory is the yin and chaos theory the yang in this new Tao of the future.

    Underlying principles of reality that affect all systems if understood and applied will cause exponential development of human potential as a race. The triumph of the truth spreading virus - the scientific method.

    Network theory and the practical engineering that will come soon in the future will become a part of all lives (has always been so) but with understanding it the possibilities are infinite.

  20. Dayton and Camilla

    Camilla: Very interesting.

    Dayton: That's all?

    Camilla: That's all I need to say.

    Dayton: Well OK then.

  21. Old Git Tom

    Interesting! Wish I knew about math & science, but as an ignoramus, it seemed the exposition left a lot unexplained. Does a physical, chemical, material link act the same way as an intangible link? With intangible links, can we talk about relationships as links?

    Eg., as a US citizen, I might have a constitutional relationship with my congressman – a formal link. But if I am one of his rich election funders, my relationship is much stronger than if I am not. Yes, no, maybe, or more importantly, mathematically definable?

    This topic interests me in relation to the potential for Desktop Democracy – a grassroots, democratic, self-government system enabled by IT. It might replace the old top-down system, cutting away much of the superstructures of government & bureaucracy.

    Anyone got any ideas?

  22. Yavanna

    Tom if you are proposing an idea for web based grass roots democracy I guess we would all be up for that. Imagine after a week of web protest the foreign policy wars could be absolved. The bankers be investigated - and so forth. We can but dream!

  23. Old Git Tom

    Yavanna,
    hello. I can assure you there is much more to Desktop Democracy than pleasant dreams. At the least, it seems a self-consistent theory. Except, I have very little techie knowledge of how a grassroots-controlled DD network would run. That is hazy, since it would apply the will of the majority to the levers of power, so must work vertically & horizontally.

    As I see it, it would allow a continuum of decision-making, not just a ballot every 4 years. Every community would be an agora, free time for self-government allowed by a 3-day work-week & universal wage. The 9-5 grind is dead as the dodo, made extinct by automation & cybernetics. So let's live life! OGT

  24. Yavanna

    OGT i love your way of thinking but there is always a however... and a but....

    Such things would be properly considered decisions. Great so you and me we are both genius intellectuals (my little joke teehee) and we can be trusted to influence an entire nations future and foreign policy on a web vote - now multiply "US" by a million - or a billion - for fun.

    Whilst your theory is beautiful in theory the reality would be chaos because "grass roots" includes mutated weeds ( trying to be kind with my analogy here)

    I`ll continue my thoughts later being called away.....

  25. Old Git Tom

    Yavanna,
    yep, the doubts have occurred to me likewise. Prob; everyone being able to input their opinions, decisions & wishes into a total democrcacy network means chaos? A Tower of Babel?

    Possibly, but if true, then it follows that democracy can only work if the 'unwashed' masses are kept out, or limited, & decisions left to some enlightened elite? Hmmm: that bothers me more - what Plato was saying 2000+ years ago. Subsequent US Revolution & Constitution proved him wrong, to a large degree.

    Desktop Democracy & citizens' self-government may offer a way out, since the gap b/ween governors & governed would be abolished. You want better schools, then you all get together, organize, & do it. Our 'rights' would be our responsibilities, not in the hands of bureaucrats-at-a-distance.

    We need a science input here. Chaotic systems tend to evolve into order. Could quote Prigogine, but try to stick to what I u/stand! OGT

  26. Yavanna

    One problem with the system would be this: who would be asking the questions that we would vote to? That is still an element of control. You could answer that by saying if 1000 people propose a "change" the question is elevated to be advertised to the broader masses so as to be considered. This would result in 100s if not 1000s of these questions being put to vote or consideration per day.

    Now that would take each person several hours to go through each day. Even then to properly consider a single issue might take a great deal of research to consider the full ramifications, costs and priority. Consider the attention span of an average person and you see we have a problem. Most people would lose interest and remove themselves from the process. Fundamental and pedantic self interested people would be left.

    Then you would have to consider that with such a system you would soon get grouping amongst the "web community" with what we might think of as pressure groups. Groups that would vote on block sometimes on very radical issues and this would lead to a problem we already have to a certain extent. The loudest voice is always heard.

    Though I hate the corruptions of modern governments I do believe we still need some sort of government in a hierarchy form and into that could be incorporated some sort of web based democracy system. For instance the big questions could be put to the population by way of referendum. Even so; who would decide which of these questions would be asked? In theory we already have this capability within our current "democracies." Yet even when the public are screaming out for a referendum we are not allowed one. One example: in the UK we didn't want the Euro. Most of us don't even want to be part of Europe. These are issues that we wanted referendums on and didn't get.

  27. Old Git Tom

    Yavanna,
    fear not; the greatest issues would be engaged by the best minds. This is what encouraged & worried me by the video. Certain individuals would tend to be the ‘hubs’, loci of opinion & dissent. Like it or or not, collective concerns & thinking always are drawn to he singular mind, or a few spokespeople. Group consciousness is always expressed by, or via, an individual. That’s the way it works. Sure, a great deal of new & awkward questions would be thrown up by a truly bottom-up grassroots system. That need not appall us, becos true democracy is always unstable & dynamic. That frightens the many who yearn for a 100% secure & predictable system. So welcome to the prison camp! But if you want freedom, you will have to learn to live with disorder. The play of order & disorder is human history. All we can hope for is to play the game better. One big advance of self-government – it annuls the gap between wanting ‘X’ & implementing policy ‘X’. In the past, this was always a matter for division of labor & responsibility. If we didn’t get ‘X’, there was always some other to blame. Now, there will be no convenient scapegoats. How strange & challenging the world outside the slave barracks! OGT

  28. SteveM

    Gotta love BBC doc's. Highly reccomended, exciting new research that is easy to understand.

  29. SteveM

    oops, recommended. forgot spell check.

  30. Tony

    First thing that comes to mind when I think " Network " is the internet. Makes sense to me as a website designer however for a doctor it could be a neural network. For the pilot, a transportation network. This documentary did a fantastic job of communicating the the true intricities of all networks and the sheer dependence of networks for not only strategic data location ( online ) but also how biological networks are a fundamental building block of everything around us, and it is all with in 6 degrees of separation. Entertaining and informative. I enjoyed it.

  31. Old Git Tom

    To repeat, no definition of what a 'degree of separation' is; too fuzzy an idea. It implies we are all somehow easily connected, or could be. It does not explain why we are so disconnected in actuality. In mass urban conurbations, human beings are anonymous aggregations, usually manipulated & abused, top-down, by a ruling minority. It is precisely becos we are isolated particles that we are so powerless. Particles of the world unite? So where is the 6-step plan? OGT

  32. Tony

    Old Git Tom: I think they mention the degree to be inherent from the original internet game 6 degrees to Kevin Bacon. A degree is basically a step or link from one point to another. 6 steps or links. This Doc talks about hubs making it possible for such small steps and with out the hubs it would take many more steps. Every one has that relative that keeps in touch with all other relatives. If you want to spread the word of a get together you call him/her and chances are he/she will let everyone else know with out you making another call to anyone. On the same token you never tell him/her things you do not want other relatives to know about..lol. In regards to the politics you are absolutely right. It is a completely separate topic but makes good sense. To win any battle, communication with your team and allies is paramount. If the enemy can bring down your communication network then they will win. It is much easier to do that by disabling hubs rather than trying to take out individuals that use the hub. No hubs no information and no coordinated strategies. Complete ciaos and the system falls apart. If you are speaking of Government rule then yes I believe we as humans are limited and manipulated constantly to adhere to set agendas etc.. Nature at large on the other hand has its own set of laws and the networks that develop in our bodies and in nature is what intrigued me.

  33. Old Git Tom

    Tony,
    I was looking at the 6-Step theory in a broader context. Have you ever researched/looked for obscure information? This often involves more than 6 steps, & in some cases, ends in failure. If this idea applies purely to human beings, it could be (more) viable.
    Agreed on the rest of your post! OGT

  34. makisig

    Wow! This could be the greatest discovery of the 21st century!- second only ofcourse to Hawking's ''theory of everything''. Imagine how understanding the simplicity of the ''complex'' would help us find cures to diseases once thought uncurable,stop terrorism,send kids to school, learn the past, or predict the future! What if eveyone will act for the greater good, even if they don't know who needs what, but gets there anyway! This is the world I have been dreaming of! A world where everyone will avoid talking on the library, thus preventing the librarian from leaving the counter, giving a hitman no chance of killing the president who was on visiting the school for his reelection campaign. Or everyone don't drink on weekdays so they wakes up early for the 8 'o clock bus, preventing someone from riding a taxi that will eventually kill a child. A world where math saves lives.

  35. mugen

    amazing. more people should look in to this. maybe we can explain the solar system in the same way?

  36. Old Git Tom

    makisig,

    enthusiasm is fine, but there can be no 'theory of everything'. Just one objection: in a fully determined world where the future could be predicted, there could be no human free will. In fact, what would we need silly, messy human beings for anyhow? OGT

  37. epolaris

    This documentary really left an impression on me. I heard about the concept of "Six degrees of Separation" before, but never in any great detail. I think is comforting to know that youre six or so steps away from almost anyone (in a relative sense).
    That to me is almost liberating, and while I don't see myself suddenly becoming an extrovert for the sake of degrees of separation, its still incredibly cool to think of the world as an extension of your neighborhood in a literal sense. With the right links, anything or should I say anyone is possible.
    Eye opening stuff... I'm going to bookmark this site now...

  38. E’Noch

    Kevin Bacon!

  39. Brian

    When I was eight years old I was thinking and talking about this. however people thought I was stupid I am sixty eight now I still think it :)

  40. Itnabit

    Pity scientists are only "discovering" what has been known for hundreds if not thousands of years that everything is connected. Look into this connection and there will be an explosion of creativity, providing we can remove ourselves from the GREED factor of our currently dying system of capitalism.

  41. Old Git Tom

    Anders,
    not sure that your experiment 'proves' the theory, since the theory does not closely define what a step of separation is, so it is not strictly provable, so not really a theory.

    Imagine I know this: both HM Prince Charles & I use the same brand of trainers. Imagine also I find his address by breaking into the manufacturer's customer base. I might contrive a meeting, but that seems to be a 3-step connection, entirely based on my state of knowledge &/or computer skills - so no macro or systemic pattern of 'connections' revealed.

    This seems more reasonable: how quickly we can connect to some other 'node' in the world is dependent on the efficiency of the info-exchange technologies available, ie., how fast we can find info & retrieve it. The number 6 might be some rough & ready index of current IT efficiency states.

    But just becoz something 'works' does not prove its associated 'theory' is right. A use value is not a truth value. Lies & deception often work too!

    Lastly, if 'everything is connected', why is so much apparently unconnected, isolated, & separate? If your bicycle has a puncture, do you fix it, or do you start thinking about the death rate amongst Brazilian frogs? OGT

  42. Doc

    Haha I wouldn't say network theory is the savior of science as the scientists in this documentary seem to believe, but this sure was an interestingly refreshing documentary

  43. Antriksh Shah

    Amazing Documentary

  44. azilda

    brilliant! i loved it...still wondering how i can use this new knowledge for the good of all.
    az

  45. Nadia Porterfield

    Hollywood actors all know someone who knows someone and a few of them know a lot of people. I'm not sure if this is clever or just stating the obvious. Why did only three of the packages arrive? What would happen if they were sent from the US to Timbuktu (would any arrive?). Viruses spreading through human networks and therefore more easily through areas of population density is not exactly brand new information. It all just seems like trying to understand why we understand what we already know and applying an empty equation to it.

  46. lakhotason

    I too have a wheelbarrow full of questions. First one: If the geneticist only received the Kenyon lady's country of origin as her message to him could he return a message to her? After all, he would know that a link already exists between the two points.

  47. Old Git Tom

    Yes, a very vague & sloppy presentation here. Eg., if we send a letter addressed to 'Mr Smith, New York', is it a 'hit' if it goes to any Mr Smith?

    Or, the receptionist at a hotel with 2,000 guests says on the tannoy, "Would Mr Smith please come to front desk, please". So say 2 Mr Smiths turn up, & even if one is the intended person, is that within the specified 6 steps, or 6-plus 2,000 X 1 (the broadcast tannoy message)?

    Can steps be parallel, or must they be sequential? OGT

  48. lakhotason

    The message from the geneticist to the lady can travel any way possible as long as it reaches the very same lady. However, the geneticist does
    have the certain knowledge that a series(?) of links exists that leads directly to the lady. Could he find the lady without knowing her name by using this certainty?

  49. can

    can I find subtitles in English?

  50. Gary V

    Fascinating, I really enjoyed this doc & learned something from it.

  51. Shanaka De Silva

    I love the subtleties of the discovery and the presentation it self. Like how the bug on the blackboard suddenly flap its wings lol.. nicely done.
    Kudos to ppl with such passion, madness and curiosity.

  52. Beekers

    What an interesting documentary. On the one hand, a great description of the importants of networks, hubs, relationships and sharing. This could be advanced, but it is not “new”. On the other hand, the focus on a principle of 6 steps of connection between all people and the conclusion that it “works” is really strange (coming from scientists and mathematician). The data the documentary presented shows that only 7.5% tests complied with the 6 steps of connection between all people theory, and 92.5% of the tests failed to meet the criteria.

  53. Daryl Walters

    Good doc! I'd heard the phrase, now I know what it is. It started as a myth and now is a new science. Fascinating!

  54. CherryBombpop

    Aww, I love it when nerdy maths guys "discover" something that is a well known spiritual truth, and they get all giddy and excited about it. No really, it's totally cute. Well, good for them, and it never hurts to be reminded how connected the world is - not just people, but everything.
    I remember playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon way back when - but we soon got tired of that and started to do it with any public figure we wanted. It wasn't too long before we discovered for ourselves what a universal idea Six Degrees is.

  55. Deica

    Actually this really works for me and Johnny Depp.

  56. yxor

    Terrible documentary, just hype on everything being related not one shread of explanation why. So a package got to it's destination, what was the chain? A waste of time to watch.

  57. david o leary

    first 2 minutes...this may help us to fight terrorism,fight global pandemic.....nwo propaganda alert goes off in head.press stop find new doc to watch

  58. Anita Rodriguez-Diaz

    BUT we are not CRICKETS , we are SPIRITUAL BEINGS.... but yes we are all connected... one realizes this and its left amaze.... synchronization

  59. Anita Rodriguez-Diaz

    How dumb you must be then

  60. Anita Rodriguez-Diaz

    How dumb you must be then ... LISTEN

  61. Melitta Smith

    HaHa--this very thing happened in a hole in the wall pizza place where two brothers named Smith randomly happened to be picking up pizza at the same time. When the cook called out "Smith" they said "which one?" She threw the pizza to the top of the oven and said "when you figure it out let me know." True story. Does this help take the average down to 6 degrees?

  62. Melitta Smith

    How many of the packages were never received by the intended recipient? This speaks to a lack of commitment on the part of a link in the chain, not the degrees of separation. And how many took more steps? And how many took less? The number 6 is an average. We are finding more and more the mathematical, including spatial, time, and geometric synchronizations in nature, i.e. everything. There are other theories that are similar such as fractals, Fibonacci numbers, that can predict relationships found occurring in nature. Since we are animals, a component of nature, why would we be outside the realm of natural law? Yes, we can think for ourselves, but I challenge you to identify one idea you have had or thought about that has not been influenced by some other person, which includes our personal preferences that are influenced by our genetic heritage.
    The real found info is the hub theory that flies in the face of the central limit theorem that says with large enough numbers, and all else equal a graph will be the normal, or bell shape for measuring almost anything. The hub theory found a skewed graph with large numbers (a few people who know a lot of people) focused on one end and "falling off a cliff."

  63. Choom Gang

    This thought experiment is nothing new. The Roman empire used it in conquest, then trade. The british empire used it to dominate world trade. Now the USA is using it with the internet to dominate the world.

    The thought experiment I would like them to explore next is how hubs of activity dominate by getting there first, and why and how they eventually die in atrophy/ entropy, then are reborn in different forms.

  64. L0LAW0NKA

    Absolute Paranoia

  65. kwaussie

    absolutely true but have the scientist found how the hubs are generated & why..? Clue this is an element that not only divides cells but holds the universe together with endless energy.

  66. Anirudh Gupta

    Beautifully made documentary. There are some flaws (like the method used to identify contacts and deliver the UPS packages), but the basic idea of 'network theory' is absolutely fascinating. The basic question everyone's seeking to answer is -- "How does order emerge from chaos?" I was hoping that beyond just telling viewers what the six degrees of separation were and the various research studies done on the subject, they would identify applications for the theory and talk about its potential use in the future --- and they did! The human social network is just an extension of the network theory. So is the spread of viruses, both biological and electronic. Its amazing how much someone can achieve by becoming a 'network hub'. Highly recommended!!

  67. inewyorkerp

    well this explains a lot!!! like why those that rule so desperately try to separate us from others when every single of us is connected to another..
    if we all start believing this theory it would simply make this world fall apart!
    think for a moment that nobody would fight against not one!
    think that this could make peace on earth!
    that nobody would starve because 5 of us would know a single person that has enough money (=hub) and will to buy dinner for the other 5!!!!!!

  68. inewyorkerp

    I too, have some questions about the packages and ypu make some very good points!
    though one thing that i believe I understood is that the packages that reached the destination were 3 in total and the amazing thing is that each one of them obeyed to the 6 degrees of separation!
    ..again, if i understood correctly because they did not clarify!

  69. DigiWongaDude

    Lovely to find this excellent BBC Horizon doc once again. The 'science of networks', with some nice details.

  70. Braiden

    Well-made documentary though I am skeptical in the validity. I would consider a geneticist like Marc Vidal a 'hub' in this network theory and the success rate was still remarkably low. Choosing a more common person (say a rice farmer) with a larger sample size (possibly up to 1000) and a more reliable way of connecting (using all sorts of media - not just the post) would produce more accurate results.

    It was still entertaining to watch.

  71. James Thomas

    I really enjoyed this and there is a genuine sense that there is something really important here, but alas, I am too dense to know just what that is. That said, I'm pretty certain I'm no more than six steps away from someone who clearly sees and understands much of the significant implications.

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