TWINS

TWINS

As many of you know, my son-in-law’s brother wrote a play that is being performed at the Cleveland Playhouse until today, April 24.   My daughter and son-in-law came from Buffalo to Cleveland the weekend of April 10 to see the play.  Afterwards, they went to a cast party at a nearby restaurant.  My daughter met for the first time the wife of a college friend of the playwright.  She told my daughter she had lived in Pepper Pike and had gone to Orange High School.  My daughter asked, “Was Joe LaGuardia your Principal, by any chance?”  Indeed, he was, she said, probably followed by a few expletives… (which my daughter politely didn’t mention). That’s only one story that has me wondering about a theory called “six degrees of separation.”  I’m sure every one of you has a similar story.  “Six degrees of separation is the theory that anyone on the planet can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than six intermediaries. The theory was first proposed in 1929 by a Hungarian writer (whose name I can’t pronounce) [Frigyes Karinthy] in a short story called “Chains.”  But how do you PROVE such a theory? The controversial social psychologist, Stanley Milgram devised a way to test the theory, which he called “the small-world problem.” He randomly selected people in the mid-West to send packages to someone they had never met in Massachusetts. The senders knew the recipient’s name, occupation, and general location. They were instructed to send the package to a person they knew on a first-name basis whom they thought was most likely, out of all their friends, to know the target personally. That person would do the same, and so on, until the package was personally delivered to its target recipient. I have a difficult time believing this theory.  I mean, how could I possibly be connected to a refugee from Syria who is on a raft in the Mediterranean?  But then I realized I have relatives in Italy, and maybe one of them would know someone who knew someone, etc.  I’m beginning to think the key to success is that first person to whom you send the package! In 2001, Duncan Watts, a professor at Columbia University, recreated Milgram’s experiment on the Internet. Watts used an e-mail message as the “package” that needed to be delivered to a “target,” and surprisingly, after reviewing the data collected by 48,000 senders and 19 targets (in 157 countries), Watts found that the average number of intermediaries was indeed, six! Watts’ research, and the advent of the computer age, has encouraged researchers to apply the theory to power grid...

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