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  • Six Degrees of COVID: How Separate Are You?

    Posted by bailey-anne-vincent on January 12, 2021 at 12:29 pm

    Here’s an uncomfortable question:

    How are COVID cases in your area?

    I ask this because I keep saying, “I feel like the six degrees of COVID separation are less and less” more and more. Lately, I see more and more people in my community posting about positive ’19 tests, and increasing symptoms.

    At the start of this pandemic, it felt a little farther away. It was “a friend of a friend” or “someone online”. Now (at least near me), it has become a friend or a person that I know, and the walls feel like they’re closing in.

    Do you feel COVID panic the more and more cases that occur, or are you managing your anxiety well? (More on this tomorrow!)

    paul-met-debbie replied 3 years, 5 months ago 2 Members · 1 Reply
  • 1 Reply
  • paul-met-debbie

    January 15, 2021 at 8:28 am

    The Six degrees of separation-theory (actually it is only a hypothesis) of course only suggests that we can connect with anyone in the entire world with on average of six intermediary persons. When we limit our scope to those in our direct vicinity, or those with a specific property (such as persons having covid), the number of steps will be much less than six. For instance if we look at all the people on Facebook or Twitter, it takes on average only about 4 degrees of separation to connect.

    This can also be illustrated in a funny way if you google any famous actor you know (a limited group of people) and ask Google for his/hers “Bacon number”. This is the number of steps needed to connect any actor to Kevin Bacon, the well known actor who played in many, many, many movies. Those actors being in the same movie as Bacon would have a Bacon number of 1. An actor being in a movie together with some actor who has been in a movie with Bacon, would have Bacon number 2, and so on.

    If you google the name of an actor followed by “bacon number”, so for instance you Google “Michelle Pfeiffer bacon number”, Google will produce the bacon number of the actor, in this case 2. Many actors have a surprisingly low Bacon number, it is very hard to think of or find actors with high Bacon numbers; in fact I think you can not find any actor with a Bacon number higher than 10. You can try this for your self, it’s a fun game for a little while to do this with your family members and see who is coming up with an actor who has the highest Bacon number. Don’t be surprised if the first 20 or so actors you all can think of, have a Bacon number of 2.

    So, it’s not surprising that if you limit your search to only considering your own neighborhood, city, province or even State, and limit this even further by looking for covid, you will find pretty low “covid numbers” as well. Covid has spread so rapidly and (this is important) randomly, that it is relatively easy to connect with an infected person in just a few steps of acquaintance.

    Speaking personally, from the beginning of the pandemic we have known family members who have known about family/friends/acquaintances with covid. So the second or third degree relation has presented itself rather quickly. Fortunately for us, it has not yet come any closer. But it could of course do that any day, that is inevitable, as long as the infection rate does not go down considerably.

    There is another figure like this that I would like to mention: it is the Erdös number, named after the famous Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdös. He was a prolific writer and producer of many mathematical publications (more than 1500), alone but also together with other co-authors. One of his friends, as a tribute to this prolific output, thought of the Erdös number: he gave Erdös the number of 0 and defined any author with whom Erdös collaborated in a publication having Erdös number 1. And an author who did not write with Erdös, but wrote together with some author who did write with Erdös, had number 2 and so on. It turned out that most leading mathematician’s had a low Erdös number, so it more or less indicated the status of a mathematician in his own little world to have a low Erdös number. Since Erdös died, the lowest Erdös number any mathematician now can obtain is of course 2.
    This also illustrates that if you make your search area and criterium small/narrow enough, it will produce small numbers as degree of separation.

    In the end of course, separation is an illusion of the mind. If I follow Erdös lead, I could define a “Paul-number” of 0 to myself, as a human being on the planet Earth. Every other person alive will then have a Paul-number of 1, as a human being that is alive on the same planet as Paul. Because we are all human beings, we can attribute ourself with a “Being-number” of 0. And then all other human beings will have the number 1.

    This would make it possible for anyone to say:

    “I am Zero and all is One”.

    Probably the utmost Zen-statement that one could ever make.


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