Wednesday, May 06, 2009

wisteria, drama, six degrees

Posted by Picasa The wisteria beside the front door only a day or two ago was in bud; now it is in flower. Visitors arrive talking of the scent.

Drama in the garden. A baby blackbird, fallen from its nest, finds its way into a flexible, green plastic bucket. In the bucket are some empty flower pots. When the nestling sees me, it hides in one of the flower pots. The Royal Society for the Preservation of Birds says that you shouldn't handle birds, which have fallen from their nests because their parents are liable to reject them if they sense human intercession. We manage to transfer the little one into the hedge, which divides our house from the next door house, without touching it, and it sits there twittering. We look out for its parents. And within a few minutes a female blackbird arrives, its beak loaded with worms. We realize that we are in between the baby and its mother, and make ourselves scarce. A few minutes later sitting, in a chair beside the study window, I see a female blackbird on the window sill looking at me through the glass. I am not sure what, if anything, is on its mind.

I was familiar with the term "six degrees of separation", but had forgotten to what it referred. A tv programme, which I caught the end of yesterday and saw in its entirety to day on BBC iPlayer, brings me up to date. It is the idea that everyone in the world is connected to everyone else in the world by a chain of no more than six acquaintances. Originally the subject of a play, and later of a film, it used to be considered an urban myth, but apparently not any more. Scientists are discovering that, in any distribution of people, animals or objects, there are hubs, which facilitate, as part of a general law, surprising speed and ease of communication between points unfamiliar to, and remote from one another. They call it network science, and are beginning to apply it to such various topics as epidemiology, the function of the human cell and transport routes. I find this idea appealing because, apart from demonstrations in the programme that it works, and how it works, it appeals to me, at a purely idealistic level. It shrinks the world and brings us all closer together.


Roderick Robinson said...

I found the separation idea engaging but felt uneasy about the suggestion that it is now real science. I must be the only viewer in Britain who would have liked a little more emphasis on the maths. But then I could always buy a book or resort to Google.

Unknown said...

I agree. The programme had by its very nature to be superficial I suppose. It would have been more convincing with more maths than one equation not properly explained.