Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Celtic Rock, Appalachian Stories, and Knowledge Maps

Six Degrees of Separation

Most people know of the "six degrees of separation" concept because of the popularity of the "six degrees of Kevin Bacon" game. On average, any two actors in the world can be connected through a chain of movies in which actors have co-starred. 

More broadly, network science tells us that any two people in the world can be connected through social connections by no more than six jumps. Here are a few examples of my own:

  1. I am one degree from the deceased actor Vincent Price -- I once shook his hand at a college event. Anyone he knows, or starred in a movie with, is only two degrees from me. (Admittedly the social connection was not a remarkable one. LOL)
  2. I have met two Nobel Prize winners, which places me one degree away from each of them, and two degrees from the King of Sweden, who hands the prizes to each winner. 
  3. I have a relative who was a campaign manager for Senator Bob Dole years ago, which places me two steps from Dole and three steps from everyone Dole knew in Congress and Washington, DC. 
  4. Thanks to my father, who got Project Mercury astronaut Wally Schirra's autograph in 1964, I am three degrees from just about everyone in NASA's early space program. 
  5. Sadly, I am one degree from at least three people who took their own lives, and only two degrees from a political assassination in Venezuela.

Six degrees of separation is a social phenomenon. Work at digging up who is connected to whom, and you can wind up with a huge network of connections. Then, you can follow the network from one point to the next and uncover connections you didn't know about.

But what about other networks? A clever programmer could "scrape" (as they call it) book recommendations from Amazon's website and come up with a map of related books that might show you recommendations that were two or three or four steps away from a book you're looking at, instead of only one step away.

Still, these examples are only focused on connections between the same kinds of things (people with people, books with books). There's no a priori reason why we can't derive a network connecting different kinds of things that are related. A more sophisticated example using Amazon recommendations would include authors as well as books. Each author could be connected to every book that author has written, books could be connected to co-authors, and authors within a certain genre could all be connected. This would be useful if you wanted to use authors for recommendations, and not just books.

Discovery and knowledge

To take this one step further, consider an example network I created that connects certain authors, books, musicians, genres, and influences on musicians. The example network, shown at the bottom of this post, is something I developed using the yEd and yEd Live network drawing software, both of which are free software products from the software company yWorks. (An interactive version of this network, which includes hyperlinks, can be accessed via this link.)

At the top of the diagram are three authors, including J. R. R. Tolkien, Alex Bledsoe, and Sharyn McCrumb. (For more on Sharyn McCrumb, see this recent post of mine.) Beneath each author is an icon showing something that author has written. The Lord of the Rings is fantasy, of course, as are Bledsoe's "Tufa" stories, set in a modern-day part of the mountains of Tennessee. Many of Sharyn McCrumb's novels are set in the Appalachians.

Below that part of the diagram is the musician Dave Brons. Brons, who composes and performs progressive rock with a "Celtic symphonic twist", found inspiration in The Lord of the Rings. Bledsoe's "Tufa" novels inspired a group of musicians known as Tuatha Dea, also shown on the diagram, who compose and perform what they call "Appalachian Rock." Both Brons and Tuatha Dea have been influenced by Celtic culture. (And, Tuatha Dea has also been influenced by "steampunk.")

Final Remarks

The diagram I created is a small example of a knowledge map. It captures a set of connections I thought were interesting, that I can share with others, and that may lead others to consider artists or authors or works they might not realize were connected. As a knowledge map, it can be extended to include as many connections as I would like.

Knowledge map created using the free tools, yEd and yEd Live. See text for link.
Copyright Mark E. Lacy, 2021

1 comment:

  1. I'm also only two degrees from Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis.


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