The Chemistry of Social Networks
Nicholas Christakis: Well I mean for \r\nthousands of years people have been concerned with very basic questions \r\nabout how and why humans form societies, how and why people form groups,\r\n but the social networks are different than groups in that in addition \r\nto a collection of individuals a network has a specific set of ties that\r\n you add to the individuals. And not just ties, but a specific pattern \r\nof ties. So, for example... the simplest example of this would be if you\r\n take a group of a hundred people that are waiting in line to get into a\r\n theater, for example. That’s a group of people, but it’s not a network.\r\n If you assemble those people into the simplest possible network, a \r\nlinear network, like a bucket brigade to put out a fire for example now \r\nyou have these hundred people and you’ve added 99 ties between these \r\npeople, so and a specific pattern of ties. Each individual is connected \r\nto one individual on the left and one on the right. And now this network\r\n is capable of doing something which the group was not capable of doing,\r\n namely, putting out a fire rather more efficiently than a group of \r\npeople. Or you could take the same group of people and take the same 99 \r\nties, but organize them totally differently in where each individual \r\nnow... in the form of a telephone tree for example, so each person calls\r\n two people, so you take the first person. They call two people. Each of\r\n those two people call two people and then you would get a completely \r\ndifferent sort of branching pattern. Now instead of a linear network you\r\n have a more complicated network.
In fact, the same kind of \r\nstructure, archetypical structure was used by Bernie Madoff in a kind of\r\n a Ponzi scheme, but instead of distributing information outwards, money\r\n was sucked up and drawn inwards towards the center, so these would be \r\nartificial human networks. They have constituent individuals and they \r\nalso have a specific pattern of ties. You add something more to the \r\nindividuals, these ties. And in fact, as we argue in the book it’s the \r\naddition of these ties that makes the whole greater than the sum of its \r\nparts. It’s the addition of the ties that makes the population of people\r\n within it, the network, capable of doing things like putting out a fire\r\n or distributing information rapidly in the telephone tree example, that\r\n it wasn’t previously able to do. So a network of people is a collection\r\n of individuals and a collection of ties between them and a specific \r\npattern of ties at that.
One of the key ideas about human social \r\nnetworks is that in the addition of ties between people and specific \r\npatterns of ties that obey particular mathematical rules the whole \r\nbecomes greater than the sum of its parts. The collection of human \r\nbeings have properties that do not reside within the individuals, and \r\nthis collection of human beings is now able to do things that they \r\npreviously were not able to do. And one of the illustrations or examples\r\n that I most like to give about this is something that most people are \r\nfamiliar with from high school or college chemistry and that is the \r\nexample of carbon. So you can take carbon atoms and you can assemble the\r\n carbon atoms into graphite and here we put particular hexagonal pattern\r\n of ties and you get sheets of graphite and this graphite is soft and \r\ndark. Or we can take the same carbon atoms and assemble them differently\r\n into a kind of a perimetral structure with the ties between them, the \r\nbonds between the carbon atoms and we get diamond, which is hard and \r\nclear and these properties of softness and darkness or hardness and \r\nclearness first of all differ dramatically, not because the carbon is \r\ndifferent. The carbon is the same in both, but rather because of the \r\nties between the carbon atoms. And second these properties are not \r\nproperties of the carbon atoms. They’re properties of the group, \r\nproperties of the collection of carbon atoms. Therefore, when we take \r\nconstituent elements and assemble them to a larger whole, this larger \r\nwhole can have properties that we could not have foreseen merely by \r\nstudying the individual elements and properties which do not reside \r\nwithin the individual elements.
And the same thing happens with \r\nhuman beings. We can take human beings and assemble them in different \r\npatterns and depending on the pattern in which we assemble human beings \r\nthey have properties that we could not have understood just by studying \r\nhumans. For instance, individual human psychology is not enough to \r\nunderstand some of these bigger properties and second these individuals \r\ndepending on how they’re assembled can have different properties, so you\r\n take the same group of people and you assemble them one way and you get\r\n a bucket brigade, which has particular properties or you assemble them a\r\n different way and you get a telephone tree, which has yet again \r\ndifferent properties. And so the pattern of ties between individual \r\npeople is actually a kind of a resource that we all can use. It’s \r\nactually a reservoir of value. It’s a kind of social capital, actually.
And\r\n it’s not just the pattern of ties between people that matters. It’s \r\nalso what is flowing across those ties, so if you inhabit a network with\r\n a particular structure of ties, but it’s a trusting network versus a \r\nmistrustful network it has different implications for your life, or if \r\nyou’re inhabiting a network where a pathogen is spreading versus where a\r\n pathogen is not spreading—different implications for your life. \r\nSomething is spreading through the network. You’re connected to others \r\nand it affects you.
And we have been looking, James Fowler and \r\nI, at a variety of sort of counter intuitive examples of these kinds of \r\nphenomenon. For instance, we’ve looked at how things like obesity or \r\nyour emotions, like happiness, spread through human networks. And we \r\nfind that a lot of deeply personal things, things that people might not \r\nthink of as being under the influence of others are affected, not just \r\nby their friends, but by their friends’ friends and even their friend's \r\nfriend's friends. So people are used to think of things like fashions, \r\nfor example. Like their taste in music or clothes might be affected by \r\ntheir friends or perhaps even they have this image that fashions can \r\nspread through the network or people might be used to thinking that \r\ngerms, that right now they’re not sick, but their friend's friend's \r\nfriend has a germ and that germ is going to spread to their friend’s \r\nfriend and then to their friend and then eventually inexorably to them, \r\nbut what they may not realize is that other sorts of phenomenon like who\r\n they vote for or how big their body is or even how happy they are also \r\ncan behave in similar ways, and that is what James and I have been \r\nworking on trying to understand over the last few years.
Recorded March 31, 2010
\r\nInterviewed by Austin Allen
Like atoms in a molecule, we’re all linked together. Studying the complex matrix that results can illuminate everything from bucket brigades to Bernie Madoff.
Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Inequality in wealth, gender, and race grew to unprecedented levels across the world, according to OxFam report.
- A new report by global poverty nonprofit OxFam finds inequality has increased in every country in the world.
- The alarming trend is made worse by the coronavirus pandemic, which strained most systems and governments.
- The gap in wealth, race and gender treatment will increase until governments step in with changes.
People wait in line to receive food at a food bank on April 28, 2020 in Brooklyn.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Credit: Oxfam International
A supernova exploded near Earth about 2.5 million years ago, possibly causing an extinction event.
- Researchers from the University of Munich find evidence of a supernova near Earth.
- A star exploded close to our planet about 2.5 million years ago.
- The scientists deduced this by finding unusual concentrations of isotopes, created by a supernova.
This Manganese crust started to form about 20 million years ago. Growing layer by layer, it resulted in minerals precipitated out of seawater. The presence of elevated concentrations of 60 Fe and 56 Mn in layers from 2.5 million years ago hints at a nearby supernova explosion around that time.
Credit: Dominik Koll/ TUM
The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.
- A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
- It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
- The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
The ocean depths are home to many creatures that some consider to be unnatural.<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU2NzY4My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTUwMzg0NX0.BTK3zVeXxoduyvXfsvp4QH40_9POsrgca_W5CQpjVtw/img.png?width=980" id="b6fb0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2739ec50d9f9a3bd0058f937b6d447ac" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1512" data-height="2224" />
What benefit does this find have for science? And is it as evil as it looks?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="7XqcvwWp" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="8506fcd195866131efb93525ae42dec4"> <div id="botr_7XqcvwWp_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7XqcvwWp-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/7XqcvwWp-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7XqcvwWp-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>The discovery of a new species is always a cause for celebration in zoology. That this is the discovery of an animal that inhabits the deeps of the sea, one of the least explored areas humans can get to, is the icing on the cake.</p><p>Helen Wong of the National University of Singapore, who co-authored the species' description, explained the importance of the discovery:</p><p>"The identification of this new species is an indication of just how little we know about the oceans. There is certainly more for us to explore in terms of biodiversity in the deep sea of our region." </p><p>The animal's visual similarity to Darth Vader is a result of its compound eyes and the curious shape of its <a href="https://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/research/sjades2018/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" style="">head</a>. However, given the location of its discovery, the bottom of the remote seas, it may be associated with all manner of horrifically evil Elder Things and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cthulhu" target="_blank" rel="dofollow">Great Old Ones</a>. <em></em></p>
I spoke to 99 big thinkers about what our ‘world after coronavirus’ might look like – this is what I learned
There is no going "back to normal."
Back in March, my colleagues at the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future at Boston University thought that it might be useful to begin thinking about “the day after coronavirus."