Friday, February 18, 2005

Meme-fluence, Elaboration, Chains

When I read Chuck's entry this morning, I turned to the 123rd page of four different books, three of which I had slated to read from throughout the day today (yah, bring on the meme police bc I didn't follow the rules).  Well, that's one way to get to the 123rd page: start there.  Fifth sentences of each went like this:

No. 1: "In other words, over the course of ages or over the course of an individual's biography, the 'life' of the work resides in the history of individual reading-events, lived-through experiences, which may have a continuity, but which may also be discontinuous with only a varying 'family' resemblance" (123).
No. 2: "He generously agreed" (123).
No. 3: "So we analyzed the discourse itself, finding the revealing words, the signature expressions, the tell-tale grammatical forms" (123).
No. 4: "Lately, however, he had been avoiding the popular discos and the hottest nightclubs" (123).

The books, differently ordered: Bruner's Acts of Meaning, Barabasi's Linked, Watts' Six Degrees, and Louise Rosenblatt's The Reader, The Text, the Poem.

And nicely enough, the juxtapositions got me thinking about a few things. Now that I've read all day long, I'll leave notes here about two of them.

Watts and Barabasi open their books on network theory with anecdotes about vulnerability.  Watts starts with the "cascading failure" of the power grid in the Pacific Northwest during the summer of 1996; Barabasi begins with the upheaval of Mafiaboy's efforts to incapacitate Yahoo with a hack-load of "ghost" queries.  Watts shifts into a narrative on the formative days of his research project at Cornell; Barabasi gives us an example of network robustness in the dissemination of early Christianity a la the apostle Paul.  Watts: emergence and "How does individual behavior aggregate to collective behavior?" (24); Barabasi: The Konigsberg Bridges.  And then, together, Erdos and Euler, Milgram, graphs, as if surfing tandem on scroll waves.  Almost.

Notably absent from Watts' accounting for the premise of six degrees is Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy's short story from 1929, "Chains" or "Lancszemek." Last night, after my first class session involving Linked with 205ers, I was rooting around the web for way to get my hands on a copy of "Chains."  Didn't find much.  I mean there are plenty of references to it, but I didn't find much of anything beyond references, mentions. Barabasi's notes tell us that he doesn't think it's ever been translated from Hungarian into English.  I'm just curious whether, as Barabasi speculates, the degrees of separation idea stemmed from the fiction of Karinthy.  He evens supposes that Erdos and Renyi might have read the story and found, in it, a sufficiently sticky premise to stimulate their later mathematical work.  I wouldn't say it diminishes Watts' project or points to a gap in his research, but it does leave me wondering about "Chains."

Bookmark and Share Posted by at February 18, 2005 8:58 PM to Networks