A Quest to Reach Philosphy on Wikipedia# 20 Jan 2017 by Sean
So, the 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon of the internet is the theorem that no matter where one starts on Wikipedia, by clicking the first link on a page (that isn’t in a parenthetical or one of those info blocks above the main article body), one will eventually reach Philosophy.
I tested this.
Turns out, there are people who have done this far better than I have, and the wiki page about this game/theorem has some great examples, including a far more exhaustive approach than the one I took. Basically, someone crawled Wikipedia with a Python script, and there is an awesome gif of it, and some really cool data visualizations.
Some quick stats about the game (courtesy of the game’s wiki page)
- 97% of articles conform to the theorem
- The remainder loop between a few articles or go to pages that don’t exist
- It takes 7 clicks to go from Philosophy to Philosophy
- It takes 9 clicks to go from Getting to Philosophy to Philosophy
I started out on Arthur C. Clarke’s page. I can’t remember why. Someone had told me something about a Clarke book I think, and then a couple hours later I remembered the game, and the Clarke page presented a suitably random starting point.
I cheated on the first run (by accident, due to lack of information, but still). From Clarke’s page, it was 16 links to get to Philosophy, aside from a loop you get caught in jumping between pages about old noble houses that were named Clarke/Clark.
That is exactly how I cheated though. I wasn’t aware of the rule about no parenthetical links (I used them), and I forced my way out of loops by clicking the second link on pages I had previously visited (this was in a new incognito window, so previous browsing wasn’t messing my results for this). By the official rules of the game, I think it is impossible to get from Arthur C. Clarke to Philosphy on Wikipedia.
Realizing my error
When trying to explain the game to a friend, I realized I had never looked at the actual ‘rules’, such as they are, and so slacked them a link to the Wikipedia page for the game. Then I discovered my error. Time to correct it.
Navigating the great expanse of Wikipedia from the Sci-Fi Grandmaster to Philosophy, part deux
Remember how I said it’s impossible to do this by the ‘official’ rules? I was wrong. It’s impossible if you use parenthetical links. And I never got there… I gave up after 100 links.
But I had some weird pages and patterns come up along the way. Notably:
- 2 unique trips to Australia
- Melbourne, which linked me to Sydney
- later on, got to a different page about Sydney, which brought up the Australian continent, and then the geological plate
- The Muppets (huzzah!)
- Several rock bands of different styles and eras, only 2 of which I had heard of previously
The other thing I discovered, is that if you click around long enough, people on Wikipedia like to talk about Wikipedia. About the mid 90’s in my click-journey, I started getting to pages about how to edit the wiki, and use the wiki’s tools. It was kinda meta. The 100th page? Wikipedia’s File Upload Wizard. There didn’t seem to be any escape, the pagesabout Wikipedia on Wikipedia seem to have their own gravitational field
Starting at the 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon page, you need only 14 clicks to get to Philosophy. This journey does not include a stop at Getting to Philosophy.