Small word network

English words are connected by just three degrees of separation. Writes Phillip Ball, on the Nature site. 2 July 2002

The researchers traced the links between 30,000 English words in an online thesaurus. For example, the word ‘actor’ can be connected to ‘universe’ through two intermediaries. The thesaurus lists ‘character’ as a synonym for ‘actor’; ‘character’ is also equated with ‘nature’; and ‘nature’ with ‘universe’.

Moving from ‘actor’ to ‘universe’ in the network of words therefore takes three steps. To the surprise of Motter and colleagues, they found that the same was true of just about any randomly chosen pair of words in the thesaurus. The English language, in other words, enjoys just three degrees of separation.

Word Association has long been standard fare in psychotherapy, not just as formal tests but as a way of seeing into dreams or noticing themes and archetypes. Given this new research some might think that anyone can link anything, making nonsense of the lot. My hunch is no, making links is not nonsense. The art of seeing these links is profound. Also consider this: if linking like this is so prevalent then there must be a choice of conduit words (my word for the linking theme word) and thus highlighting one over another will have some impact. I doubt a computer could do that, though a computer could be a great aid here. I bet that there are some words that are stronger, more prevalent than others as conduits – eye. ear, head, arm, etc. earth, air, fire, and water? At last there might be a clearer reason why Tarot, astrology and alchemy can be so profound; they channel the immediate through “star” words that make archetypal sense of experience.

Thanks Josh for the link! Love to see a visual map of this!

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