My name is Nobody, I am a virus and I infected 3 people in Wuhan on January 4. Around April 3 in Oegstgeest, the Netherlands, Mister Node wondered how Nobody had managed to reach and infect his near neighbor in a time span of 90 days. Could Milgram’s “six degrees of separation” help?
Milgram’s experiment took place in the 1960s in the USA. He asked a number of random subjects in Wisconsin to have a parcel delivered via as few links as possible to a person in Boston whose name, profession and address they knew. But there was a rule. They were only allowed to mail the package to someone whom they knew by first name. The same rule applied to whom forwarded the package further. That rule ensures that the experiment is about social distance.
In the experiment a parcel is passed on, in the pandemic the COVID-19 virus (called Nobody) is passed on. In the experiment it is about social distance as determined by the use of first names, in the pandemic it is about social distance as determined by physical or mediated physical contact. The target (the end of the chain) is known in the experiment.
In the pandemic Nobody clones or replicates itself at every successful contact and each of these contacts becomes a target, and the question whether (and if so how) Nobody can get from a fish market in Wuhan in six steps to a retired physician in Oegstgeest appears trivial. But is that true? Why did this journey take 18 steps in algorithm 0 in stead of the 6 steps that the experiment made us expect?