What’s your Erdős Number?

It all starts in the vast expanse of space.

I recently had a cute question pop into my mind: “What’s the nearest solar system to ours?”. And sure, while the answer was just a Google search away (Alpha Centauri, by the way), it struck me as odd that this piece of trivia isn’t usually talked about out in the streets.

You’d think some elementary school textbook would show our neighbors to illustrate just how big the cosmos is or something.

You know Mars and Venus are the closest planets to Earth, you know Phobos and Deimos are Mars’ moons, and you know Pluto was rejected as the most distant planet to our sun, thanks to some gobbledygook about what a planet is in the first place.

Then why does no one bring up that little factoid in conversation? And more importantly, still, what’s the second-closest solar system to ours?

I’m not talking about solar systems here. I’m talking about us. People behave like planets and celestial bodies when you stop and think about it. We have our orbits of close relationships and influence over each other, and so forth.

Bring your Own Algorithm” explored the value of social graphs and why it’s essential to decentralize them to build better narratives that don’t get entrenched as easily. And an earlier piece pondered the same from a “basic tokenized unit of content” perspective.

Well, this one’s all about how the dots get connected and how we can better understand how “superconnectors” - as Joey DeBruin and the Backdrop folks call ‘em, or “Supercontributors” - as I used to call them; play a role in shaping these narratives and bringing them to their full effect.

The Philosopher on the Chalkboard

Mathematicians are a unique bunch. Such a beautiful and rich culture that spans beyond generations and geopolitical borders. In a way, they’re a lot like our current generation of tech people.

Some of them are more interested in the art of their craft and the philosophical implications of their research than the actual work itself or its application.

Paul Erdős was such one of them. His contributions to the field were vast and impressive. So much so that other mathematicians started to flex the times they could work with him. Over time, the “Erdős Number” became a status symbol to signal to your peers, “I am so talented, I got to work directly with Erdős.”

Your Erdős number would go from 1 when you collabed directly with the man himself; to infinity, based on how many degrees removed you were from the legend. So you’d have your math professor dunking on an auditorium of students by telling them they’ve got an Erdős number of 3, and simultaneously giving a “4” to the lucky few they’d recruit for their summer research paper.

I have noticed many of us doing that in web3 and tech. People will drop their “Buterin number,” “Turley number,” or even their “Vaynerchuck number” as a way to gain your trust. We’re essentially saying, “I worked with someone of worth, so I am of worth as well.”

I first noticed this back in DevCon Bogotá. I found it funny how people would approach me and want to chat when I wore my RabbitHole hoodie, yet would not even look my way any other day.

I used that to my advantage. That hoodie became my secret weapon to bring out only for the most remarkable parties. It was my ticket to talk with the people who wouldn’t give me the time of day under other circumstances.

Having a hoodie define who you get access to, picture that. Shouldn’t there be a way to measure these levels of influence in a way that doesn’t bias the conversation toward the loudest voices?

Notice how I used Joey’s name in the intro to this piece to get you listening?

Murmurations and Constellations

I didn’t start this piece with a space analogy by coincidence. I brought up the “Content Constellations” concept in BYOA, if you recall correctly — a way to chart the influences and contributions of any given idea through the people who explore it.

This has been my main research topic for the past year, partly for a need to engage in meaningful discussions with interesting people and partly because this is the biggest question we should be looking to answer in our current AI-pocaliptic times.

We’ve already seen how easily narratives can shape our world and how truths can be created and altered at the whim of whoever presents them for their personal gain. And now we wanna turn that up to eleven with a technology that could quite literally “Truman Show” the lot of us?

We need to grasp this problem, and find a solution, ASAP.

Well. Back to constellations. I recently realized they’re only a piece of the puzzle. A way of framing a truth, so to speak. They are most valuable when crystallized and seen at a specific moment in time.

I like to chat with the folks around me about the stuff I’ve been researching; usually, a handful of them want to reciprocate. Speaking with Aleena recently, we both realized we’d been exploring the same concept from not-so-different angles. The excitement was palpable. We knew we needed to join forces at some point to gain a deeper understanding for both of our sakes.

That conversation is what inspired me to write this piece. Her idea of looking for the connective tissue and how to understand the role of super connectors in this whole debacle sparked the flame I needed to take the next step into this exploration.

She influenced me. She was my super-connector. And as such, she became the nearest solar system to mine for a moment.

Like her, I’ve had hundreds of people that shape my reality for a split second. You have too. But how many of them have driven you into action? Can you pinpoint the moment when someone in your circle pushed you to launch that exciting idea?

Either directly or indirectly, the people we share ideas and experiences with will shape our thoughts, our actions, and our behaviors. And that’s precisely why the analogy of a constellation doesn’t quite fit the bill when looking at your story through time.

What’s a group of distinct points behaving in unison and changing their relationship over time?

A murmuration. A group of individuals forming a bigger self yet retaining their individuality as they flow and weave a delicate dance. Not a single one looks out of place, yet each one is acting of their own accord.

That’s how I’ll frame these narratives we shape and the roles we each play in driving them from now on. A constellation helps you understand what’s being said. A Murmuration enables you to see where it’s going and its intention.

I’m Moving to Madrid now.

This long-winded rant about made-up status systems, space, and bird flocks has made me question how we measure people’s value in driving a conversation. You don’t mention the friend who introduced you to your partner unless they’re a part of your honors committee.

There is real value to cracking this code. And that’s exactly why I’m officially setting up shop in Europe for the time being.

You see, I’ve come to realize my journey was being blocked by the environment I was placed in. Meeting the people pushing the boundaries was a hassle and a financial strain; I couldn’t just hang out, and talk… and probably have heated debates, as often as I’d like. Living in such a secluded corner of the world was preventing me from flying fully in sync with my flock.

And so, I’m in Madrid, in hopes of meeting all of you halfway. I’m intentionally standing in the middle of the road so that whenever that friendly van drives by, I’ll be able to hop on and join you in some new adventure.

I’ll keep exploring this complex puzzle from the playing field as if my life depended on it. Thankfully I’m starting to find some people to embark on this journey together.

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