This is all very meta

One of the best things about XKCD is that the mouse-over text (simply rendered using the title attribute in the <img> HTML tag) will almost always give you a second laugh or an interesting thought. This comic isn’t his best, but it has this great mouse-over text:

Wikipedia trivia: if you take any article, click on the first link in the article text not in parentheses or italics, and then repeat, you will eventually end up at “Philosophy.”

Naturally, I went to Wikipedia and clicked Random Article, which gave me the Bradford-Union Street Historic District in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The links followed in order were:

  1. Bradford-Union Street Historic District
  2. Plymouth, Massachusetts
  3. Plymouth County, Massachusetts
  4. County (United States)
  5. U.S. state
  6. Federated state
  7. Constitution
  8. State (polity)
  9. Institution
  10. Social structure
  11. Social sciences
  12. List of academic disciplines
  13. Academia
  14. Organism
  15. Community
  16. Interaction
  17. Causality
  18. Event
  19. Observable
  20. Physics
  21. Natural science
  22. Science
  23. Knowledge
  24. Fact
  25. Information
  26. Sequence
  27. Mathematics
  28. Quantity
  29. Property (philosophy)
  30. Modern philosophy
  31. Philosophy

According to the Wikipedia page on the phenomenon (of course there’s one, which also of course already referenced the XKCD mention) the longest known link chain is just 35 links back to philosophy, so my random find is way up there.

It’s interesting to observe how the selections work back from entries on specific, literal things to broader categories.  The selections go from place to categories of place to knowledge to a meta-description of what knowledge. I imagine that if you grouped Wikipedia entries by category you’d see similar chains leading back to philosophy. For instance, I think all place names should follow a similar trajectory to my example.

I also wonder what the distribution would look like if you took a list of all entries on Wikipedia and graphed them by this philosophy index number. I think all articles listed together would be messy, but a list of articles weighted by web traffic would yield a a logarithmic distribution with the bulk of the entries being people, places, or things that are far from philosophy but eventually link there. Also, the distribution of any single category (places in the United States, for example) should be more similar to a normal distribution, and the narrower the category is the more true that would be. Now if someone will just build a computer program to test my hypothesis.

27

05 2011

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