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The Physics of Friendship 112

Santosh Maharshi wrote to mention a Physorg story about a new way to model social networks. From the article: "Applying a mathematical model to the social dynamics of people presents difficulties not involved with more physical - and perhaps more rational - applications. The many factors that influence an individual's fate to meet an acquaintance and decide to become a friend are impossible to capture, but physicists have used techniques from physical systems to model social networks with near precision. By modeling people's interactions based on how particles bounce off each other in an enclosed area, physicists Marta Gonzalez, Pedro Lind and Hans Herrmann found that the characteristics of social networks emerge 'in a very natural way.'"
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The Physics of Friendship

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  • by moochfish ( 822730 ) on Monday March 13, 2006 @05:21AM (#14905961)
    When you can't figure out why you have no friends, you hole yourself up in the basement for 3 years and come out with an equation that explains your shell of a social life. ;D
    • "...come out with an equation that explains your shell of a social life."

      Brilliant! We can model this as electron shells and changes in energy level. Three more years and I'll figure out why I've made no friends!
    • by Savage-Rabbit ( 308260 ) on Monday March 13, 2006 @07:34AM (#14906281)
      When you can't figure out why you have no friends, you hole yourself up in the basement for 3 years and come out with an equation that explains your shell of a social life. ;D

      You have misunderstood this completely. It is not an effort to explain the shell that is a Nerd's social life, this is already a well understood phenomenon. This research is part of an ongoing effort to find a sientifically sound solution to the tricky problem of enabling a Nerd to find a girlfriend. If you can't understand human females and their social behavior instinctively, analyze them mathematically until you do. Of course it might take a few more decades before we have quantum computers powerful enough to handle this daunting analytical task but until then basic mathematical research like this is vital.
      • "If you can't understand human females and their social behavior instinctively, analyze them mathematically until you do. "

        For some reason I'm reminded of that episode of original Star Trek when they picked up a dangerous probe and used a logic puzzle to defeat it. If they'd asked it to analyze females and their social behavior I suspect the end result would have been the same.

        • by MooUK ( 905450 ) on Monday March 13, 2006 @11:41AM (#14907760)
          One of my favourite sayings: "As well try to understand a woman as to understand the sun".

          Of course, that saying was set back when they didn't have a clue about the sun. Now we mostly understand how it works, and yet women are still a complete mystery!

          (Oh, and it's not just us guys who can't understand girls. A large number of my female friends agree that girls can't understand each other either!)
          • (Hmmm... Perhaps the subject line ought to say: "I resemble that remark".) Seriously, though... It's not really that women are so mysterious; we conform to causality just as men do. It's just that women have more relational entailments than men. Not only are those entailments harder to measure but Physics says they don't matter.
  • Calculating dependencies
    emerge: there are no ebuilds to satisfy "in a very natural way.".
    • It's as if they get retarded real quick. It's complicated, but if you want to make a science out of it, it's very stupid to focus on the "physics" of friendship. This is like focising on the "shape" of love, or the weight of emotion. Well okay, it does make sense to focus on these things, but why focus on these things?

      If your goal is to find dates, then the first rule, BE HONEST. A woman can smell a liar, and women gossip, so anything you do will spread around town. You want the gossip to go in your favor
  • by RootsLINUX ( 854452 ) <rootslinux@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Monday March 13, 2006 @05:26AM (#14905975) Homepage
    Unfortunately for the scientists responsible for the discovery, they still can't seem to get a hot date on Friday nights. :(
  • by babbling ( 952366 ) on Monday March 13, 2006 @05:31AM (#14905989)
    See that picture at the top of the article? The big cloud with lots of fuzzy stuff in the middle, and then a less populated border?

    Most of us were probably the border in high school...
    • by Anonymous Coward
      There's a picture in TFA?! Then I definitly must "read" it...
    • by elucido ( 870205 ) on Monday March 13, 2006 @05:47AM (#14906038)
      In highschool there is very few real friendships. Most of the time its just recognizeable faces, or people who are cool but don't actually matter.

      When you get to college and beyond is when you begin to build your true friendships, and these friendships arent based on emotion anymore because by this age usually a person has the ability to reason and filter out the people they don't want. By this time people usually have a laser like focus on exactly the personality types they get along with and know how to avoid the personality clashes which don't mix.

      Loyalty is glue.It holds a relationship together. Keep your word and your word means something, commit to friendships as one commits to family and you'll have something to protect. Without loyalty, friendship is just familiar faces and cool people who you talk to on a regular basis but who don't matter and who you don't miss when they are gone.

      I think theres room for both friends, and cool people, but relationships based on coolness are completely based on logic.If they are useful to you, and you are useful to them, if they and you both have reasons to hang around each other, business reasons, then these relationships last as long as there is mutual benefit.

      The emotional relationship can end overnight when someone cusses the other out. So logic is a core component of any relationship. Emotion is a component as well, but emotion cuts both ways, and usually emotional relationships do not and cannot last.
  • heh (Score:4, Funny)

    by narkotix ( 576944 ) on Monday March 13, 2006 @05:31AM (#14905990)
    still not as good as this [] equation.
    • Heh, I think the author messed up and should have gotten evil^2 at the end:P
    • That proof is a great classic. Old but good.
  • I wonder how this physics can be applied to make this particular single geek....not single?

    Hmmm.... (goes off to find a solution)

  • by elucido ( 870205 ) on Monday March 13, 2006 @05:41AM (#14906020)
    I do not think friendships work in such a way that math can literally outline the direction they are headed. Friendship is based on loyalty, when someone involved is disloyal it usually ends, and this can happy at any time. So friendships by nature come and go, and all relationships are temporary. The goal in this I suppose is to try to find patterns, so here is a pattern

    If you want to have stronger friendships, have leverage, enough money, or charisma to keep people hovering around you. These variables can be added into the equation and then there are patterns, but if you just look at it emotionally then it will be complete chaos because emotion is not logical. There are logical elements of friendship, logical components, and logical tools which one can use to keep a friendship together or tear it apart.

    • by NichG ( 62224 ) on Monday March 13, 2006 @06:05AM (#14906085)
      Complete chaos is a lot more predictable than incomplete chaos. Incomplete chaos, you have to worry about when its ergodic and when it isn't. If there are aspects which are totally random, or at least sufficiently random that for all intents and purposes you can't predict the exact sequence of states then you can just use the distributions. The end result will be a theory that becomes more accurate the larger the system it's used to describe. It'll fail utterly on a group of three people but will work brilliantly on a group of three billion.
    • If you want to have stronger friendships, have leverage, enough money, or charisma to keep people hovering around you. These variables can be added into the equation and then there are patterns...

      According to the article, it seems as if they could go the other way, and infer who has at least one of these properties based on the statistics. This would make the technique of interest to some people. Unfortunately, offhand it seems as if using it to more effectively market a product would be the most likely

    • You're missing the point. They didn't intend to come up with a model that could predict the outcome of individual relationships. They wanted to see if they could come up with a mathematical model that exhibited the same characteristics of social networks - that is, a large number of social interactions, not invidivual relationships.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    ...welcome our new cloudy diagrams overlords.
  • ...because crashing fat particles together at high velocities is too reminiscent of friendships and lobbyists in U.S. politics.
  • by funkelectric ( 931604 ) on Monday March 13, 2006 @06:14AM (#14906102)
    It is amazing how nearly all of the social networks literature I have come across has blanked out the concepts of cluster analysis and graph partioning. It seems a very in-bred discipline bent on reclustering the same old karate club [] over and over again. To some extent this is unfair as social networks can probably be viewed as a relatively early application of clustering in the setting of graphs. But the rest of the world has caught up if it ever was behind (biology, pattern recognition, data-mining, market-research, document clustering - the list is basically endless). It is well known that every field of research basically likes to reinvent cluster analysis all by itself, but social network people seem particularly inept at integration. Then, somehow a social network article comes up here at SD every odd couple of months as if the next coming has arrived. In this case we are extremely fortunate to witness a deep connection between bouncing particles (wow! physics!) and human actors. Hopefully Dan Brown takes notice.

    Disclaimer: I have skimmed the fine article as found on ArXiv, and apart from the obligatory and tiresome small-word references found little to get excited about either way. This rant merely applies to the entire field.

    • It's kinda funny that you linked to Mark Newman, since he just wrote an article on modularity and community structure [] (which he did indeed proceed to use on the karate club in a recent talk). However, his work does include graph partitioning and cluster analysis, which he tries to improve upon using a new algorithm.

      I agree there is certainly a lot of integrative work to be done, but that's because there has been a ton of network stuff done in physics and computer science, but not all of it is mappable to hu
  • by Hal-9001 ( 43188 ) on Monday March 13, 2006 @06:30AM (#14906142) Homepage Journal
    TFA has an off-by-one error on the paper number in Physical Review Letters. [] The actual citation is:
    Marta C. González, Pedro G. Lind, and Hans J. Herrmann, "System of Mobile Agents to Model Social Networks," Phys. Rev. Lett. 96 088702 (2006). []
  • by SendBot ( 29932 ) on Monday March 13, 2006 @06:30AM (#14906144) Homepage Journal
    This is a very interesting idea, saying basically that people "collide" socially with an updated velocity analogous to making acquiantances based on your most recent social activities. I drew something similar out in a notebook once illustrating a lot of people I knew, and how and through whom I had met them (with me at the center, of course). It was very interesting to see groups where people were concentrated, and how those connected to others. Suprisingly, I would find large amounts of people that I had known, all because of one person.

    Now, what I found new and interesting from rtfa'ing was the practical applications. from tfa:
    Although this particle motion does not literally model human motion, it represents connections among people - and it's these links that contain the most significance for social networking theories. For example, links can represent the flow of information traveling through a community. By knowing the shortest path, communicators can optimize the information flow and improve productivity in a business. With the ability to determine hot hubs or holes in a community, business managers can identify leaders or points that require an organizational change.

    That could be applied to business practice, politics, military, world economics, or anything else important with a social foundation.

    Cool stuff!
    • by m0nstr42 ( 914269 ) on Monday March 13, 2006 @09:02AM (#14906559) Homepage Journal
      That could be applied to business practice, politics, military, world economics, or anything else important with a social foundation.

      Trust me, it's being done. I can speak for military and biological applications. This is very closely related to swarming, which is a pretty hot topic right now in a lot of fields. The general game is to find individual-based rules to produce desired (possibly optimal) behavior at the group level, or alternately (like TFA) to find individual-based models that describe group behavior. Ever since we've been able to make lots of little robots cheaply, this has been a big push.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 13, 2006 @06:35AM (#14906159) describe a riot?
  • Seldon (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kid-noodle ( 669957 ) <> on Monday March 13, 2006 @06:58AM (#14906199) Homepage
    I'm sure I've been beaten to this observation.. But this is essentially the basis of Hari Seldon's [Isaac Asimov's) psychohistory - he developed the idea based on the physics which were being used to model particle movements in gases.

    Score one for sci-fi?
    • Re:Seldon (Score:3, Informative)

      by Randolpho ( 628485 )
      That was my first thought as well...

      And, frankly, I was surprised that I got this far down the first page before it was mentioned! I think more /.ers need to turn in their geek badges. :)
    • Right, but without the psychic Second Foundationers and eventual Empire.
    • Score *one* for scifi? How about "one more?" There are uncountable scores for scifi in the "modern" technical community! What a wonderful world it is that has been created by the group of people that used to be rejected as "nerds."
  • They used Charm quarks
  • I recall being told a theory about social networks - that it's possible to link every person in the planet with a 6 degrees of freedom system. In other words, you can connect any two people on the planet by a chain of no more than six distinct individuals.
    No karma-whoring here, as I don't have time to find a link atm.
  • by killeena ( 794394 ) on Monday March 13, 2006 @07:30AM (#14906269) Homepage
    ....having the creator of a social networking site add himself to everyone's friend's list isn't the way to create a social network?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Her: up, charm, top

    You: down, strange, bottom
  • by jurt1235 ( 834677 ) on Monday March 13, 2006 @07:39AM (#14906295) Homepage
    The model also produced a single integer as result: 42

    Since the scientists could not explain the result, they decided to ignore it for now. One of the scientist was willing to give an anonymous comment:
    For me it could have been 41 or 43 as result, but I can live with 42
    Asking for further explanation, he denied further comments.
  • pet theory (Score:2, Interesting)

    by nickgrieve ( 87668 )
    I have had my own little pet theory about physics and social behavior. Its loosely based around quantum theory. Heisenberg uncertainty principle in particular.

    You have a group... in the group people are "atoms/particles". You can predict how the group will react with reasonable probability. If the group is in a theater and you shout "fire!" there is a good chance that there will be a stamped... Its all very well and good, predictable enough.

    The interesting bit comes in when you get down to individual quan
    • This is touching on the notion of chaos as mentioned in NichG's post above. We can't completely map out a person's neural wiring, to the level where we can take and input and compute the output. More importantly, everyone is different anyway. What we can do, however, is look at the average case behaviour and with a large enough group, the observed outputs will be closer and closer to the distribution of predicted outputs. Hence you don't know what will happen with just one other person in the theater, b
    • Interesting. The bit about changing what your friend is thinking about is a general principle in conducting experiments involving human (even animal) subjects. If they know they're taking a test, or being part of a study, it will effect their responses. That's actually one of the reasons why medical research is so difficult.

      The bit about shouting fire in a crowded theatre I think is more of a "law of large numbers" argument than being Heisenbergian. Your model that allows you to predict the response
    • You know - that discipline which seeks to study social interactions, which can be reasonably predictive when taking a population en masse, but which is rediced to flipping coins at the individual level.

  • Where does the whole casual dating/friendship thing figure into this?
  • by hachete ( 473378 )
    where is in that cloud? Is it a pub called Oorts Cloud?
  • I can clearly state that high school consisted of various mixed states of matter. Most good looking girls were made of highly organised chrystalline structures, very rigid, but could be reduced to a liquid state with the correct application of energy. Some girls were a good solid. Some girls were perfect examples of Brownian motion, all over the place.

    On a quantum level, you were better off dating the larger Bosons, as they were always friends with the best looking low mass Photons, even though you had to p
  • This was already a plot of the show numb3rs, they modeled social interactions to find a terrorist.
  • Links to papers (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Here's Marta C. González's publications page []. As you can see, the author is a hottie!

    Here are links to the paper in PDF format [] and Postscript format [].

  • If I start liking Taco Bell, watching American Idol blowing all my savings on video games and hanging at the Mall after hours, my particle velocity will increase allowing a potential collisions to occur without disturbing Eisenberg's Principle or my Bean Burrito for that matter. The forehead tribal tattoo and my mom picking me up in the mini-van left my particle in a stationary pattern.
  • Applying a mathematical model to the social dynamics of people...

    Did anyone else think of Psychohistory when they read that? :)
  • For those who want to read the original article, the final published version is here (for a fee, looks like): let?prog=normal&id=PRLTAO000096000008088702000001& idtype=cvips&gifs=Yes []

    It's available for free (possibly a draft version) from the arXiv network: []

    Bon apetit.
  • In high school (before many /.ers were born) I used to watch groups of my fellow classmates and think of them as atoms. Collecting into various size groups as their needs/valences dictated. Some bonds were stronger or more stable than others and various relationship interactions would be like external energy (e.g. kinetic) stirring up the mix as it were.
  • Just wondering...did they give the particles beer to see how that would affect how they bounced around in a room? Generally after I've had a few beers I tend to have more friends. At least that's what I remember...

Matter cannot be created or destroyed, nor can it be returned without a receipt.