Sunday, 29 May 2011

Philosophy, the great attractor

Wednesday's xkcd had the intriguing hovertext:
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".
So I tried it (as, apparently, did many other people at work that day, judging by the emails buzzing around).

graphviz picture of part of the Philosophy basin of attraction
Starting with "Spark plug" (the content of the xkcd cartoon), I got to philosophy. Starting with "Coffee" (which I was drinking at the time), I got to Philosophy. Starting with "Philosophy", I got (back) to "Philosophy". I also started with a couple of random pages, and got to "Philosophy".

Given the number of wikipedia pages, that's not much data in support of the Munroe Conjecture, but enough to blog about...

So I quickly hacked together a graphviz picture of the paths taken by my explorations, where each node represents a wikipedia page, and each edge represents the first link in that page.

First observation: If the Munroe Conjecture is true, the whole of wikipedia forms a single connected graph -- has a single "basin of attraction" -- like this picture, but with many many many routes, all eventually leading to "Philosophy".

Second observation: The "attractor cycle" at the base of all these paths contains "Philosophy", but also contains other pages, including "Science" and "Mathematics". So the conjecture could equally well mention any of these other pages.

Third observation: I understand that the number of hits on the wikipedia Philosophy page has increased dramatically since Wednesday :-)

UPDATE (12 Nov 2011): Others have put a bit more work into illustrating this.

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