In 1929, The Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy (1887–1938) proposed the theory of ‘six degrees of separation’— meaning that that everyone is six or fewer steps away from every other person in the world by some form of acquaintance or connection. In other words, ‘friend-of-a-friend’ connections join any two people in the world in a maximum of six steps. This has become a part of network theory—a branch of mathematics—and also social theory and physics. It may sound far-fetched (no pun intended), but a glance at a diagram like the one below can make it more plausible, if you look at how the elements connect:
There may of course be an ‘undiscovered’ tribe somewhere, totally cut off from the rest of us (in the Amazon forest, perhaps, or Papua New Guinea) but they, too, connect to us across time through our common ancestry.
My philosophy professor at university in the early Seventies had once been a friend of one the greatest philosophers of modern times—Ludwig Wittgenstein, who died in 1951—and I have still a letter from an acquaintance in London from the early Eighties, in which she recalls being taken, as a very small child, for walks in Regent’s Park. The founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud had fled to London from Vienna in 1938, and took a daily stroll there in the months before he died in the following year. He would always say hello and make a fuss of her.
So I am—like countless others, of course—separated from these two world-famous figures by just one degree. Our sense of connectedness with every other human being past and present gains ever greater currency through globalization and our ‘connectivity’ with others through world-wide public and social media, but the language of connectedness has always been there in Christian teaching and liturgy, centering on our communion in Christ with the saints and with every Christian world-wide and through time – and beyond, not least in this of all months.