Passion Graphs

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I think we’re loosing friends. I mean, I am beginning to think that friendship as a true meeting point may be gone. No, actually, I think that I mean that “Friend Graphs” might be total crap, and should be replaced by “Passion Graphs”.

First, here’s how Wikipedia presents a “Friendship Graph”:

The friendship theorem of Paul ErdősAlfréd Rényi, and Vera T. Sós (1966)[3] states that the finite graphs with the property that every two vertices have exactly one neighbor in common are exactly the friendship graphs. Informally, if a group of people has the property that every pair of people has exactly a friend in common, then there must be one person who is a friend to all the others. However, for infinite graphs, there can be many different graphs with the same cardinality that have this property.[4]

And, here’s what we (in a friendship graph) looks like:


(The Friendship graph F8)

I left out the vertices, edges, radius, diameter, etc because it’s clear enough: we all are connected by one person. One person in the world initiates a thread into our lives, and then out to other people we know, and do not know at all.

OK. Lines to connect each other. Very logical.

Yet, some people have called this concept God: people are to be connected by being connected to a diety. Or, in the case of some western tradition, many deities, or most often we have settled for a king.

Any way you look at it, we are a species, it seems, who likes to know where we (I) and You, fit into the picture.

And, this obsession with where we fit into the picture, has, from my sense, forced our perspective in a disjointed way: by looking for where the ego/I fits into a world of connection, we’ve lost sight that we are just small pieces of a massive, undulating, and uncontrollably powerful graph: the planet.

So, perhaps it’s a human condition to want to shrink the picture. Make sense of it, and in doing so, displace the true graph: our creative place on the planet.

Planet New York - Central Park - The Gates

Why do we do this? Try to make straight lines out of massive, intangible interconnection?

Because the brain is a really weird thing:

–       It wants to understand things logically, while unconsciously it is tracking and processing billions worth of information (so much information that it’s not always known or understood by the rational brain)

–       It wants to connect with people on a deep level, yet it’s searching for those people (and brains) that it intuits will “get them”

–       It wants friends – but does not really understand itself

–       It’s trying to find a way to put all the pieces together – and, brilliant machines as they are, have created ideas like “Friendship Graphs” and other linear, mathematical approaches to making the mess of life boil down to one personal connection.

In these brains of ours, we have over 100 billion cells (neurons) zipping and zapping around. When these neurons connect with synapses they create a storing house: a place for information and how we process connections.  That’s a hell of a lot of information, combined with a hell of a lot of brain activity. No wonder we want straight lines!

In David Brooks (whose politics I tend not to agree with, but find him very agreeable) book, “The Social Animal”, he helps to support this theory that the brain is a massive organism with not enough room to roam:

“If you want to get a sense of the number of potential connections between the cells in (* a person’s) brain, contemplate this: A mere 60 neurons are capable of making 10 possible connections with each other. (That’s 1 with 81 zeros after it.)  The number of particles in the known universe is about one-tenth of this number.  Jeff Hawkins suggests a different way to think about the brain: Imagine a football stadium filed with spaghetti. Now imagine it shrunk down to skull size and much more complicated.”

So, what’s the point? Well, our brains are already connected. Our brains are so connected that we can’t get our heads around it. AND, our driving need to make networks where there are straight lines back to a person, or connecting us to a defined graph, is perhaps a representation of how – well, overwhelmed we are.

But, graphs and friends are fun. I used to really love Facebook till I got to 900 friends and had to admit they were not friends. Not really, more like a graph of people who I connect with who help me with work, or to help me connect to another person. See, I’m human – my brain likes the security of this feeling.

So, why suggest that Friendship Graphs should go away?

Because it’s an illusion.

What binds our brains, and what binds us to each other, is not logic, but passion.

We are hardwired to love, yet we spend most of our time thinking about how to make friends. We are hardwired to try to connect, and spend much our time creating (in modern times, these of social networks and interconnected technologies) making math problems out of a problem that does not exist: we are built to interconnect. We are adding complexity, when we need simplicity of connection.


I simply can’t buy into the image of The Friendship Graph F8 (above, again) because I simply can’t tell you who I love in that image.

I can’t tell you who I’d take a bullet for in The Friendship Graph F8.

I can’t explain to you WHY we are bound together, heart to heart, when I look at The Friendship Graph F8.

I think I traverse back and forth within Passion Graphs. I think my graph looks more like this:

A passion graph is, for me:

–       A group of people who may, or may NOT know each other but have connected through something NOT necessarily technical

–       A group of people who may or may NOT know each other, who love the same idea or smell or person or countries

–       A group of people who might not yet don’t know each other, yet share a sense of being alert and aware of being together on the planet. (Or, a Gertrude Stein said, “We have met, but we have not met, yet”)

Passion Graphs are people (not just one person, with lines drawn to others). People are connected to groups. And, not all groups are passionate, but all groups of people define their passions as they see fit.

And, based on my definition, if you ask me what passion graphs I live in, well, they are as loopy as they come:

–       People who are only children and like time alone

–       People who have worked in a theater, or built a set with their own hands

–       People who laugh really hard

–       People have an affinity with bagels made only in Brooklyn (these guys below – I don’t know them, but they are part of my passion graph, and if I met them we would connect passionately around bagels…)

The list goes on. It’s loopy. I trust people who worked in theaters more than a person who has a PhD in theater history. In a heartbeat. Why? Because my brain thinks that a person who has worked in a theater shares the same smell with me – a smell of a theater with dust in it, with wet paint, that brings me back to childhood – that creates emotional shorthand between us.

I value these passion graphs on a profound level, and these people could, or could not remain my friends – but I will trust my connection to them, and I will feel happy.

And, that’s what we want, our brains want: we want to be happy – we don’t crave a graph.

So, a passion graph is a group whom you acknowledge is part of your unconscious being. Your billions of neurons that connect within synapses and make them part of your life. Your passion graph INCLUDES the big picture, not just one “Influencer”.

A Passion Graph is more powerful than a Friendship Graph, because passion (emotion) is the fire, fuel and energy of our brain.

So, the next time you are asked to share your friendship graph with friends, colleagues or work – ask them what they are looking for:

–       One person you know

–       A bunch of people huddled around a person who seems important

–       Or, a deep, unruly but pleasing passion that moves, Meme to Meme, member to member within the human race.

Yup, I think I have enough “friends” – it’s time to gather around some passion, and in this way connect to our sense of wonder that we’re alive interconnected, and ultimately more complex, and fabulous, than a graph.

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