The Six Degrees of Bacon

By David Ng

David Ng is a geneticist, writer, and creator of The Candy Hierarchy. Read more by him at McSweeneys and right here.

Lately, I’ve been writing about the philosophy of science and thereby finding myself pondering the plight of Bacon. Not the food, but rather Sir Francis Bacon, the renowned writer and gentlemen of the 16th and 17th centuries—famous for being a member of Parliament, friend to the British Monarchy, and (most important to me) often referred to as the “Father of the Scientific Method.”

Such thinking then naturally led to Kevin Bacon, who in turn, reminded me of the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” Inevitably, I landed at entertaining the specifics of the “Six Degrees of Sir Francis Bacon.”

This refers to the phrase, “The Six Degrees of Separation,” which submits that you are less than six “friend of a friend” steps away from everyone else on the planet. In other words, it suggests that mankind is more connected than you would think. This calculation has never been formally proven, and there is evidence to suggest that social media has brought it down to four degrees, but it is nevertheless obvious that it probably only works well if the people involved happen to be alive.  

Which is to say that the six degrees of Sir Francis Bacon, a man who died in 1626, are all dead.  

With this in mind, we need to return to the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” This originally concerned itself with connections in the entertainment industry, but the phrase nowadays is symbolic of humanity’s interconnectedness. Put another way, Kevin Bacon is the unofficial figurehead of this game.  

But figureheads are usually transient. Mr. Bacon is no longer the sprightly young man that danced into our hearts in Footloose. Nor is he, despite having played an invisible character in Hollow Man, capable of hiding from the debilitating march of time. As he ages, the concept and the mathematics of the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” will ultimately no longer be practical or relevant.  Consequently, there will need to be a proper discussion about a “six degrees” successor.   

And why not start that discussion now? How would one decide on such a successor?  Of course, this would come with a few rules. Whoever is chosen should at the very least be younger than Kevin Bacon. Perhaps Mr. Kevin Bacon should even have a role in this process. These being speculations born of procrastination, I’d like to put forth the following scenarios and then maybe see if the procrastinating community at large has any thoughts on the matter.  

1. The British Monarchy model.

This is where the weight of responsibility is passed on to the first born. Furthermore, since we’re being thematic, this option should totally include a throne and also a crown that can be worn on special occasions.  Maybe a fancy sword as well. A sword would be awesome: consider “The six degrees of the sword of Bacon.”

2. The Democratic Model

Why not do this with an open election? This would certainly be entertaining to watch, and would no doubt fuel some interesting discussion.  Although the mind boggles at how the nominees will be decided upon, and how exactly they would present themselves (more so, since the principle of the Six Degrees, hypothetically is meant to be immune from the nuisance of ideology).  

3. The “So You Think You Can Dance” model

 The obligatory “reality TV” option. As Mr. Bacon is no stranger to the entertainment industry, this is perhaps the most logical model to find a successor. A dance-off would be particularly magical. Think of the fun, the spectacle, the press! And think of the Kevin Bacon-themed So You Think You Can Dance stationary. Each time a successor is chosen, the theme of the next reality show could be tweaked according to the accomplishments of the new figurehead. Imagine different contests each time around, ranging from cooking to planning a wedding, to a full on Hunger Games-styled deathmatch.  

4. The Kevin Bacon as Eternal Deity Model

Maybe Kevin Bacon would rather keep all the glory to himself, and keep it forever.  If so, there is another option out there. Both Jesus of Nazareth and Kim Jong-il of North Korea used it. Basically, it’s where Kevin Bacon declares himself the reference point, and instead of looking for a successor, the actual number of degrees changes with time. In other words, in a few years, we can call it “The seven degrees of Kevin Bacon,” and then “The eight degrees…” and so on and so on. 

Alternatively, it could be like the Dalai Lama: every time you pass on, there is a reincarnated version of you being born elsewhere. I'm not sure how this would work, exactly—how would we identify this reincarnated Kevin Bacon?—but it seems reasonable. Plus, the thought of an organized religion with the word “bacon” in it ia appealing.  

Let me end by saying that if this all sounds a little too complicated, then let's simplify things and just pick me. I would absolutely be down with it, especially if I can score a throne, crown and a sword out of the deal.  

Bacon illustrations: David Ng, from Takemori39 and Renee Comet. Thumnbnail art: Anonymous.

Published 6:13 am Tue, May 1, 2012

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About the Author

David Ng likes to find funny things to show in your next science talk.

16 Responses to “The Six Degrees of Bacon”

  1. Glen Able says:

    Good thinking, David.  It is sad to think of the inevitable expiry of Kevin Bacon (well, except if you’ve recently watched Hollow Man).
    Perhaps the perpetual title of the position should be “Lord Bacon”, a title that Francis Bacon held.   (Amusingly, his mother’s maiden name was Cooke, making her Anne Cooke Bacon.)  My feeling is that bacon, the tremendously hip foodstuff, is more popular than dancing, so the title could be earned by winning an international bacon-eating competition.  Although that might not help with the goal of having title-holders with reasonable longevity.

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/dc/Lord_Bacon_-_the_guiding_spirit_of_colonization_scheme.jpg

  2. Bacon in a religion is unkosher!

  3. Wreckrob8 says:

    With so many people concerned about population there is the Pol Pot model – the ideal being zero degrees of separation – and the problem is solved.

  4. chgoliz says:

    There seem to be a lot of threads on BB today that make me think about genealogy.

    In family genealogy, you have two components: the degree of relatedness and that of removed-ness.

    Someone dying in 1626 does not necessarily mean all their connections are dead too.   The connection is to the family; the individual may be a number of generations removed from the individual in question, but they are still connected.

    If someone is tied to Kevin Bacon via a family member, living or dead, then they are tied to Kevin Bacon.  In other words, if I am 5-degrees-separated to Kevin, then my great-great-grandchildren will be 5-degrees-4x-removed.  Doesn’t matter if he’s alive or dead.

  5. Are you aware of the Erdős–Bacon number?

  6. David Ng says:

    Lord and Lady Bacon does have a nice ring to it.  And then, of course, there is “Darth Bacon.”   Seriously though, I am actually curious to see if there is a great heir suggestion: one that kind of makes you go THAT’S IT!  I think I’d be fine with any nomination just as long as it’s not Justin Bieber, a Kardashian, or any member of Nickelback. #heirofkevinbacon

  7. frank255 says:

    The Erdős number precedes the Bacon number by 25 years, so there’s the true original concept!

  8. SamSam says:

    You know, just because Sir Francis Bacon is dead, doesn’t mean that the concept of degrees-of-seperatedness no longer applies.

    Indeed, it is almost certain that there is at least one person alive today who was friends with someone (possibly now dead) who was friends with someone (possibly now dead) who […] was friends with Sir Francis Bacon. No?

    And if there is at least one person who was connected to Sir Francis Bacon in this way, then the rest of the planet is separated from Sir Francis Bacon by no further than six degrees more.

    Kind of mind-boggling this: We are all friends with someone who was friends with someone who was friends with someone who […] was friends with almost anyone in history. It reminds me of the fact that the last Civil War widow died recently.

  9. If we’re going to pick someone out would have to be someone whose name has the same metre and sort of rhyme with “separation” so my choice of Joseph Gordon-Levitt is out.

    As this is the internet the obvious choices would be Joss Whedon, Nathan Fillion, Will Wheaton or Felicia Day, but none of those fit the metre quite right.

    Jason Statham kind of fits, and he makes for more of a challange than Kevin Bacon ever did (which is actually all that matters to me).

    Maybe we’ll just have to wait for another star named Bacon to turn up?

  10. thatbob says:

     It’s my understanding that Kevin Bacon became the posterboy for this kind of game because he was a hardworking actor who built up a sizable body of work over the years, going from teen actor, to leading man, to character actor, while acting in ensemble films, genre films, blockbusters, indies, etc.  So his heir to the Motion Picture version of this game will be someone who, by popular accord, has spent some 20+ years doing the same.  Since Bacon should have at least another 20 years left in his career – who doesn’t want to see his Lear, when the time comes? – his heir may be a child or teen actor today.  Future generations just might play Six Degrees of Zac Efron.

    Or, better yet, Six Degrees of Mickey Rooney’s Brain in a Jar.

  11. TaymonBeal says:

    The most mathematically rigorous option would be to give the position to the current Center of the Hollywood Universe.

    To elaborate: The Oracle of Bacon uses IMDb to calculate the Bacon number of any given actor. Based on this information, it can be determined that among the people who have defined Bacon numbers, the mean Bacon number is 2.981747. The Oracle, however, doesn’t just calculate Bacon numbers—it can find the number of degrees of separation between any two actors.

    From there, it is possible to calculate the connectedness score of any given actor—the mean number of degrees of separation between that actor and all other actors who can be connected to them. For instance, since the mean Bacon number is 2.981747, that’s Kevin Bacon’s connectedness score.

    The Center of the Hollywood Universe is defined as the actor (living or dead) with the lowest connectedness score. Currently, that’s Dennis Hopper, with 2.802166.

  12. David Ng says:

    For some reason, I’ve been thinking” The Six Degrees of Thom Yorke.” I don’t know why, but there you have it…

  13. Gary Bacon says:

    I’ll gladly step up as a younger generation. I’ve traced my Bacon roots to the 1400s and know how my family ties to Kevin Bacon.

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