25 May 2011

xkcd, philosophy, and Wikipedia

If you hover the cursor over today's xkcd, you'll see the following:

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".

I first heard this a few days ago, but with "Philosophy" replaced by "Mathematics". Here's an example:

I clicked on "Random article" which took me to Billy Mercer (footballer born 1896). Following the instructions goes to England (Mercer was English), Country, Geography, Earth, Orbit, Physics, Natural science, Science, Knowledge, Fact, Verification, Formal verification, Mathematical proof, Mathematics.

(A few days ago "fact" went to "information"; the article starts "The word fact can refer to verified information" and someone made "verified" into a link recently. In that case the sequence is fact, information, sequence, mathematics.)

If you keep going you get "quantity", "property (philosophy)", "modern philosophy", "philosophy", "reason", "rationality", "mental exercise", "Alzheimer's disease", "dementia", "cognition", "thought", "consciousness", "mind", "panpsychism", and back to "philosophy".

("rationality" used to go to "philosophy", until someone edited it, leaving the note "Raised the period of the Philosophy article... it was ridiculously low." Of course once someone points out some property of Wikipedia, people will tamper with it.

This doesn't seem to happen if you click on random links, or even second links. The basic reason seems to be a quirk of Wikipedia style -- the article for X often starts out "X is a Y" or "In the field of Y, X is..." or something like that, so there's a tendency for the first link in an article to point to something "more general". Does this mean that "mathematics" necessarily has to be the attractor? Of course not. But it does mean that the attractor, if it exists, will probably be some very broad article.

Edited to add, Thursday, 10:26 am: Try the same thing at the French wikipedia; it doesn't work. This seems to depend on certain conventions that English-language Wikipedians have adopted. However, it seems to work at the Spanish wikipedia, with Filosofía as the target.


Unknown said...

You usually get to mathematics (90% or so) that then goes to philosophy. Occassionaly you do bypass mathematics. Amusingly a counter-example to always arriving at mathematics is the article tittled "counterexample"

Lord of the Files said...

I dunno, I keep getting into loops!

Michael Lugo said...

I think that since this has started to get attention people have been making changes so that it's not true, or so that it's not quite so obvious. Ideally one would want to explore Wikipedia as it existed a week ago, instead of Wikipedia today.

Gary said...

I found that the security page forms a closed loop of only 3 pages.

Eline said...

This one is even shorter (shortest?): university goes to higher knowledge, in which the first non-italic-nor-between-parantheses-clickable word is university :)

Anonymous said...

By graph theory, every path must end in a cycle or a dead end (are there dead ends)? Right now mathematics and philosophy are in the same cycle. I wonder if this cycle has the largest basin of attraction of any cycle/dead end---that seems to be the case. I wonder what percent of the vertices are in it (at any given point in time).