Of the universal working of averages across the friendship paradox

By Innfinity


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We all are forever living through a paradox of sorts because that’s what the human life really manifests as. As a conjunction in contraries, every aspect of our existence is one riddled with the confounding perplexities of what is and what tends to be, even as explorations into what should be essentially even when they do not necessarily follow logically forever haunt our continuance through this vast summing of a surprising setup across which we dwell. In each sphere of the living therefore emerges such ideas and ideologies that are seemingly too tangled across a many number of their strands and present therefore a reality too complex to be true. And yet, it is within the chartings of such impossible almost conceivings of life that life itself comes to assume its as remarkable composite identity.

Of the many essences that sum up the human species in very prominent distinctions of them is one particular trail of existence that necessarily meanders into the relational realm in utmost necessity. As social beings as well as in our character of deeply personal leanings, we already inhabit a paradox of sorts across such duality in nature but what this bifurcation of our persona necessarily leads us to is such criteria of coexistence that we not just further but also crave and cherish under the tag of relationships. And as much as our dwelling being indeed ingrained in a multitude of assertions, so too is the ‘scope’ amassed by our explorations of the relation kind that entail within itself as multiple dimensions as possible. Whether such harbouring of relation be the ones ‘imposed’ such as of the filial or the sibling kind and by extension therefore of familial nature or the ones we choose to pursue whether they be out of genuine affection or affected instead in symbiosis, like those of our friends and lovers or of our co workers and partners or even those fostered between almost complete strangers in truest expressions of empathy, relationships catering to the human requirement of diverse allusions are therefore essentially diverse. And it perhaps is in such uniqueness of these bonds, necessarily distinct from each other even within their singular encompassment at times that we as human beings build an identity of our own definite kind.

Coming back to coursing through the paradox that pervades the human life and delving into it from across the specifics of the relationship spectrum leads us through a trail of revelations that make for an interesting indeed exploration across diverse segments of it. Landing up on one such premise of amusing manifestation is the certain truth of a specific ‘friendship paradox’ that makes for a proposition worth exploring given how it caters to every one of us. The simple but startling still statement delivered by this paradox of significant claims is one that might not be readily held in belief at once. But even in its dubious almost distinction of sorts in emphasising the reality of our friends having more friends than us, this seemingly impossible deliverance of the facts assumes upon itself the paradoxical perforation of what is but a characteristic essence of life.

Source: The New Indian Express

First explored by sociologist Scott L. Feld in his 1991 journal article titled “Why Your Friends Have More Friends Than You Do.” is this notion on average of most of us having fewer friends than what our friends have that sounds itself quite perplexing even in its mere stating. Despite such unbelievable premise of it though, this still is a paradox as logically true as most paradoxes tend to be. As an odd pattern that presented itself in rather standout prominence of it to Feld, the discovery followed from his studying of the structure of social networks of everyone always being somewhat less popular than their friends. And while that might sound self contradictory, the logic of it all begins to make sense when we realise that some of our friends do indeed have a larger number of friends. And it is within these more popular of our peers that the ‘power’ lies of significantly skewing the numbers for the paradox to find able rooting. Because the probability is indeed greater of those extra friendly people boasting a significantly larger circle to be among your friends as well, thereby raising on average the number of friends that your friends have, the paradox holds more truth that what it seems capable of at first sounding setting in motion a reality in relative extension that makes therefore our friends better off than what we are!

Empirically well established is this friendship paradox that holds therefore its ground a good three decades ahead of its discovery in startling assertion that is ultimately a draw again on another aspect of human existence- that of all aspects of our life, including our relationships being not mutually exclusive but rather overlapping entities across which we dwell. In charting out the path across a power law as opposed to its treading of a linear lane, the friendship paradox comes to be- but not just across the friendly realm across which it was first observed. Working across a diverse realm of social networks, not necessarily connected as well is this average rule of thumb that finds extension as the ‘generalized friendship paradox’, venturing into other areas of same sphere existences. The extensions though are somewhat more evident in their reality, over the guiding friendship principle that which we generally tend to think of, or even experience as a mutual relationship. Whatever that might be though, the paradox finds application not just within the relational framework of humankind but also across more utilitarian aspects of the real world, most prominently in forecasting and even slowing the course of pandemics by effectively evoking the most efficient way to immunity.

Source: Evolution Literacy

In such significance of it therefore, it makes sense that the friendship paradox has forever held the fancies of the world which is what has made it a prospect regularly furthered in examination. And while the very basis of it across the play of the averages might make the theory not always explaining of real life friendships, the extensions of it along more generalized a trail of occurrence brings us also to such realisations that establishes also the superiority of our friends when it comes to attributes such as happiness and wealth and even physical looks. The assumption being that our friends having more friends than us i.e. them being more popular is what likely leads them to essentially be residents of such ‘positives’ as desirable as the riches and the looks and stuff. Even in its essence explored along the premise of a sampling bias, the friendship paradox still throws open the possibility of many an interesting interpretation to infer, each of which though seems to be a working in having us feel bad about ourselves. But that is the case for virtually everyone else as well which furthers therefore another paradox- of no one actually being any better off than anyone else! That, despite the consensus in contradiction, at least in catering to the most basic stating of the paradox in terms of purely the number of friends one has since the tendency is to believe by each one of us in a rather overt assertion of a superiority complex, of us indeed having more friends than others. As it turns out therefore, the friendship paradox is in fact too many paradoxes perpetuating through one, each in its own distinct mannerism and assertion of working which perhaps makes it a paradox paradoxical enough to not emerge as almost real. Even in its dwelling along the assumptions of the average, the friendship paradox ends up delivering almost universal a notion in certainty which is what makes it the paradox we indeed live through even across its sufficiently skewed beginnings. After all, isn’t life but an apparition we pursue across a distorted reality, in blissful indeed ignorance of its profoundness?

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