Categories
Evolution

Dunbar’s Number

I am continually fascinated with Dunbar’s Number.

In monkeys and apes, there is correlation between primate brain size and the size of their social groups, and by extrapolating this relationship we would expect humans to have a natural upper limit to the number of people in their group to about 150. This is what is known as Dunbar’s number, and turns out to be surprisingly common in human social organisation.

R.I.M. Dunbar, Dunbar’s Number, NewScientis.com, https://www.newscientist.com/definition/dunbars-number/
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Hunter-gatherer groups tended to split into smaller groups around this size. English villages tended to be about this size.

It is key to remember, though, that the family should not be counted as biology has different rules for kinship. Natural selection rewards behaviors increasing the success of one’s genes and family drive ensures one’s genes thrive.

Acquaintances are not the same as friends.

Another hack humans use: rules to get around our inability to adequately know everyone else in our society. Read my Shortcut: rules post. Though other shortcuts like labels apply.

I need to read more science on this, but my feeling about the mechanics behind this comes from argumentation. We need memories from our experiences with individuals to anticipate their behavior. We need common experiences to share stories, bond, and trust. The ability to persuade others is tied to our understanding of them, which works best when we know something about them, which works best when we know them well. Dunbar’s number was important for survival.

In the age of social media and the quest to accumulate followers, the trick is to create false friendships. There is one-sided information shared from celebrities to followers, where the followers know a curated version of a person and the person knows almost nothing about the followers. That’s another fake form of friendship.

Acquaintances, aka weak links, are also important. It is how we obtain jobs, romantic connections, and cultivate new friendships.

We should also strive for quality friendships. Shared experiences. Shared stories.

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Categories
Parenting Problem Solving

Shortcuts: Rules (repost)

These are reposts of a series I did years ago on mental shortcuts.

After some debating with the toddler about whales vs sharks, I started down a thought experiment that Dunbar’s Number might not be about seeking justice and instead be about winning arguments.

(This post is part of a series. Intro > 1. Illusions > 2. Labeling > 3. Math > 4. Multitasking > 5. Rules)

adult american football athlete audience
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Rules exist to help reduce the friction of society so that we can more easily work with strangers. Without rules, we need to have potentially damaging interactions with individuals, establish a series of data points about them to decide what kind of person they are to know how to handle them in the future. Instead, we create laws, policies, and traditions to define how we interact with each other. This frees our brains from Dunbar’s Number such that we can have larger social groups over that about 150 person limit.

We also have an instinctive bias to when others break the rules. People who severely or habitually do so need to be punished. We will claim it to be that others see that society will not tolerate the behavior, but really it is so we feel better that a rule breaker did not get away with it this time.

I started thinking about this because I had a conversation with a coworker about an odd claim about a rule. One problem with rules is there are too many for any individual to understand them all. We have specializations, so experts in an area are expected to know the rules for that knowledge domain.

People are human and may inform us about things that are less true and more desires of the way things ought to be. Traditions can sometimes fall into the latter. Sometimes when properly challenged, traditions find their way into being codified as laws or policies so that people properly behave.

Hammurabi almost 4,000 years ago solved this misunderstanding about what the rules are by writing them down. It really is a good way to handle it. One can read the rules oneself to check to see if how it was explained is correct or missing an important distinction.

And then, there is intentional rule breaking. Do you drive faster than the speed limit? Read all the terms for using a website? Criminals are deemed people who break the rules intentionally. Most of us are breaking some rules several times a day. Some intentionally, some by ignorance. Some because we were set up for failure. Some because the likelihood of being caught and punished are so low the wasted effort at complying is not worth it.

(This post is part of a series. Intro > 1. Illusions > 2. Labeling > 3. Math > 4. Multitasking > 5. Rules)