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Is Dunbar's Number Up

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A review of ideas, findings, and speculations on cognitive capacity of modern humans, layers in types of relationships, rethinking network distance/closeness

Yes.  It's up.

As memory athletes show, even as far back as ancient Greece, the ability of the mind to be trained to recall highly disparate and voluminous information in an exact sequential order is highly elastic.  So is the ability to learn and recall people's names, as well as relate to multitudes of individuals and even interact with many variety of "networks", however so described.  If a person wishes it so, can imagine it so, can practice it so, it can be made so.  

It's less, as Dunbar observes and imagines, whether or not a person can or does handle relating to more than 150 people today, the rub is whether or not relating to any number of people close to 150 really matters enough to any person to be worth their effort.  And to the casual observer for the average person today the answer is "no" (Adam Rifkin notwithstanding, 'cause he's not average).

There is little social nutrition achieved in acquiring random networks as multitudes of close ties.  But more and more there are clear benefits (e.g. career advancement opportunities) to be found by expanding relationships with many disparate individuals as loose ties.  (I forgot who wrote about loose ties creating career opportunities and am too tired to look it up, else I'd reference it here.)  So on the one hand 150 is certainly not the limit and on the other making loose ties is where it's at...


...and on the floor lies Dunbar's number, which is simply Dunbar's number.  He can go pick it back up for his own academic use.

My current thinking is that there are a few causes for the limit; cognitive, emotional, and time. I do feel like it is possible to expand our cognitive limits and become more efficient with our time. However, I do think having a lot of 'recipricrated' emotional connections is a lot harder because it depends more on face-to-face.

Social Nutrition - I shall borrow this awesome term.

Ok, found the reference to my above mentioned assertion about loose ties, it's really described as weak ties (tight/loose, strong/weak...whatever) from a book I read, reminded by way of Eric Barker's post:

From Charles Duhigg’s excellent book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business:

"In fact, in landing a job, Granovetter discovered, weak-tie acquaintances were often more important than strong-tie friends because weak ties give us access to social networks where we don’t otherwise belong. Many of the people Granovetter studied had learned about new job opportunities through weak ties, rather than from close friends, which makes sense because we talk to our closest friends all the time, or work alongside them or read the same blogs. By the time they have heard about a new opportunity, we probably know about it, as well. On the other hand, our weak-tie acquaintances— the people we bump into every six months— are the ones who tell us about jobs we would otherwise never hear about."

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