We are the product of our evolutionary history, and that history colors our experience of everyday life -- from the number of friends we have to how religious we are. Renowned evolutionary anthropologist Professor Robin Dunbar visits the RSA to explain how the very distant past underpins all of our current behaviors, and how we can best utilize that knowledge.
Did you know that you have just 150 friends, acquaintances and relatives? And that this is a natural size for villages all over the world? Now known as "Dunbar's Number," it defines the feasible boundaries of our social lives. Dunbar's investigations show us that we inherited the social side of our brains from our mother, and the emotional side from our father; why many women see the world in four or even five different colors, but men only ever have the conventional red, green and blue; and why facial symmetry has everything to do with voter choices in elections.
Robin Ian MacDonald Dunbar is a British anthropologist and evolutionary biologist, specializing in primate behavior. He is best known for formulating Dunbar's number, roughly 150, a measurement of the "cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships".
Professor Dunbar is a director of the British Academy Centenary Research Project (BACRP) "From Lucy to Language: The Archaeology of the Social Brain" and is involved in the planned BACRP "Identifying the Universal Religious Repertoire".
The science of humanity. Anthropologists study human beings in aspects ranging from the biology and evolutionary history of Homo sapiens to the features of society and culture that decisively distinguish humans from other animal species. Because of the diverse subject matter it encompasses, anthropology has become, especially since the middle of the 20th century, a collection of more specialized fields. Physical anthropology is the branch that concentrates on the biology and evolution of humanity. The branches that study the social and cultural constructions of human groups are variously recognized as belonging to cultural anthropology (or ethnology), social anthropology, linguistic anthropology, and psychological anthropology. Archaeology, as the method of investigation of prehistoric cultures, has been an integral part of anthropology since it became a self-conscious discipline in the latter half of the 19th century.
Dunbar conflates 'friends' with 'relationships'; and 'relationships' with "meaningful, close"-relationships.
Clearly there is a continuum from a stranger, to someone you recognize, to a nodding-aquaintance, to an 'aquaintance', to a friend, to a good/close friend, to a 'mate'...
However, the basic physiological/psychological parameters he is investigating are fascinating, and may have profound consequences.
I work for one of the largest govt Dept. in australia, & facebook is regarded as a joke, for all those childish 'Will you be one of my friends" load of garbage. But this is why facebooks' head honchoes are richer with every hit,hit,hit on the keyboard. Personally, I think that people confuse acquaintences with friends. In fact if people had sooo many friends, where is the time of the day to retain them. Many psychologists regard this so called collection of "friends"on a screen as a lack of self esteem. I have 4 people who I can say I trust enough to call friends. Family take up a lot of my time, and work colleagues are just that, work only people. Maybe I don't fit the facebook criteria.
Thank you for this video! As I've commented previously, I consider Dunbar's Number of essential importance with unappreciated implications for developing better economic, political and social theories AND policies.
This has powerful relationship to problems with the operation of biological altruism in larger societies.
When connected to the concept that civilizations are actually the product of 'social energy'...
(In simplest terms that's people running around doing stuff with stuff, leveraged by technology and guided by an incredibly complex matrix of decisions. In operational terms a decision is an idea + an action.)
Politics (e.g.governance and opinion) and Economics (e.g.currencies and credit-creation) are technologies for the storage and allocation of this social energy.
Governance and financial technologies arose in response to the social organism growing beyond the size of this 'natural social network'.
However, this scaling issue has profound implications for the relationship between the individual, his social network... and the larger social organism.
Authoritarianism arose (and continues) as a poor solution for handling this disconnection between the social network and the social organism.
And Representative governments arose as an attempt to address this breach. But much more needs to be done... and existing systems have eroded with scale and abuse(And can never be perfect structures regardless).
When you mix Dunbar's Number with the attenuating nature of biological altruism, scaling issues, and the associated problems of the loss of physical and social proximity...
You end up with tremendous social imbalances in influence and capability far beyond those which can occur within a social network co-terminus with its social organism (a hunter-gatherer group).
And when you mix THAT with rapidly expanding ICT (a connected world) in a complex civilization subject to disruption by even one or a few individuals co-ordinating their actions... and the nature of the Ultimatum Game...
You get an extremely dangerous mix.
I belive first steps are:
Recognize the implications of Dunbar's Number and its connection to the LIMITS of biological altruism.
And that political and economic experts would do well to focus on the true nature and allocation of 'social energy'.
Because social energy, unlike other forms of energy, rests on a hierarchy of agreements which need to be urgently addressed... globally.
They've confused the map with the territory.
The Foundations of Authoritarianism
On Social Energy, Enterprise & Expanding the Technology of Money
I believe the Individually-controlled / Commons-dedicated Account is a useful and needed technology for addressing the allocation of social energy for more reasons than the obvious.
It's not the only technology needed, or even a perfect one. But it addresses a few important elements perhaps.
The Individually-controlled / Commons-dedicated Account concept arose out of the investigation of issues in addressing reciprocal obligations in scaled social networks and the interplay with biological altruism (especially its limits and actual operational effects), Dunbar's number (a hypothetical natural human community size), proximity and... issues in technologies of interaction that come with that scale and complexity. I believe these ideas can lead to additional solutions in other fields of social interaction.
I began removing FB friends just two-weeks ago and for much of these reasons discussed by Robin Dunbar, above; specifically: 1) I got into three or four arguments regarding Politics & Religion with "friends" whom I hadn't seen, nor spoken with, nor really heard about in decades, and; 2) I found myself with over 150 FB friends, Professor "Dunbar's Number."
Now, regarding my first faux pas, yes: I should have known better. I'd thought I'd given-up the "Debating Society" as an undergrad in the early 1980s. And, please, make no mistake: I am not an atheist nor am I one who can be remotely called solipsistic.
My latter mistake might have been avoided entirely had I taken note of my opponents political party affiliations, et al., prior to engaging them; had noted their affiliations written upon FB Profiles and just refused to defend my particular political POVs.
No, I do not need 150+ FB "friends" any longer. Facebook is not the place for me to debate Religion or Politics. I cannot change any fundamentalist's, faith-based mindset. It's no longer enjoyable, educational, or enlightening for me to try.
Ah, but one size does not fit all. There are friends and "friends". I have 1066 Facebook-friends, but I know and they know that they really are not my friends, as we are using Facebook just as a platform to connect like-minded people all over the world.
We are humanists, secularists, deists, agnostics or atheist and we share a idea that the way forward for humanity is without religious ballast.
I do not know these people in flesh at all, but I have made a few real friends among them, but the main thing is that the lonely atheists out there can find a environment where they feel welcome, as they are so often forced to keep their ideas to themselves in the real world.
I'm looking forward to when the name FACEBOOK will be replaced with the word ONLINE, so we can have sentence like "I have online friends". The Facebook hype is making this century one I don't want to remember later in life!