one hundred and fifty reasons to love


Yesterday I wrote about Dunbar's Number.* Then last night in bed I was reading This Book is Full of Spiders, by David Wong, and on page 295 it said, "Are you familiar with Dunbar's number?"

Wong goes into all the background on ithow it came from this British anthropologist who studied primate brains and discovered you could figure out what size troops they went around with by looking at the size of their neocortex. He figured that humans' neocortex size made the social group-size they could handle about 150.

Wong goes on to write... 

"You see the problem right away—everything we do requires cooperation in groups larger than a hundred and fifty. Governments. Corporations. Society as a whole. And we are physically incapable of handling it."

I referenced just that problem yesterday, yes. But I love where Wong takes it next:

"So every moment of the day we urgently try to separate everyone on earth into two groups—those inside the sphere of sympathy and those outside. Black versus white, liberal versus conservative, Muslim versus Christian, Lakers fan versus Celtics fan. With us, or against us. Infected versus clean.

"We simplify tens of millions of individuals down into simplistic stereotypes, so that they hold the space of only one individual in our limited available memory spots. And here is the key—those who lie outside the circle are not human. We lack the capacity to recognize them as such. This is why you feel worse about your girlfriend cutting her finger than you do about an earthquake in Afghanistan that kills a hundred thousand people. This is what makes genocide possible. This is what makes it possible for a CEO to sign off on a policy that will poison a river in Malaysia and create ten thousand deformed infants. Because of this limitation in mental hardware, those Malaysians may as well be ants."

This just smells sooo true, to me. 

Small is beautiful, and while this theory doesn't explain the heart of darkness that lies in individuals, it certainly provides a handle on some of the uglier behaviors we come up with as a group. 

It is not, however, inevitable. 

I'm not sure how, but it is possible for individuals to develop an empathy that shrinks all the out-groups into one, big in-group, with room left over for things like squirrels, virgin forests, and shape-shifting cephalopods. 

I think maybe it has something to do with love.

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*This morning I was having some issues with text-alignment on this post and, long-story-short, I somehow ended up deleting yesterday's crazy-long post about Twitter and whatnot. No big deal, of course... only two or three hours of work and ermagersh, somebody please just shoot me now! Either that or buy one of my books, or agree to fund my next movie, or hug someone you love and tell them it's from me. 


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