Why our world is limited by circles of 150- The Dunbar's number

Our World is limited by Dunbar's number or Monkeysphere- 150 number. Dunbar's Number is an evolutionary psychology theory by Robin Dunbar which states that humans can only really maintain personalized and stable social relationships with 150 people.

We are limited by our brain capacity. Beyond this number, neocortical limitations make it difficult for people to maintain relationships and become overloaded with information. So socially successful seems to be about knowing our limits and investing our time accordingly.

  • 5 people: This is our inner core of closeness, the people who we support and who support us on a daily basis, such as partners, family, best friends.

  • 15 people: This is our close friend group. These people are integrated into our lives to the extent that we have an excellent understanding of their behavior, even if we may not see them all the time.

  • 50 people: This includes our basic friends and acquaintances. We hang out occasionally, probably more often in groups, and know a bit about what is happening in their lives.

  • 150 people: This is the size where you feel you are a part of a community. “This is the number of people you can have a relationship with involving trust and obligation—there’s some personal history, not just names and faces.”

  • 500 people: This category includes friends of friends, people you know something about but don’t know as well and don’t make a sustained effort to know.

  • 1500 people: This is the upper limit and includes all the faces you can put names to.

David Wong of Cracked in his humorous 2007 article about Dunbar number called this our "Monkeysphere".

We each have a certain circle of people who we think of as people, usually our own friends and family and neighbors, and then maybe some community or classmates or coworkers or cult. Those who exist outside that core group of a few dozen people are not people to us. They're sort of one-dimensional bit characters.

Most of us feel and understand issues within this number. We do not have room in our Monkeysphere for our friendly delivery guy, mailmen, or trash collector. So, we don't think of him as a person. We think of him as The Thing That Makes The Trash Go Away or The guy who delivers my amazon packages.

It's why you really feel and empathize when someone you know got COVID19 + but you go "OK, damn virus" when it kills 534K people worldwide.

Businesses who understand this number and social phycology apply successfully in order to reduce friction and increase bonding in groups.

  • “I’ve talked to so many startup CEOs that after they pass this number (150 employees), weird stuff starts to happen. The weird stuff means the company needs more structure for communications and decision-making.”- Facebook chief product officer Chris Cox, who joined in 2005

  • The company W. L. Gore and Associates, now known for the Gore-Tex brand. By trial and error, the leadership in the company discovered that if more than 150 employees were working together in one building, different social problems could occur. The company started building company buildings with a limit of 150 employees and only 150 parking spaces. When the parking spaces were filled, the company would build another 150-employee building. Sometimes these buildings would be placed only short distances apart. The company is also known for the open allocation company structure.

  • The Swedish tax authority planned to reorganize its functions in 2007 with a maximum of 150 employees per office, referring to Dunbar's research

In our society, the Dunbar number is something I think can explain many issues in our world because we are always in our close cocoon circle and don't go beyond to understand as we are limited by our brain capacity. This can even explain phenomena such as racism and xenophobia, as well as apathy towards the suffering of peoples outside of an individual's community.

I think the number of mind space entities or members in our Dunbar's number can be substituted by entity or people or ideas when it is personalized; when it packaged in emotional and impactful stories.
We can put diversity and empathy in our worldview as monkeysphere always keep updating.

Take for examples:

  • Traveling to other places and meeting diverse people; keeping in touch makes us more empathic.

  • Death of an actor or celebrity felt personal sometimes when the stories and the performance of the person became a part of how we shaped ourselves

  • A brand resonating with our worldview and political stance; wrapped in stories, imagery, mascots became personal

  • The people we follow on social media platforms with live interactions and instant feeds creep into our monkeyshpere also

Our monkeysphere is like a zero-sum mind space where entry of new entities means losing value of some. So be careful about your own life's Dunbar's Number as it shapes how we think, how we act, and how we feel.

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