Radiation Level: 150 roentgens
Listening To: Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament by Beastie Boys
150. That’s the maximum number of friends Robin Dunbar, a professor of evolutionary anthropology at the University of Oxford, says we are capable of having. A least in a productive sense. After that, things get chaotic and any sense of community falls apart. National Public Radio’s Rachel Martin interviewed Bill Gore (creator of Gore-Tex) and found he made the decision to limit factory size to 150 employees, claiming that business runs much smoother. I find that very interesting. And very tribal.
Our primate brains work better in this size group, despite the fact that most humans are capable of recognizing 1,500 faces. Interacting with them on a meaningful level is different. While many people strive to collect as many Facebook friends as possible, most of us regret “friending” many of them and end up blocking them.
I wonder if there are biological implications to remaining in groups of 150 or less. The Black Plague got out of control when people (and rats) began living in very close quarters. The closer we are to each other, the faster any disease can spread. Maybe a comfortable group of 150 well spaced-out people can more easily ward off and control disease?
I was curious to know how many friends I have on Facebook. I just checked and found 168. Very close to 150, considering I’ve blocked about 20. Here’s a hypothesis: humans can suffer a small amount of fools. Only a handful, say, per 150. After four or five, these fools grow exponentially in annoyance and one begins to think the entire world is daft. So we’ve evolved to limit the numbers in our community to keep us from committing homicide on those really exasperating folks.
Maybe that’s why driving in LA traffic is so infuriating. I’m driving with 10 times my evolved limit of people. Perhaps road-rage is a naturally occurring phenomenon. Okay Cal-Trans, limit the number of cars to 150 on the 405 and we’ll all be safer.