Digital Dunbar Numbers: An apology

Thank you very much for all your comments and queries. I realise from reading the comments that I haven’t been able to articulate the fundamental reason for my even beginning to look at this area.

And that is this:

The original Dunbar number was based on some understanding of the relationship between neocortical volume and group size for nonhuman primates.

Humans seemed to scale differently, and research suggested that from a group size viewpoint, the root cause for this difference was language.

The move from oral to written communication is also meant to have aided this process, as man learnt to store and retrieve observations and learnings about the group.

My contention is that anything that aids and improves group communications may also have the effect of raising the “theoretical” maximum for the size of group.

Maybe what I’m saying is that the Dunbar number is a constant, yes, but only in the context of a specific class of primates, a specific set of languages and linguistic abilities, and a specific set of communications processes and technologies.

2 thoughts on “Digital Dunbar Numbers: An apology”

  1. There are two issues here. The speed at which we can really process information, and the time it takes for us to create and/or maintain meaningful relationships.
    I think the number is far more constant because these two issues act as limits. We can appear to be generating larger numbers, but the relationships will be superflous, and more information will just increase the amount of crap that passes in front of my screen while my eyes glaze over.
    It’s tough to objectively measure relationships, but that would be most helpful in determining the truth.

  2. At: (section 4)

    Dunbar states: “The essence of my argument has been that there is a cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships…”

    It seems reasonable to infer that cognitive aids (which, by definition, increase an individual’s cognitive powers) will also increase the number of persons with which one can maintain stable relationships. Dunbar recognizes language as one such cognitive aid (and he hypothesizes that language developed under the “evolutionary pressure” to support larger group sizes). You contend:

    ‘…anything that aids and improves group communications may also have the effect of raising the “theoretical” maximum for the size of group.’

    I think this is a more specific version of the contention that any “cognitive aid” will increase the size of the group, since “improved group communications” is, in essence, a cognitive aid.

Let me know what you think

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