DUNBARS NUMBER

THE CONTRARIAN

A page out of Willy Brant’s diary –I dropped around to Joe’s place the other day to check on his progress baling hay. He still makes the small square bales for his small herd of cattle, says it is better for him, he can sling them out into a feeder by hand in winter, instead of firing up a tractor to move big round ones. “Besides,”, he says “my old baler cost me like $200 twenty years ago, why would I go out and spend big bucks buying a round baler at this stage of my life?” Anyway, I give him a hand running the hay rake or picking up bales, and in return I get a couple of hundred bales for my goats. Goats aren’t really keen on grass, so I pick out the weediest bales, even though I get some odd-flavoured milk once in a while on account of that.

Joe was just finishing up baling a small field, so we sat down for a beer break before starting to haul in the bales. Joe says “I just learned something new. Have you ever heard of Dunbar’s Number?” Thinking fast, I come up with “doesn’t it have something to do with how fast our galaxies are flying apart? Or together, or something like that?” “No, you dunce” there he goes with that term of affection again; “it is about people. A guy name of Dunbar came up with the notion that there is a sort of natural size of groups of humans, like primitive tribes or social groups or memberships and so on, has to do with how many people our human brain can keep tabs on, who is related to who, who is a winner and who is a loser, and so on. We can actually remember say 1000 faces and names – above that somebody falls off our radar, but Dunbar is talking about really knowing people in a more personal way. He says the practical maximum number of people in a group that we can really relate to is 150 people, so Dunbar’s number is 150”

“That is interesting”, says I, “maybe that is why small companies seem to get things together so much better than big ones. I invented ‘Willies rule’, which is the bigger the outfit, the worse it is managed. Or maybe that’s why our little community up here in Partridge Township seems to be pretty close, while those folks down in Dryden seem to want to fight about everything.” Thinking some more, “Maybe that is why small reserves seem to get along pretty good, but many bigger ones are dysfunctional. Maybe Dunbar is onto something, we just have to organize ourselves into small communities.”

“Or maybe Dunbar is out to lunch, even if his idea is interesting”, from Joe. “We better get started, or we will never get finished hauling in that hay”

Still, the notion that we can only be really close to a maximum number of people because that is all our brains can hold is kind of fascinating.

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