Fragment of “program code” in our brains

Author: Ury Smirnov. Category: Smart world. Date:07.05.2010, 9:00.

You’ve probably heard about a curious experiment, which was conducted earlier this year in “Facebook” and other social networking sites by Department of Anthropology, University of Oxford. Scientists have opened nothing new to themselves, but they only once again confirmed and made available to the general public so-called “Dunbar’s number”. It is the number of social ties, which everyone is able to maintain in a permanent and meaningful way remembering whom and what about he is dealing with). Similar data was obtained by Finnish sociologists who had analyzed the activity of the SMS-correspondence of mobile users. You noticed by yourself probably not once that friendocides in “Live Journal” often lead to a reduction of your friends’ number to 100-200. It is the number of Dunbar.

Before I ask you a few questions not rhetorical I’d like to add two more words about this mysterious number.

For 15 years, the famous British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, carried out his experiments and had gotten to prove that every person number of regular social contacts is in the range 100–230, the average is 150. Moreover, this pattern works in all circumstances, in any era (remember that the Neolithic villages population was not over 200). This pattern is determined by the human brain, which was confirmed with experiments on primates. Each primate species have their own number of Dunbar, once reached their flock is disintegrated. This number varies depending on the species neocortex, I mean new cortex of the cerebral hemispheres, responsible for higher nervous functions. Dunbar found the mathematical dependence between the neocortex and the flock’s size of the given species of primates – and has verified this dependence in humans.

And now there are my questions. There will be no replies, only questions’ exemplification.

Was not the human history (at least, its general trajectory) programmed with the number of Dunbar? The fact that it affected the dispersal of mankind is obvious: the tribes disintegrated when the number of Dunbar achieved and new ones occupied the new places. But let’s see what happened when the free spaces came to end, there were not enough resources and intertribal conflicts began to intensify.

It is logical to assume that the restriction of our social contacts inherent in our brain led to the development of stable and secured hierarchical structures. If one does not feel the connection with the majority of one’s fellow tribesmen, it is easier for one to impose them any unjust requisitions, to turn them into servants and slaves, to send them to war. One could not do so with them, when one’s whole world consisted of a hundred relatives that were dear for one. One will have one’s new true tribe if to manage a super-tribe. I mean by true tribe governor’s closest “contacts”. They are generals, deputies and priests who invented an alphabet for the transmission of orders, moral attitudes and useful skills.

Does not the number of Dunbar predetermine the ban on “eternal super-empires” and thereby promote the evolution of social hierarchies? Many of the tyrants of the past differed with their phenomenal memory and probably this is not casual. To build and subordinate an empire, one need to control the game where the number of active participants exceeds much more the number of Dunbar. Once such a singular governor left the stage, empire’s finest hours were over; it began steadily to degrade and disintegrated in long run. Under normal circumstances, the bureaucrats and the owners had to cooperate. When the subject of cooperation became the development of trade and technologies the social structure of society inevitably changed, new “social lifts” resulted.

Was not programmed in the number of Dunbar’s next move from a hierarchical to a network structure of society? Back in the early 1960s, Herbert Marshall McLuhan wrote that new means of communication returned humanity in “the tribal community”, generated “global village”. Today, one can only wonder how was McLuhan able to describe, in fact, the era of Internet communications having as an example only black and white television, wire telephony and telegraphy, which did not provide free and interactive horizontal links among millions of people in real time.

We will not do an overview of current concepts of the network economy and network society. We’ll just pay attention to only one feature of modern social networks, which distinguishes them from the ancient tribal communities. It’s the possibility by “Friends” from one’s own “tribe”, one’s personal “first circle” to appeal to the representatives of the “second” and “third circle”, and thanks to the famous “six handshakes” – to any Internet’s inhabitant. These are arbitrarily complex, and at the same time flexible and efficient horizontal chains, which are created when a real need exists, and die without revolutions and social upheavals.

Today social networks exist for communication, personal and business. But they have become overgrown with new opportunities and in due course they will become a platform not only for the “friendship by interests”, but also for shared education, collaboration, joint business. For example, I am sure that we are near the day when “Facebook” or a new special network would become a place where the author of a perspective business idea could:

  • create a virtual “cover” company;
  • take the credit;
  • to outsource to companies around the development, production, marketing and transportation of goods under his own brand;
  • to control the whole project;
  • to distribute the profits between copartners, to pay off with his partners.

When the human and economic links entangle the whole world the management structures of society will begin to “sync” with them, transforming from hierarchies to networks. Perhaps somewhere in the middle of the process the status of online communities itself will be changed. Now it’s hard to believe, but someday the concepts such as “legal rights and responsibilities of the Internet community”, “property of the Internet community”, “financial interests of the Internet community”, etc. will appear, the analogues of which regulate today the relationships between the citizen, government and business.

And the main question. What’s in our minds, in our anatomy, biochemistry that programs the behavior of people and the development of society? What would you like to change, and what would you never give up in order not to lose your personal nature and human nature? Science of the XXI century with its nano-, geno- and cyber-temptations promises a lot of changes. Either we will be led to “reengineering” as a herd of sheep or we will ourselves define what is really calling for change, and what would be best resolved by itself.

PS The post continues the theme begun on the page “World pattern”

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