28 Comments

I think I have heard of it in passing? I’d love to see the data that led to him landing on the number. Personality, attachment style, environment - to me, there is room for a lot of variability that it would almost make no sense in creating an average? (I say all this with the caveat I’ve not read the work, either.)

Also are there even 150 people where you live? (I KID. There are at least double that 😃)

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Interesting reminder of our brain’s social capacity. I wonder how these numbers would transfer over to remembering novel characters. I’ve heard more than one author admit that they don’t remember what happens in all their books and most keep cheat sheets handy with character descriptions. Even in one novel it can be a lot to accurately keep track of.

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Fascinating stuff. I wonder if different cognitive capacities kick in with various contexts. For example, I consider myself generally an introvert and have a hard time remembering names. But in my professional capacity, I switch into extrovert mode and can remember the names of my students. The brain is a mysterious organ.

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Aug 9, 2023Liked by Mark Dykeman

Are you aware of anyone who has personally listed out all of these relationships for themselves to see if Dunbar's idea has any relevance for their own situation? It would be an interesting experiment, but it might have to be done over the course of a few days—most likely, especially in the higher circles, it would be hard to recall names at will.

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It is tempting to dismiss Dunbar as just another cognitive science reductionist who fears both history and humanity alike. Inevitably, the majesty of an attempted quantitative analytic starts to bleed hither and thither with talk of 'environmental' factors and the diversity of 'individual' traits which somehow are then cobbled back up together in personality 'types', wending the discussion back and forth from, 'oh, but I'm unique after all' to 'I guess I'm more of a category' than a human being. In so doing, the cognitive 'sciences' pander to all those who hang their hats on 'identity' variables; no better than astrology. I suppose the challenge of living a mortal yet fully conscious existence compels all febrile minds to grasp at such straws in order to manufacture some meaning for their sorry selves.

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Thank you for going deeper into Dunbar's number. I find most concepts like this have a general usefulness that falls apart when people try to be too specific about it, while the public generalizes it too much. Usually just pointing something simple, like the rest of the concentric circles' numbers, helps qualify it so it's not too generalized ("150 is the max size of any organization of people!") while reminding that the numbers are more averages helps qualify it so that it's not too specific ("Nobody is able to have more than 5 close friends")

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Hey Mark, sounds like an interesting study. I am always curious about personality types, which then tend to foster connections. When people talk about emotional memories, they say the mind tends to remember emotional content a little better; I suppose that can go either way!

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Oh I was suggesting that the source of our diversities lies not in cognitive capability but rather in social interaction which indeed gives relationships their differing quanta. I would proffer Schutz's contour line diagram as a more nuanced illustration of how 'ego' is related to others. It provides a sense of landscape against which one places others at varying distances. Of course others can move in and out of these spaces pending our relationship with them; sometimes growing closer or farther apart. But even this is dependent upon what we value in the relationship. I wonder if one was able to take into account of everything we deem we share or do not share with others if in fact it would launder out to the 'same' quality and depth? But I am not suggesting that up front, however. Only that I am skeptical of arguments that take agency away from the individual, as cognitive science and astrology both do.

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Aug 9, 2023Liked by Mark Dykeman

This was fascinating! Thanks, Mark!

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Hadn't heard of Dunbar's number but I'd say the figures are mostly valid. I have a strong memory and rarely forget a face. I bet I could recognize up to 10,000 faces. I'm an extrovert, but I keep a tight circle. I'd say I have no more than 20 friends in my tightest circle, but have amassed several thousand in my outer circles. Interesting read. Nice work.

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An absolutely fascinating post, Mark - thank you!

I'm an introvert, and maintaining relationships with friends has always felt very difficult. I envy my extrovert friends for their sociability, but at the same time I imagine that they must be constantly exhausted!

I'd never heard of Dunbar's number, and I wonder if I've ever even MET 500 people? 🤣 Okay, well I have, but I'm sure I don't know anything LIKE the numbers shown on his concentric circles.

I wonder if extroverts have the benefit of equal measures of quantity and quality in their relationships with people?

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