Step One: Dump Your 5000 Facebook Friends. Cancel your accounts at these 100+ Social Media sites.
Step Two: Realize that becoming a Superorganism has nothing to do with the fact that bacterial cells outnumber human cells in the body 10 to 1 (approximately 1014 versus 1013), and that according to the King of Cooties, University of Colorado microbiologist Noah Fierer, a healthy human kicks up a “convective plume” of about 37 million bacteria per minute that can survive for extended periods. Becoming a Superorganism has little to do with that.
Step Three: Identify at most, 149 living people you’d love to develop deep, stable, enduring relationships with.
Step Four: Do your best to answer the Big Brain Question for all 150. It’s probably not doable, but at least you and they will know you have the awareness along with some degree of desire. Why is this important? Because children who have that question answered Yes grow up Securely Attached. Having it answered No as adults is the Number One reason people quit jobs, and the Number One reason people end up in Divorce Court.
But notice that I’m including you in the Superorganism number. And for good reason: If we’re not answering that question in the affirmative for ourselves, the probability of being able to answer it affirmatively for others in any reliable, sustained manner is significantly reduced.
Why 150 and not 5000? Because evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar’s prize-winning research strongly suggests that human social networks become their strongest and stablest at that number. After that, they begin to seriously erode.
Drake Bennett, a journalist writing for Businessweek observes …
“the world’s remaining hunter-gatherer societies tend to have 150 members. Throughout Western military history, the size of the company—the smallest autonomous military unit—has hovered around 150. The self-governing communes of the Hutterites, an Anabaptist sect similar to the Amish and the Mennonites, always split when they grow larger than 150. So do the offices of W.L. Gore & Associates, the materials firm famous for innovative products such as Gore-Tex and for its radically non-hierarchical management structure. When a branch exceeds 150 employees, the company breaks it in two and builds a new office.”
So, it sounds like Dunbar is onto something. Especially since he came up with his number by comparing brain size among primates. And as much as we’d like to think differently, I’m in Pepperdine professor, Lou Cozolino’s camp when he asserts that human beings in 2013 operate with what is still essentially the same tribal brain found in today’s Kalahari Bushmen (If you don’t believe our institutions and our technologies have surpassed our brain’s processing capacity, take a look at this astonishing visual that shows our government’s recent outsized investments of taxpayer money in non-appreciating assets: The Billion Dollar Gram).
The Play of Living
So now that you have a stable, manageable community around you, what’s next?
Here’s what gets my vote: follow your feelings and become exceptional at the 1st work of every brain. What’s the first work of every brain? According Stanford emeritus neuroscientist Karl Pribram, it’s the regulation of arousal. Begin to pay attention to the ways the different 150 people in your community affect your body and brain. Around some of those community members you will feel really great – safe and open and undefended. You’ll make jokes and laugh and spontaneously come up with all kinds of unexpected creative things to say to and do with one another. A great time will generally be had by all. Until the time of The Great Bait and Switch, of course.
But around others, the experience will feel significantly different. Around other members of the community our bodies might shut down or … become hyper-aroused. So, for example, there’s a person in my island circle whom I encounter regularly, and every time I do, I immediately find my face muscles increasing in tension. I find myself unwittingly exposed to the sharp edges of his intellect, mostly cut off from his compassionate heart, which produces a tightness in my belly and a heaviness in my lower torso. I’m constantly looking for ways to cut our time together short. And even shorter.
Later, when I reflect on this somatic response, it doesn’t take me too long to figure out that I’m not really present to the real, actual person standing or sitting in front of me. Rather, I have overlaid a significant person from my past onto them. Generally someone I associate with pain or loss, or in this case, someone super-competitive. Often, father. Sometimes I unconsciously overlay more than one such person. What to do?
Arousal Regulation Is My Responsibility
Essentially, pay attention. Bear witness. Notice what’s going on in body and mind in response to this person and every other person in my (barely) manageable circle of 149 friends. Do what I need to do to calm myself down, which usually means spend some time focusing on my breathing – specifically on the exhale, which is known to lower heart rate. A lowered heart rate signals the brain that there’s no real threat presenting itself as cause for arousal. My left brain is mostly making it all up. Practice chill.
Island Communities as Superorganisms
Superorganism Theory has been around for awhile now. Small islands, like Whidbey Island where I live, are wonderfully conducive for evolving superorganisms. As it applies to this blog post, what it means is that my 149 stable, deepening relationships begin to function as a high-level organism unto itself, once I honestly take on the work of my own arousal regulation. When I do, I begin to undeniably realize we each have both an impact upon and a responsiblity to one another, much as disparate neurons in a living brain do. So, when I need to order lumber for the addition I’m building onto the house, I drive a half mile up Route 525 and order it from Hanson’s rather than have it delivered by Lowe’s or Home Depot from off-island, even though I might save a few dollars. Then when Hearts and Hammers’ army of 500 volunteers has their annual free island home fix-up day, Vic and Dan Hanson are willing and able to make a generous contribution.
When I need to buy fruits and vegetables, I get them from The Goose, the family-owned grocery store, who gets them from local growers. When I decide to buy ice cream to do a classroom demo, I buy pints of Whidbey Island Ice Cream with flavors I’ve never tried before, like licorice or ginger snap or Cho-Chardonnay. I do well when my island neighbors do well, just as my brain cells do well when my body cells do well, and vice-versa.
And what are the benefits of becoming a Superorganism. Well, I guessing you can think of a few on your own. I’ll just tell you what E. O. Wilson and Bert Hoelldobler, prize-winning leaders in Superorganism Theory claim a major benefit to be: The growth and spread of The Greenbeard Gene. You remember, that’s the gene scientists believe is most responsible for the cultivation of our generous hearts. It’s also the gene that might ultimately save the super-Superorganism known as … the Human Race.
~~ Experimental Results from Last Week ~~
So, last week I asked for $1.99 as payment for my research, writing and editing efforts with this blog. In part it was an experiment in observing the crazy-wild thoughts our brains secrete without us being able to consciously do much in response to the secretion process. Here’s a breakdown of the results from last week’s experiment:
Total Mailing List / RSS Feed Subscribers: 412,100
Readers Who Paid the $1.99: 5,700
Contributions by People I Know Personally: 2,100
People Who Asked for Their Money Back: O
Total Revenue Raised: $16,200*
Here’s a question for those of you who elected not to participate last week. I ask it in all sincerity and hope you might find some value in answering it: If the blog isn’t worth spending $1.99 on, might the time of your life genuinely be better spent not reading it at all? Wouldn’t yours be a better life if its time was spent on free things that you WOULD spend $1.99 on? This is a sincere question intended to invite you to authentically ask and answer The Two Perilous Questions. Just because you get something for free, doesn’t mean it doesn’t cost you the time you might invest in something that calls more deeply and profoundly to your heart. If you think about it that way, $1.99 turns out to actually be a high price to pay even for something free.
*A number of people contributed more than the $1.99
P.S. I’m kidding about those experiment numbers. Don’t let Wild Mind run wild. A guy can dream, can’t he? Take the two zeroes off the ends of each number and you’ll have the actual, real tally.