Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘social web’

02 MARCH, 2010

Beyond the Dunbar Number: Picking Dunbar’s Brain


Kinship vs. friendship, the cognitive demands of monogamy, or why 400 Facebook friends may be a health hazard.

In 1992, anthropologist and evolutionary biologist Robin Dunbar proposed Dunbar’s Number — a theoretical cognitive limit on the number of people with whom we can maintain viable social relationships. He pinned that number at 148, or roughly 150. But how does this translate to today’s social media environment of 400-friend Facebook profiles — does it help us beat Dunbar’s number?

We asked the iconic British social anthropologist himself, who addresses the issue further in his new book, How Many Friends Does One Person Need? — we highly recommend it.

The amount of time we invest in a relationship is proportionate to its quality. Face-to-face relationships are simply unmatched by online ones. “A touch is worth a 1000 words any day,” says Dunbar. But what online relationships are good for is to stall the decay of a relationship.

If you don’t go to the pub sooner or later, it will die.” ~ Dunbar

But what of all those huge numbers of online friends, aren’t they worth something? Perhaps kinship. The difference between friendship and kinship is that kin won’t fall apart with time and distance, “you can abuse your kin and they’ll still come,” says Dunbar.

Dunbar argues that having lots of kin means having fewer friends. Imagine your time-budget devoted to relationships as a pie. When you start handing out slices of your time to your friends, if too many people crowd around, no one gets a proper slice. Kinship is more about similar social groups, interests, geographical locations, whereas a friend, defined by Dunbar, is a person you can have a personal reciprocated relationship where you are willing to do each other favors.

Have humans always been able to handle 150 personal relationships? Dunbar explains that our brains have grown over time to handle our more complex relationships. The most taxing on our brain is the romantic kind (monogamous). Pair-bonded species have unusually big brains to do all the work.

Romance is very hard work and extremely costing to maintain.” ~ Dunbar

Will our brains continue to evolve to accommodate this hyper-connectivity? The brain accounts for only 2 percent of your total body weight, but uses 20 percent of your daily energy.

Hold on, someone just tweeted me…

Filip Matous hosts a pop-philosophy video show at He currently lives in London and is always seeking to find the next interesting person to interview.

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01 MARCH, 2010

Beyond Burton: Art Inspired by Alice In Wonderland


Floating children, the rabbit hole of the social web, and what Dali has to do with manga.

We’re all about the cross-pollination of disciplines and creative domains. So we love seeing one kind of art inspire another inspire another. Take Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland, on the lips — and eyeballs — of the world with this week’s much- anticipated release. The film was, of course, inspired by Lewis Carroll’s 1865 children’s classic of the same name (which also sprouted two other excellent films, one in 1933, starring a trippy Cary Grant, and one in 1966 for the BBC), and has in turn inspired a variety of artwork in its own right. Today, we focus on three such examples of art inspired by Alice.


Japanese-born, New-York-based artist Naoto Hattori has a very distinct, Salvador-Dali-meets-manga aesthetic. This illustration inspired by Alice In Wonderland is one of the most stunning pieces of digital artwork we’ve seen in months.

Hattori’s work is part of the Curiouser and Curiouser exhibition at Gallery Nucleus, which opened this weekend and features interpretations of the iconic story by artists who worked on Burton’s feature film and beyond.

via Wicked Halo


From Moscow-born, Bahamas-based artist-turned-underwater-photographer Elena Kalis comes Alice In Waterland, a surreal and whimsical underwater series that blends the alternate-reality feel of Carroll’s world with a wink at the wicked innocence of Burton’s representations.

We love Kalis’ incredible play of light and color, amplified by the water’s reflective properties in a way that combines softness with intensity to a stunning effect.


You may recall Greek illustrator Christina Tsevis, whom we interviewed a few months ago. Much to our delight, Christina recently got in touch with us to let us know that Glamour Greece discovered her via our interview and asked her to create a series of Alice In Wonderland illustrations for the magazine, some of which were reprinted as t-shirts.

Brimming with Christina’s signature style of 2D/3D haunting innocence, the work is a beautiful journey into texture, color and pure whimsy.

Here’s to the power of the social web, the ultimate ride down the rabbit hole.

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18 JANUARY, 2010

Pencils of Promise: Grassroots School-Building


How to give and own at the same time, or why Facebook is the new Peace Core.

In an ideal world, an invisible hand would be balancing the supply-demand ratio of help for humanity’s problems. The world, however, is far from ideal and we’re faced with more challenges than help is readily available for. And when help does present itself, it’s mostly in the form of donations — which often lack the immediacy of more hands-on approaches that give the help-giver a sense of ownership over the problem, in turn infecting the helpee with this we-can-solve-it resolve and unleashing a chain reaction of empowerment.

That’s exactly the kind of thinking that inspired Pencils of Promise — a powerful grassroots movement that seeks to solve the global education crisis from the bottom up and inside out. The nonprofit is 100% volunteer and its primary goal is to build schools and related facilites across the developing world, but it also embodies something we celebrate here at Brain Pickings — the cross-pollination of skills and perspectives — by empowering people to contribute whatever they are best at and cover different facets of the problem, rather than merely making impersonal and distanced donations.

The project began in 2008, when founder Adam Braun, fresh out of college himself, set out to build a single school in Laos. He put $25 into a bank account and asked friends to contribute however much they could. Little did he anticipate that in a little over a year, they would’ve raised $200,000 through the donations of thousands of individuals and over 150 volunteers would’ve joined the movement.

Our biggest commitment is to sustainability, which means PoP schools aren’t gifted but instead created by the community itself. The entire village helps builds their own school, leading to true ownership and a lasting commitment to their children’s educational future. ~ Adam Braun, Founder, Executive Director

Granted, as much as we’d want to, not all of us can drop our responsibilities and head East to build schools. But here’s how you can help:

Last December, Pencils of Promise won $25,000 through the Chase Community Giving Campaign on Facebook, which made them eligible for the million-dollar grand grant. And because the competition is user-driven, your vote can help tip the scale in the winning direction.

To sweeten the deal, Pencils of Promise is also using a voting system to decide which country to build schools in next — a little something they call “democratic social giving.” And in light of last week’s Haiti colossal earthquake disaster, PoP have just vouched to donate at least $100,000 towards youth-oriented initiatives in Haiti if they win the $1MM grant — a massive gesture of karmic kindness.

So go ahead and cast your vote for PoP in the Chase competition before Friday, when the voting closes — it’s a small effort on your part that can have momentous impact on entire communities. Which certainly beats another mindless round of FarmVille.

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