As historian Yuval Noah Harari writes in his book Sapiens
, humans are social animals that have used their ability to “cooperate in extremely flexible ways with countless numbers of strangers” to rule the world.
And yet, evolutionarily and even today, research suggests that there is a natural limit to how many people a person can know intimately: about 150 people, or the “Dunbar number,” named after anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar
Under this threshold, groups of people can maintain themselves through intimate acquaintance and sharing rumors. Above Dunbar’s limit, it’s hard for groups of people to cooperate effectively without formal hierarchies and laws.
In order to reach the levels of large-scale cooperation necessary to create everything from ancient empires to religions and the modern corporation, humans have relied on common myths rooted in our imagination.
As Harari points out, from this perspective, the tales that modern lawyers and businesspeople tell are much more strange than those of tribal shamans.