millions served

March 10, 2007

Sometimes, like when I start observing my fellow passengers on the subway, it hits me that there are way more people around than I can realistically cope with in my head, and that this probably leads to poor understanding of things like economies and group forming in general.

There's Dunbar's Number, 150, a "cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships." (A few years ago I posted about the "monkeysphere" concept, a cute way of thinking about what happens to people outside of that limit.)

So I have to figure, the understanding of numbers bigger than, say, a few thousand will tend to be academic for most people. I remember that book my sixth grade teacher had, a million dots (with some important or interesting numbers labeled), a thousand pages of a thousand dots each. It seemed to go on forever.

There are over four million people in the Greater Boston Area (admittedly a big space geographically) and that leads me to suspect that I have no idea how a society that size can actually function, how an economy sustains itself, how relationships are formed, what public opinion really means. And there must also be a conflict with people's need to stand out from the crowd, to really live that American sense of "rugged individualism". Hell, I'm surprised there aren't more people doing Really Stupid Things to try and get on Fox News.

Quote of the Moment
During evolution there was great selection pressure for immediate action: crucial to our survival is the instant distinction of predator from prey and kin from foe, and the recognition of a potential mate. We cannot afford the delay of conscious thought or debate in the committees of the mind. We must compute the imperatives of recognition at the fastest speed and, therefore, in the earliest-evolved and unconscious recesses of the mind. This is why we all know intuitively what life is. It is edible, lovable, or lethal.
--James Lovelock, "The Ages of Gaia"

Article of the Moment
Wired had an article on these new cooling gloves from Darpa. The idea is you can radically change someone's core temperature by using a vacuum to pull blood to the surface of their hand and cooling or heating it before it goes back and makes the round. (There's a new model of muscles, that they tire as they get overheated, not by running out of stored sugars which was the previous thinking.)

Anyway, I remember years ago my friend Dave telling me that there was an old farmer's trick of dunking your forearms in a barrel of rainwater they had. So in a way, the new tech echoes the old folk wisdom. Presumably the gloves are a bit more portable.