Human Scale

The scope of trusted relationships is constrained by human cognitive limits (according to Robin Dunbar’s research, a human can maintain a maximum of 150 relationships at any point in time) and the ability to scale trusted collaboration beyond these human scale limits depends on using and developing communication technologies that assist us in maintaining trusted relationships between groups.

It is becoming clear that only human scale organisations are understandable for individual humans and have the potential to provide psychologically safe and healthy environments for humans (Fischetti et al. 2018).

“Study after study confirms that most people have about five intimate friends, 15 close friends, 50 general friends and 150 acquaintances. This threshold is imposed by brain size and chemistry, as well as the time it takes to maintain meaningful relationships”, Robin Dunbar says.

A careful analysis of human history demonstrates that super-human scale organisations are inherently unsafe for individual humans, and that completely atomised societies are inconceivable, as they are apparently incompatible with human social needs.

The Beauty of Collaboration at Human Scale: Timeless patterns of human limitations

For the first time, the age of digital networks enables us to construct cognitive assistants that help us to nurture and maintain globally distributed human scale competency networks – networks of mutual trust. It is time to tap into this potential and to combine it with the potential of zero-marginal cost global communication and collaboration.

The Beauty of Collaboration at Human Scale: Timeless patterns of human limitations

The term human scale is usually associated with the role that human physical dimensions play in urban design, architecture, and ergonomics. In this book I take a broader perspective and extend the concept of human scale to include human cognitive abilities and limitations (Norberg-Hodge 1991).

The limits of human scale, the capacity for cultural evolution, and the resultant cultural diversity are best appreciated as the most valuable and unique species level survival advantage of humans over all other primate species. Human societies that operate at human scales are highly resilient and adaptive. Bands of hunter gatherers could rely on the human capacity for flexible cooperation and collective intelligence that is unlocked by egalitarian social norms within small groups.

As humanity is approaching existential risks in the 21st century, we are well advised to carefully study the advantages that are available at human scale and to critically examine all the inevitable drawbacks that kick in when societies exceed the limits of human scale. Some of the drawbacks such as the brittleness and vulnerabilities of technological monocultures are becoming more apparent in a world that is globally connected via digital networks.

The Beauty of Collaboration at Human Scale: Timeless patterns of human limitations

At the level of small (human scale) groups, the NeurodiVenture model provides a set of first principles for creative collaboration that can be implemented in appropriate ways to accommodate local needs. The prosocial principles (Atkins et al., 2019) that are part of the NeurodiVenture model not only provide guidance for collaboration within the group, but also for collaboration with other groups, and thereby they pave the path for the development of collaborative bioregional networks of NeurodiVentures and other human scale groups.

The fact that human scale social operating systems can be constructed on top of corrupt infrastructure is a powerful message.

By focusing on the human scale outside the theatre we can reconnect with the physical and ecological niche that supports our human needs. The more collaborative, egalitarian, and accomodating of cultural diversity, the surrounding cultural environment becomes, the less NeurodiVentures will be perceived as unusual, and the more neurodivergent people will be able to spend significant time outside the protective islands of safety provided by a NeurodiVenture without getting overwhelmed.

At human scale individuals enjoy a significant level of agency, with the ability to remain in a given cultural organism as long as they desire, and to move to a different cultural organism when this is aligned with individual neurological dispositions, talents and interests. All atomic changes in relationships and memberships leave an individual’s existing competency network intact and at all times the individual is part of a cultural organism that provides a livelihood for the individual.

The Beauty of Collaboration at Human Scale: Timeless patterns of human limitations

“I don’t think that scale is our friend, it’s our enemy. How to get together on small scale with patience, ethical regard for one another… maybe this renewal of our habits of assembly happens on a small scale.”

Fred Moten quoted inTrust Kids! Stories on Youth Autonomy and Confronting Adult Supremacy

To me, autonomy functions best in smaller communities where we can truly ask the necessary questions together, work across differences, make mistakes, and where a deep trust can be nurtured and felt.

Trust Kids! Stories on Youth Autonomy and Confronting Adult Supremacy

But when I go back and read Genesis, I hear God saying: “My children, I designed your brains to scale to 150 stable relationships. Anything beyond that is overclocking. You should all try Mastodon.”

God Did the World a Favor by Destroying Twitter | WIRED

Anthropocentrism and ignorance of human scale are the social diseases of our civilisation. These diseases are obvious to most autistic people but they are only just beginning to be recognised by a growing number of people in wider society.

The Beauty of Collaboration at Human Scale: Timeless patterns of human limitations

Further reading,