?

Log in

No account? Create an account
entries friends calendar profile PenUltimate Productions Website Previous Previous Next Next
Poem: "Editing Dunbar's Number" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Editing Dunbar's Number"

This poem came out of the July 6, 2010 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by a prompt from tonithegreat.  It was sponsored by janetmiles as part of the 2010 Holiday Poetry Sale.  Happy holidays, and thank you!

If you want some background you can read about Dunbar's number and the "monkeysphere" online.


Editing Dunbar's Number


We spent millennia
wishing for world peace,
building castles in the clouds,
before we learned to lay foundations.

In order to change the world,
first we had to change ourselves.

Anthropologists explained how Dunbar's number
limited our ability to connect with others,
each of us creating our own monkeyverse
of some hundred fifty friends and relatives --
no fewer than a hundred, usually,
and no more than two hundred thirty.
Neurologists explored how the neocortex
limited Dunbar's number, while
psychologists applied this to the tragedy of the commons.

We could not achieve world peace,
it seems, because our brains
could not encompass the concept
of so many meaningful others.

So we turned to the gengineers
and began to rebuild ourselves.
We expanded the grey area,
enhancing our ability to see things
in more than white and black.
We gathered the sulci and gyri
into organ pleats as fine as smocking,
embroidered them with ideals and tacked them down tight.
We built up the bones with struts and frets
filled in with new neurons --
spine and shoulderblades and pelvis
holding the mysteries of the metaneocortex --
and we taught the pelvic girdle to open and close
like a drawbridge at birth,
making room for the large new mind to pass through.

Then we taught ourselves
to learn each other more fully and farther,
to weave networks together like neurons.
Our associations expanded into soma, axon, dendrites.

The new limit was larger,
yet still finite. 
Humanity strained uncomfortably
to encompass itself completely
and failed,
foiled by the margins of mortality.

For a time
our thoughts turned inward
and we contemplated our conundrum.
There were too many bodies
for the monkeymind to run all at once.
But then we noticed the birthrate falling
and found the other half of the solution:
not another expansion,
but a contraction,
balancing population and perception.

Now the Earth is one,
monkeymind and celestial body,
Homo sapiens communis
flowing through life and lives,
one big happy family.

We have become
the change we wanted to see in the world.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Current Mood: happy happy

10 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
janetmiles From: janetmiles Date: December 18th, 2010 12:56 am (UTC) (Link)
Intriguing. I think I'll need to re-read it a few times.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 18th, 2010 01:45 am (UTC) (Link)

Yes...

This one does cram a lot of storyline into a fairly small space. I did add a link to an article on Dunbar's number and the monkeysphere, for background; the poem pretty much assumes some knowledge of that stuff.
fayanora From: fayanora Date: December 18th, 2010 04:07 am (UTC) (Link)
Awesome! Awesome idea, changing the number of our monkeysphere. I've heard of that limit, but never heard it called Dunbar's Number before. Of course, I've only ever read about that limit on Cracked.com, a humor site.

If human brains got any bigger, I think it would be easier to have babies be born premature, similar to how marsupials do it. In fact, I have a gengineered human species in my Mindeodean universe that might need to do that, their brains are so huge. (Although in our own evolution so far, homo sapiens actually have smaller brains than immediately previous human species. It isn't the size as much as it is the wrinkles in the brain. But there may be a limit to that, calling for larger brains at some point.)

Also, another way to improve on human brains is increase the connections in the corpus colossum. The more right/left brain connectivity, the smarter the person will get. I don't know if that's based on anything solid or just because it happened in a few Stargate episodes, but if it's based on something solid, it would be a good idea.

Speaking of marsupial-type births, a different gengineered human species in the Mindeodean universe give birth to tiny little premature babies, and carry the babies in a pouch until they mature enough. That same species have gengineered their males into ugly, stupid, fist-sized parasites good for nothing but sperm donation.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 18th, 2010 06:24 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>>Awesome! Awesome idea, changing the number of our monkeysphere. I've heard of that limit, but never heard it called Dunbar's Number before. Of course, I've only ever read about that limit on Cracked.com, a humor site.<<

I've read about it in various places.

Yeah, brain size can be a challenge.

>>Speaking of marsupial-type births, a different gengineered human species in the Mindeodean universe give birth to tiny little premature babies, and carry the babies in a pouch until they mature enough. That same species have gengineered their males into ugly, stupid, fist-sized parasites good for nothing but sperm donation.<<

*laugh* But then who takes out the garbage?
aldersprig From: aldersprig Date: December 19th, 2010 01:54 am (UTC) (Link)
Creepy/cool, a wonderful story that strains the edges of dystopia & Utopia for me and made my brain hurt a few times.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 19th, 2010 02:11 am (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

>> Creepy/cool, a wonderful story<<

Thank you!

>> that strains the edges of dystopia & Utopia for me<<

I am generally intrigued by 'topic fiction. There's actually spectrum:
dystopia --> pseudotopia --> (neutral --> eutopia --> utopia
It runs from the frankly-horrid to the seemingly-nice-but-actually-awful to the imperfect-yet-delightful to the too-good-to-be true. I rarely go farther than eutopia in my own writing, because I like to give people attainable inspirations. But yeah, this poem flits around: could we do it? and should we? and would we really like it if we did?

>> and made my brain hurt a few times.<<

Hopefully in a "stretchy" way.
aldersprig From: aldersprig Date: December 19th, 2010 02:26 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

I'd never read that spectrum before, thank you.

Utopic fiction often sets my teeth on edge: that Should We? For me it's like ... hrmm, this is a bit personal.

Like finding ways to live with, around, and through a mental disorder, or drugging yourself to deal with it. Can humanity be better as humanity; if we have to change humans to be better, are we still humanity?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 19th, 2010 06:24 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

>>I'd never read that spectrum before, thank you. <<

Yeah, I'd love to cover it in a panel at a con someday. The layout is mine.

>>Utopic fiction often sets my teeth on edge: that Should We? For me it's like ... hrmm, this is a bit personal.

Like finding ways to live with, around, and through a mental disorder, or drugging yourself to deal with it. Can humanity be better as humanity; if we have to change humans to be better, are we still humanity?<<

Well, part of it is considering how broadly we want to define humanity. How far can we go, before we cross out of our own species and become something fundamentally different? This is a theme in some 'topic fiction; one favorite example is Homo caelestis in Stardance. If you look at a bunch of my speculative writing together, you can see that I explore these ideas repeatedly -- but the results aren't always the same. I think the answer is variable depending on context.
eseme From: eseme Date: December 20th, 2010 01:13 am (UTC) (Link)
Wow. That's really thought-provoking. That much gengenering is rather alarming. They would definitely not be human by the end of it.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 20th, 2010 01:58 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>>Wow. That's really thought-provoking.<<

I'm happy to hear that.

>>That much gengenering is rather alarming. They would definitely not be human by the end of it.<<

Ah, but does "human" mean Homo ... or sapiens ...?
10 comments or Leave a comment