Saturday, July 15, 2023

The Role of Fiction in Overcoming Group Size Limits

According to sociological research, humans have a natural limit to the size of a closely bonded group, estimated to be around 150 individuals. Throughout history, Homo sapiens exceeded the critical threshold by building cities with tens of thousands of residents. They also established empires that governed hundreds of millions of individuals. But how did they achieve such remarkable feats? 

The answer lies in the remarkable power of fiction. By embracing common myths and collective imagination, large groups of strangers were able to effectively cooperate and thrive together. In this article, we will delve into the captivating role of fiction in surpassing group size limits and fostering social cohesion.

The natural limit of approximately 150 individuals for effective gossip and social bonding poses a puzzle when considering the formation of larger societies. How did Homo sapiens transcend this limit and establish complex social structures? The emergence of fiction and the shared belief in common myths offer a plausible explanation for the cooperation of large groups.

The appearance of fiction and the collective imagination enabled Homo sapiens to surpass the natural group size limit of 150 individuals, forming cities and empires.

The Natural Group Size Limit

Research suggests that due to cognitive and social limitations, humans struggle to intimately know and effectively gossip about more than approximately 150 individuals. Beyond this threshold, maintaining strong social bonds and effective communication becomes increasingly challenging.

The Role of Fiction

The breakthrough in overcoming group size limits came with the emergence of fiction. Fictional narratives, myths, and collective imagination provided a shared belief system that allowed strangers to cooperate effectively. By embracing common myths and narratives, large groups could develop a sense of shared identity and purpose, transcending individual relationships.

Common Myths and Collective Imagination

Common myths and collective imagination played a crucial role in fostering cooperation among strangers. These shared beliefs created a collective reality that individuals could relate to, aligning their actions and aspirations. By believing in these myths, people formed a collective identity that bound them together, enabling cooperation on a larger scale.

Formation of Complex Societies

With the power of fiction, human societies evolved from small, intimate groups to large-scale cities and empires. Fictional narratives, cultural rituals, and shared symbols provided the glue that held diverse individuals together. This collective belief system facilitated the development of social hierarchies, institutions, and governance structures necessary for managing complex societies.


The ability of Homo sapiens to surpass the natural group size limit of 150 individuals and form large-scale societies can be attributed to the emergence of fiction. Fictional narratives, common myths, and collective imagination allowed strangers to cooperate effectively by sharing a belief system and a collective reality. Through these shared fictions, human societies developed complex social structures, cities, and empires. Understanding the role of fiction in overcoming group size limits offers insights into the fundamental mechanisms of social cohesion and the power of collective imagination in shaping our shared reality.

As we navigate the complexities of our modern world, let us recognize the transformative power of fiction and collective imagination. The shared beliefs and narratives that bind us together go beyond mere individual relationships, allowing us to cooperate on a larger scale. By embracing common myths and engaging in the collective imagination, we can transcend the natural limits of group size and foster a sense of unity and cooperation among strangers. Let us continue to explore and create shared fictions that contribute to the growth and flourishing of our societies.

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