Use Dunbar’s Number to Create Your Own Reality

“What you call love was invented by guys like me, to sell nylons. You’re born alone and you die alone and this world just drops a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts. But I never forget. I’m living like there’s no tomorrow, because there isn’t one..”
– Don Draper

I walk into my corridor kitchen only to find people laying in the couch watching TV.  They are watching some Harry Potter movie. They start complaining loudly in a surprised way when suddenly the movie breaks for commercial.

A fat girl yells out:

I love Christmas because this is the time of the year that they show the best movies!

I’m thinking to myself: what, you can’t download movies any day of the week?  Or is it that you don’t even know what kind of movies you prefer to watch?

The fat girl sees a commercial and screams:

Ahh, Avatar? I hated that movie, but then I watched it again and kind of liked it…

I ask her why she would possibly watch it again if she hated it.

Guess what she said?

Well… Uh.. I believe in giving things a second chance.

She was completely serious.


What we have here is a perfect example of how to live your life unconsciously.

This is the kind of person who has no purpose in life.

A person who places zero value on her time.

A person who is content to kill time by any means necessary to carry on her pathetic existence for no other purpose than to…  prolong homeostasis and eat more food?

A person like this is completely stuck in the leisure mindset (not valuing all her time equal) and will avoid temporary boredom at any cost.

This is the complete opposite of what you should be aiming for.

So how do you avoid becoming one of these people?

By carefully managing your inputs for information, stimulation, and your environment.

Here in this post I’ll go into a new aspect of how you can manage your inputs for information.

But before I get into that I need to tell you about Dunbar’s Number.

Respect Dunbar’s Number

Dunbar’s Number is a scientific finding within evolutionary psychology which states that humans have a cognitive limit that confines us to being familiar with a maximum of 100-230 other people. For some reason 150 is the number that’s usually being used when speaking about this, and therefore the number I’ll use as well.

So, what does this mean?

It means that:

  • These 150 people are the ones that you feel a sense of familiarity and connection to  they are the ones you perceive to be part of your tribe. Everyone else is perceived more or less as an outsider, and gets treated with much more suspicion and resistance.
  • Groups above 150 people tend to get increasingly disorganized the larger they become.
  • These are the 150 people that you’ll unconsciously tend to compare yourself with!

With regards to controlling your inputs for information, we are concerned mainly with the first and last implications.

But we’re not done.

There’s actually a twist to this and an important one at that!

The cognitive limitations described by Dunbar’s Number are NOT confined only to how many human beings we perceive as being part of our tribe, but to anything we perceive as a living entity with a personality.

This includes celebrities, imaginary characters, brands, and other things.

This is a major reason why companies spend large amounts of money on PR and marketing. It’s because they want their company to be perceived as a personality and to become one of your “150 mental buddies”  they really want to be perceived as part of your tribe.

Because if they do, then you’ll trust them and you’ll unconsciously drift towards buying their product over similar ones in the supermarket.

If you respect Dunbar’s Number you will not allow any of these things to be part of your tribe.

If you respect Dunbar’s Number you’re going to be VERY mindful about what 150 perceived personalities you allow into your life. Since you inherently trust, like, and feel connected to these 150 personalities, they are going to have a huge influence on the mental and unconscious aspects of your life.

If you respect Dunbar’s Number you will deliberately avoid poisoning your mind with celebrities, imaginary characters, brands, and other things that don’t serve as positive guide posts or role models for what you want to become.

What you’ll do instead is to carefully and consciously select the 150 most important influences that you want in your life and. . .

Stop Living in Hyperreality

Because your Dunbar’s Number  has big implications on your hyperreality, and this the reason why the vast majority of people are confused and misled about a lot of things.

What is a hyperreality?

–Hyperreality is defined as “a real without origin or reality”

Consider it the “reality tunnel” you are in. It’s relatively easy to notice someone else’s reality tunnel, if you pay attention, but it’s challenging (requires a lot of metacognition) to see your own reality tunnel.

It’s a hard concept to grasp for most people because they are so immersed in hyperreality that they can’t see it.

The best example of a creator of hyperreality is TV:

  • TV shows are 100 % fake. But most people don’t consider that. They unconsciously (want to) believe that the show is real life so. . .
  • Most people go around believing in fairy tales and other lies because it’s convenient (because they want to)
  • The large scale effect of this is that TV creates a (dumbed-down) massculture

And mass-culture is like a virus, you shouldn’t allow yourself to be tainted by it, unless you want to be mediocre and operate from an inferior way of dealing with reality (how success is achieved).

This is why I recommend that you stop watching TV forever.

Or you’ll become a stupid person who believes that all friendships and social circles should be like the gang of on the TV show Friends and that if you learn magic tricks and act corny, like Barney from the TV show How I Met Your Mother, you’ll become a ladies man.

It’s your choice.

Since many of people’s 150 most influential sources of information are occupied by useless things, they inevitably get a skewed understanding about what is important in their lives. They are influenced by things such as:

  • The mainstream media
  • Coca Cola
  • Justin Bieber

How do any of these things matter to you?

They don’t.

And this handicaps their ability to critically consider questions about how they should lead their lives.

They start unconsciously comparing themselves to completely irrevelant people. They justify their sheepish behavior by having seen Kim Kardashian do it on TV.

If Kim does it it must be good, right?

Today we are bombarded with more ads, social media, television, and other unnecessary sources of information than we ever have been before.

No one knows the exact amount, but the average person is subjected to about 5000 advertising messages per day.

There’s no doubt that this affects us.

Yes, even you.

How can you avoid this from happening?

By managing your inputs for information.

Just like the stupid fat girl from my corridor, most people aren’t very mindful of what sources they get their information from.

They just consume whatever information they can get without thinking about how it aligns with their goals in life.


Don’t even go there…

Just focus on yourself and manage your inputs for information.

Summary: Manage Your Inputs for Information

  • Remember Dunbar’s Number and be mindful about what 150 perceived personalities you have in your head.
  • Drop TV and mainstream media forever. Leave that to the ignorant masses.
  • Read books and direct your information search to things that have to do with accomplishing your goals.

It’s up to you to build your own reality, step by step – brick by brick, to slowly but surely create a masterpiece.

If you don’t, you’ll automatically be part of the pathetic mass culture hyperreality that 99% of everyone else is part of.

Remember, you ARE your inputs for information.

And if you’re watching TV, reading gossip magazines, listening to the mainstream media, and hanging out with ignorant people. . . What does that make you?

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  1. Sikandar says

    First time I’m EVER commenting on any blog. This is an old post I understand but can you please do more articles on Dunbar’s numbers? and perhaps recommend books to help illustrate?

    • Thanks for doing me the honor then, Sikandar :)

      I will devote 2-3 chapters to Dunbar’s number and its implications in my upcoming book Breaking out of Homeostasis (BOOH). You can sign up for the waiting list at the top of the site if you’re interested.

  2. Matias Page says

    I found out about you thanks to Victor Pride. Since your guest post in his website, I’ve been reading a lot of your writings. I think this specific post is one of your best. Even though I know you do it for many reasons, I want to thank you for sharing your ideas. I select only a few websites I regularly visit. And I consider yours as a new gem I’ve discovered. Greetings from Argentina. Cheers!

  3. Your blog is truly excellent.

  4. Hey Ludvig I just read a very similar article to yours.

    Check it out and tell me what you think.

    • Dillon,

      Yes. That’s Dunbar’s Number too. But they’ve written a satirical post — that’s what they do at Cracked. Monkeysphere is a sticky concept though. Much easier to remember than “Dunbar’s Number”.

  5. I’m also a fan of preserving the sanctity of my reality. I’ve been able to avoid TV for almost a year now. Next on my list are fictional characters (I’m a big fan of novels)..

  6. Michal Stawicki says

    Several quick thoughts:
    – TV programs are shitty.
    There is NOTHING worth your time (except the exceptions, but you won’t spend 100 hours watching shitty programs to find an hour long one, which is valuable). Even documentary films are more and more commercialized (read: shitty).
    – I’m a little suspicious about Dunbar’s number, but one thing I easily agree with – there is the limit of relationships you can maintain.
    – It’s definitely possible to allow ‘faked’ personalities into your circle.
    For example I saw a single James Arthur’s performance on YT and it had such an impact on me that I started looking for more his stuff, I follow him on Twitter, I bought his first album and the tickets for the live concert. But I don’t know him as a human being, I don’t follow gossips about him, I don’t have time for it. I’ve build some image of his person in my mind and allowed this image into my inner circle.

    • Interesting example.

      Personally, I can seriously FEEL how my brain builds up a mental image of others in my head. It’s interesting to follow the mental development of a concept or another person from the first impression to knowing the person better. This is easy to follow if you write a daily journal.

      The halo effect is anoter massively interesting phenomenon to me. I sometimes think specifically about what >characteristic< that was emphasized when I first met another person (if that person made a strong impression on me).

  7. Mr. Veins - Mike C. says

    Interesting read here, Ludvig.

    Yes — TV is shit; get rid of that fuck.

    Stay real,

    Mr. Veins – Mike C.

  8. Might I ask who your greatest inspiration is?

    • I have no one single biggest inspiration, except maybe Bruce Lee when I was a kid. Two books that have had major impacts on me have been:
      1. Napoleon Hill – The Law of Success in 16 Lessons (old version 1200 pages)
      2. Jed Mckenna – Enlightenment Trilogy

  9. No surprises that Draper was coined one of the most influential man in the world. Your post however is a reinstatement of the fact that “every thought is food for the mind and and we should be careful about what we feed to the most important organ of our body”(copyrights to that line included).
    An Informative post and ceratainly a good thought.

  10. Give-up the mainstream media totally? Uh-oh that’s kinda difficult. I’m not really a TV addict and in fact I try to catch up once in a while with the amount I am watching because I believe that I can use this medium for my education and self-improvement. Just to name a few- I pick up a character that helps me live an ideal me when it comes to behavior and use that as a ‘model’ when I socialize. I guess I am discriminate enough to watch what is sufficiently helpful for me and so I might have to take this advise with a grain of salt :)

    But your point in the mainstream media giving trash is true. There’s so much out there and if you choose to be dumb, you’ll never get anywhere.

    I find the Dunbar concept interesting and seems to be true. We can only squeeze in so much and will probably waste time dealing with crappy persons. I find this a challenge when I brood over some thoughts that put a lot of negativity in my thoughts. I should replace those negative ‘personalities’ into something helpful and positive ones.

    • You make some good points Rob.

      If you find that TV adds to your self-education, that’s good for you. It’s really all about personal clarity. I can’t say what’s right and wrong for anyone but me, but I know that in my case, my brain will try to fool me into thinking it’s being productive and learning important things by watching TV – but really it’s just using “the rest of me” to get easy stimulation without having to put in any effort.

  11. Brilliant man. I see spending hours in front of the television as something extremely dangerous. You’re altering stuff in your brain and you’re not even aware of it.

    And yea, that spreads to the news you watch, the people you hang out with, role models, etc.

    Honestly, most of the people around me are so conditioned to follow a mediocre path that I have to spend most of my time alone. Not sure if this is good or bad.

    • Sebastian I really resonate with this:

      “Honestly, most of the people around me are so conditioned to follow a mediocre path that I have to spend most of my time alone. Not sure if this is good or bad”

      But not for much longer. As I get older I find myself hanging around smarter people. (I mostly hang out with people many years older than me).

  12. Hi Ludwig,

    Excellent insights, indeed!

    You are so right about how we need to manage our inputs of information. Over the years, as I’ve got into self-development more, I’ve become more in tuned with those sources of information I need to pay attention to and what sources I know I might come across and can ignore.

    Thank you.

    • Thank you Hiten.

      I agree. It’s about knowing which sources of information can (and should) be cut out of one’s life. One of my life goals is definitely to live as simply and deliberately as possible.

  13. Why you guys gotta ask how Ludwig knows so much stuff? He already told you the answer – he doesn’t waste his time watching television.

    A person’s intelligence seems to have a strong negative correlation with how much TV they watch. I don’t know if this is because TV makes people stupid or because stupid people are more easily entertained, but it’s true.

    Some people think they are “keeping up” with current events by watching TV news. This is ridiculous. Aside from gross and unavoidable facts that can’t be concealed, TV news contains no accurate, relevant information whatever. It’s all speculation, innuendo, and trivia. You can get more understanding of the modern world by reading books written generations ago than you can by watching “news”.

    People who don’t “get it” always “remind” me that things like historical documentaries and “science” can be found on television if you search them out, as if I didn’t know. There is never any reason to watch any of these either, even if they are less crappy. Books are a thousandfold better source of information about history and science then the dumbed-down and sensationalized crap broadcast for the marginally smarter sheeple.


    About Dunbar’s number: I have seen this described before in terms of the “monkeysphere” (meaning a person’s erstaz “tribe”). Those outside the monkeysphere are completely depersonalized, which is why for instance most people are inconsiderate toward strangers. It’s also why retail work is so stressful – the employee is forced to treat an excessively large number of strangers as if they were part of her “tribe”, but most of them do not reciprocate.

    I think there is however some kind of broader “fringe” to the monkeysphere that includes people we at least recognize as human and have no quarrel with. People are much more rude in situations (e.g. on line or in traffic) where they don’t actually see or hear the person they are interacting with. People are also more considerate toward women of breeding age and toward young children. I think this a genetically determined tendency to preserve the species, but it depends on being able to recognize someone as at least being human.

    One social implication of Dunbar’s number is that voluntary cooperation in large groups (like nations) is impossible. The idea of entities like corporations insinuating themselves into the personal monkeysphere complicates this picture. Could an imaginary personality like Big Brother be simultaneously included in a billion people’s monkeyspheres?

    • Wan Muhammad Zulfikri says

      Hey, it’s okay for these people to ask.

      Even if some of us stopped watch tv, it doesn’t mean that we magically have access to all knowledge in the world.

      There is no stupid question to ask and the questions indicate our curiosity to learn more and it is not like we want to piggyback on other people’s knowledge or anything.

      Think about that Abgrund before you give an answer like that.

    • Awesome stuff Abgrund. It’s nice to see others with a brain.

      You say:
      ”…It’s also why retail work is so stressful – the employee is forced to treat an excessively large number of strangers as if they were part of her “tribe”, but most of them do not reciprocate”

      I say:
      I’ve never done this kind of work myself so I wouldn’t know… But I see how this can be true for people who work in service…

      You say.
      ”The idea of entities like corporations insinuating themselves into the personal monkeysphere complicates this picture. Could an imaginary personality like Big Brother be simultaneously included in a billion people’s monkeyspheres?”

      I say:
      I don’t know… But isn’t this exactly what much of the money spent on marketing/advertising/branding is used for?
      If we take a glance at dicators like Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Pinochet – or better yet Obama (though not a dictator) – we see how these men have taken on image or idea of something MUCH bigger than a normal man. Stalin & Hitler stood for movements and nationalistic pride etc… Obama stands for change..
      Or did I misunderstand your question?
      What do you think?

      • I’ve done very little retail work, but its reputation is well known. An interesting related read is “The Managed Heart: The Commercialization of Human Feeling” by Arlie Hochschild. The perspective is Marxist, Feminist, and largely Cognitive. Dated, but still insightful in some ways.

        The “Cult of Personality” is pretty much what I was referring to, but Stalin and Hitler were limited in that they couldn’t interact personally with millions of people and neither of them seems to have been genuinely trusted by the majority. I have my doubts about how much real trust is inspired by corporate identities either, but corporations in any case are only seeking brand loyalty, not trying to build a national consensus. But with an increasing number of people displacing an increasing proportion of their Dunbar Allotment onto the Internet, consider what might be achievable by an artificial personality (or multiple such under common control) that could attain influence over a large majority?

      • Interesting discussion guys.

        “but with an increasing number of people displacing an increasing proportion of their Dunbar Allotment onto the Internet, consider what might be achievable by an artificial personality”

        —> The premise is interesting, and definitely one of the key points I was trying to make. But it’s hard to imagine some future AI/AP taking over our minds.

        Dunbar’s Number is a great concept and all, but it’s just a drop in the bucket when it comes to explaining all the shit mainstream media does to people’s lives.

      • Is it that hard to imagine? Certainly if it’s technically feasible it will be done. Phony Internet “people” have been around a long time, like the famous Nigerian Prince and the chatbots promoting porn. The same police state that spies on and tracks all of its own citizens using their cell phones would hardly hesitate to use fake identities for the same purpose, and it’s a short step from there to using those in a more active role.

        The only limit is the technical ability, which probably doesn’t exist quite yet. But it may not be as difficult as it might seem; most people aren’t that bright and a little inept flattery or the right buzzwords would help them overlook incoherent ideas and mangled language. Hell, they write that way themselves. And one Artificial Semi-Intelligence, once created, could probably latch on to hundreds of thousands of people, using randomly chosen names and personal details.

  14. Call me crazy, but I kind of always preferred watching TV shows/movies on TV than on my computer. Can’t tell you why exactly, but that’s just how I feel :)

    On the other hand, I can’t even remember the last time I’ve watched TV, especially the news (so much negative information, that’s outside my zone of control).

    What I love doing now is watch interesting lectures/podcasts/videos about different topic of interest from people I admire. I always watch/listen to this stuff on 2x normal speed in order to get through it faster.

    Anyway, great post Ludvig, as always ;)

    • That’s a smart idea Dejan, but doesn’t it sound weird on twice the speed?

      I’m going to try the same thing tomorrow.

  15. Ludvig, you sold me on becoming a regular reader to your Blog after I’ve read your post on Dunbar’s number. I believe that psychology is what sets everything in this world apart, rich and poor, lady’s men and virgins, free people and slaves…

    Your argumented approach to psychology is incredibly useful.

    Wait… did you just sneaked in my 150? You bastard!

  16. Wan Muhammad Zulfikri says

    Like the person four comments before me said:

    How the heck do you find this sort of information, Ludvig?

    Man…I love these kind of words that are cool such as hyperreality and Dunbar Number because most of the time there is a reason these words exist – To explain concepts that are overlooked by most people.

    Anyway, one thing I realized about mainstream media such as TV and the likes is that they are making you into what some people call as ‘sheeps’.

    You know you just follow what the sheep herder urges you to go. And these sheep are the masses.

    I am a proponent for thinking consciously because I don’t think most of us don’t do that.

    I hate when someone says to me “That’s reality, man. Live with it.”

    Because sometimes I think the reality they mention seems to coincide with what the media, government or any sort of organizations wants your reality to be.

    I would dare say that the manipulations of informations are in fact modern slavery.

    I recently read the book “Millionaire Mind” in which the writer, Thomas Stanley, shared his discovery of how the millionaires think and lives..

    Most of them, when they were little, teachers classified them as not smart.

    But luckily they are not sheeps. They know that the standardized test or any kind of test doesn’t determine their future like some people say.

    So, they call it BS and focus on how to make their own future…who cares if you are not smart when you have other abilities to compensate it.

    Anyway, thanks for the post Ludvig. I don’t know what the heck I had written here but I think it adds value of some sort haha.

    • Yeah Wan, it was an interesting comment to read!

      “I would dare say that the manipulations of informations are in fact modern slavery.”

      I’m with you on this one, which is why it bothers me so much that people WILLINGLY subject themselves to it.

      • I understand you must have a good daily routine, but could you go more into detail how you learn these things?

      • Wan Muhammad Zulfikri says

        Maybe it is not willingness.

        Maybe their ability to choose what is good or bad for them had disappeared altogether. Unless someone remind them that they can CHOOSE, I bet they would have that ability to choose right way.

        Although I think that there are still people who are told that they can choose how they receive their information yet like you said, they willingly subject themselves to it. A bit sad though.

      • Jen:
        I read a lot, I keep a commonplace book in which I write a lot (journal etc), I do daily videologs (speaking). In other words I always keep lists of ideas. Eventually it adds up and connects through synthesis.

  17. Fuck Justin Bieber

  18. Very well written article.

    I liked this quote:
    “This is a major reason why companies spend massive amounts of money on PR and marketing. It’s because they want their companies to be perceived as a person and become one of your 150 buddies — they really want to be perceived as part of your tribe.”

    I actually didn’t know that, but one thing I know is that TV is a waste of time. I got rid of mine 9 years ago and never looked back.

    With that said, I do follow a few TV-shows, but I watch them on my laptop without any commercials.

    • “With that said, I do follow a few TV-shows, but I watch them on my laptop without any commercials.”

      –> Same here, but I only watch Mad Men and Game of Thrones and both are on a break. So no TV for a long time.

  19. You learn something every day!

    For me, this was the concept of hyperreality. Believe it or not, but I actually knew about dunbar’s number ;)

    Ludwig it’s obvious you don’t like TV that much… But is it really black or white? Is there no gray zone for you? For example, you’re interested in history right? So what about documentaries or biographies on TV?

    • It’s Ludvig, not Ludwig. :)

      Sure. There is a gray zone, it’s just that most people can’t stay within it. Not sure about documentaries – in my experience they are usually pretty watered down and untruthful in order to appeal to the masses.

  20. One of your best posts Ludvig!!

    How do you come up with this stuff? :)

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