A small group, of a size that is consistent with our evolutionary past as well as with the operation of reciprocity, allows for some highly novel, useful interactions between individual members. An example should help. I live in a farmhouse and keep a flock of 8 ducks. They often sit by the path to my back door. As I approached on the path, one duck jumped to his feet, flapped his wings, and moved noisily away. Four of them stayed seated and quacked about once every second, almost in unison with each other. Three of them neither moved nor quacked. The reactive one settled promptly.
The small group inhibited their excitable member. The alarmist temporarily increased the chances for the entire group to escape. There was a moment of creativity, when options were explored, and -- some would argue -- thinking occurred. The duck committee functioned in the same manner as a dimmer switch, not the more extreme and primitive binary type. The group said “Maybe” because it adjusted its response more precisely to the degree of external threat.
Evolution, perhaps because it follows these mathematical models, gave us a tremendous gift in the form of reciprocity. Reciprocity, cross-talk, includes reduced impulsiveness, the suppression of distraction while encouraging task persistence whether in a group or in a single mind. These gifts are perhaps the foundation for thinking and the neuropsychological executive functions needed for memory access, task inhibition, task initiation and interruption, mood regulation, rule generation, problem analysis, and creating solutions (Bronowski, 1977; Barkley, 1997).
All of us have these talents; they represent perhaps 200,000 years (Leakey, of selective pressure, when an unknown event triggered a mind capable of “Stop, let’s consider some options here.” There is, however, substantial difference between us in our respective abilities. By definition of both math and common sense, all of us are individually more reactive and impulsive than is true in group efforts. Small children usually behave better in class than at home, we have better manners in public than in private with our marital partners. Best friends, therapists, doctors, teachers, and sometimes lawyers are all tools for increasing cross-talk, for delaying impulsive actions, and for getting a team on our side. “Maturity” often means doing more of these things for ourselves. Maturity also means seeking advice from someone who will not agree with us.
Too large a monolithic group, however, produces stasis in its members. Movement is only possible with a narrow fixation on a single goal. The dinosaur is back. Break apart the single goal so there is nothing but individual free agents and the dinosaur dies. However, Cheater tactics and impulsive conduct become more likely. Maintain social continuity between 40 people and there will be less cheating with property or wives. Maintain close social continuity between 3 people and there should be far greater levels of useful creativity.