Have you ever had a large lobster? I mean, a really large one, like five pounds or more? They are hard to get these days. Most of the good Maine Lobsters (and all lobsters are Maine Lobsters unless otherwise specified) come from Maine in the US, and Maine has a rule that you can’t harvest large lobsters. But back in the old days, when I was buying lobsters off the boat or occasionally eating them on the boat, you could still get them. And you can still get large lobsters from New Hampshire and Massachusetts but a) they are not as good and b) they are too expensive to even consider for those of us in the 99%.
Anyway, if you get a regular lobster, say a 1.5 pounder, you can suck meaty juice and obtain tiny slivers of meat from the spidery legs, but most of the meat comes from the claws and the tail. But if you get a larger lobster, say 2.0 pounds, you’ll find a layer of slimy meaty stuff on the inside of the body cavity along the exoskeleton, and a few other places. Also, the fins at the end of tail may have some meat in them. When you get up around 3.0 pounds, those tail fins are worth digging into, and the slimy slabby things on the inside of the main body cavity are now more like claw meat, and the legs are starting to yield real results. When you get to the 5 or 6 pound range, there are veritable steaks in the body, and the legs are full of meat, and you will most definitely not go hungry.
The Large Lobster Effect is of course a metaphor. Any small thing or small group may have things that are only sometimes there but usually not, and when they are they are not large or numerous enough to get on anyone’s radar screen. Take High School Sports. I went to a 7-12 grade school with a total of 360 people in it. Can you imagine trying to get a football team out of that school? We barely fielded a fencing team (which I was on, of course). Any large metro area with suburbs will have a hierarchy of high schools divided by ability to field major teams, and the top five or six will always have the winning football teams, because the distribution of body size and skill and so on is such that you can get a few dozen players distributed over a few years of school who are all big, interested, able, and available in the largest schools. Large lobsters have meat small lobsters don’t have. Large high schools have football teams, small high schools don’t.
Let me be clear: The Large Lobster Effect isn’t just the amount of something increasing in proportion to the whole. It is the possibility of something novel emerging as a threshold is passed.
I don’t know if high school football teams are good or not, but of course lobster meat is. The Large Lobster Effect is not always good, though. For instance, just as you can get a great Debate Club or Environmental Club in a larger school, you can also get a larger gang of psychotic migrants or very serious bullies. And in society as a whole, as a society gets larger you get museums and bridge clubs and quilting bees but you also get the Klu Klux Klan and Mens Rights Activists.
Writing this blog post has made me hungry. Unfortunately, the nearest decent lobster is like a thousand miles away. I think I’m going to go eat a chicken. I saw one of those in my freezer a little while ago.