Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Remember, they are starlings...

[Link to video]

There is a fun video currently blitzing the blogosphere of a large flock of starlings swooping over a cornfield. Perhaps many of us in the country are jaded because it's a common sight on late summer evenings. Then too, having a gazillion starlings in your yard isn't quite the uplifting experience as witnessing their effortless group aerodynamics.

But the "miraculous" group action observers gush over could be explained more simply than we want. Emergent group behavior demonstrates how seemingly complex group interection can be the result of a relativley few simple rules.

The trouble is we don't want that answer in a world that becomes more mundane and mechical with every research project.
The human tendency to see the whole as a coherent, willful entity has been misleading, Dr. Hamner said. The coordinated motion of a school or flock does not imply purposeful coordination on the part of individuals, and the feeling of purpose may be deceptive.

Looking down at freeway traffic from atop a skyscraper, Dr. Hamner said, with cars smoothly weaving in and out, one has to fight the illusion that all the cars are cooperating. On a more intimate scale, traffic does not seem quite so well planned.

''Flocks form patterns and the patterns entrain our brain,'' Dr. Hamner said. ''We like patterns - we like patterns in waves, and we like patterns in a fire, and we see a flock of birds in the sky and we see a pattern in the overall movement. That's the beauty of the whole system, but it's also the thing that screws up human investigators.'' [More]

We seem to need some myth in our lives.

Even if it's starlings that communicate telepathically or that tax cuts pay for themselves.

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