Bird watching

Being in the seventh floor, I not only get a bird’s eye view of the landscape but also the pleasure of watching the birds flapping and floating in the air. You must have seen cohort of birds moving uniformly in the air, it was one such sight except the birds decided to move in loops. I was surprised on how these little things could start from a point, travel a little far, chose a turning point and return to the point where they started, for it definitely requires coordination with each other.

Instead of watching the flock I concentrated on a single bird and there was a bigger surprise in store. The bird I watched, had no clue about the flock and it was just flying around and around in a  random direction, even after the flock has returned to the starting point. I gave it the benefit of doubt and classified it as an exception and moved to another. Voila.. All the birds I singled out were in random motion but if you watch them as a unit it appeared like a uniform motion.

That uniform motion is just an illusion caused by the fact that we cannot distinguish individual birds. Contrary to what I assumed the birds never maintain that relative distance from them since each one travels at a different speed and direction. But it appears to be uniform, because in a flock when a bird gets forward, its spot is taken by the one behind and our eyes don’t detect this unless you pay attention to individual birds. So as long as the proportion of birds joining the flock is equivalent to the birds leaving it, for us mortals – the count in the flock remains the same. As individuals they are just carrying out a random motion. But as a collective unit they are well behaved and get around in an admirable uniform motion. Another point to note is, there is no leader bird to guide striving to maintain this uniformness. Every bird is as bad as the other, but as a group they are good.

Now I compare this with the buzz words of today .. Collective intelligence/Wisdom of the crowds..!! There is even  a branch of computer algorithms which try to mimic such herd behaviors and accomplish  useful tasks. Where does intelligence/wisdom emerge from these group of illiterate individuals.? Can we compare our neurons to that of birds  and our actions and thoughts to that motion of the flock?

A little more contemplation on it, I felt like our life is one long chain of random events which doesn’t make sense at any instant but if you look back at the chain you can always make out sense even if it isn’t originally there.


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