To model a flock of birds or a school of fish: The real thing?

**Note: This is an updated post from 2012…

One of the most beautiful and awe-worthy show in nature is to observe a school of fish or a flock of birds, with their exquisite coordination between all its members that make the many individuals look like an organism in its own right. This is an example of an emergent property (I recently —Dec 2017— attended a meeting at the Santa Fe Institute, the world’s “place to be” for complexity theory; more in that in an upcoming post).

Scientists are very good at modeling this behavior with mathematics; these models look pretty good indeed. This, as with absolutely any information that science may give us, has the potential of offering insights with practical applications.

As interesting as these models are (and I truly believe that they ARE interesting), there is a little, very low voice in the back of my head that asks “…this is good, but, is it the real thing? How close is the model to the true reality of the flocking phenomenon?” In other words, these models describe very well what the collective behavior looks like, but, what is going on I am individual bird’s brain?

In my mind, it is a little bit like watching an actor in a movie. In a sense, the film (and more recently an electronic version of an image) is an analog or digital model that shows how the actors move, talk, etc., with a high degree of fidelity and yet… It is not the real thing. What’s in the actor’s mind?

In a related note, and as an example of my immaturity (I have the humor of a six year old), the other day as I was driving to work my overactive mind thought of the following:

If the multiple (and infinite) universes theory is correct, there is an infinite number of universes in which a certain flock of birds collectively decides to poop at the exact same time, preferably over someone I do not like…

See? The mind of a six year old…

(:-)

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