RE: Coordinated behavior among birds, fish, and insects

From: Vincent Campbell (
Date: Mon Aug 20 2001 - 13:20:52 BST

  • Next message: Vincent Campbell: "RE: Gene-Meme Co-evolution in Reverse?"

    Received: by id PAA23707 (8.6.9/5.3[ref] for from; Tue, 21 Aug 2001 15:41:17 +0100
    Message-ID: <>
    From: Vincent Campbell <>
    To: "''" <>
    Subject: RE: Coordinated behavior among birds, fish, and insects
    Date: Mon, 20 Aug 2001 13:20:52 +0100
    X-Mailer: Internet Mail Service (5.5.2650.21)
    Content-Type: text/plain; charset="iso-8859-1"
    X-Filter-Info: UoS MailScan 0.1 [D 1]
    Precedence: bulk

            <The planets are not performing Keplerian calculations as they sweep
    > the sky, and neither are birds in a flock. If they had to do the
    > stupendously complex math involved, their brains would blot out the sky.>
            The planets are responding to this very interesting new force you
    might not have heard of called gravity.

            <The naturalist Edmund Selous has studied flocking behavior in
    dunlins. He
    > found that one or two birds located somewhere in the flock would initiate
    > a
    > change in direction, and this change would then radiate through the flock.
    > He tested their reaction time in a laboratory and found it to be at 38
    > milliseconds. But the change in direction of a flock radiates from bird
    > to
    > bird at 15 milliseconds, more than twice as fast as their reaction time.
    > Also, the 38 millisecond reaction is always arbitrary, unlike the
    > precisely
    > coordinated behavior of the flock.>
            Reference please. Differences in measured reaction time is not a
    problem for the basic point that birds that flock are capable of applying
    simple mathematical rules in order to prevent the birds bumping into each
    other. I don't know how reaction time were tested, but we know, for
    example, that motor racing drivers have faster than average reaction times
    than ordinary drivers. Is it not possible that a bird's reaction times in
    flight are faster when in a flock than when flying alone, and that the
    direction of movement is relatively arbitary when flying solo, and not when
    in a flock.

            <As schools of fish demonstrate, there's no individual in charge of
    > group. The fish in the front of the school might seem to be leading it
    > until the whole school makes a sharp left turn, and suddenly the "leaders"
    > are the fish who happened to be on that side. When a predator arrives on
    > the scene, the school will sometimes engage in a "flash expansion," which
    > looks kind of like a bomb going off. The fish dart away from the predator
    > in as little as .02 seconds. Yet they never collide. They behave as a
    > single organism whose parts are coordinated.>
            First, I bet there are occasions when fish collide. Never is a
    dangerous word to use in science. Second, again, the same basic rule of
    thumb applies for fish as for birds. There isn't necessarily a "leader" in
    a flock of birds either. Look at a herd of Wildebeast on the plains, when a
    lion starts a charge they all wheel off in generally the same direction- the
    ones that gety eaten are those that either can't keep up, run the wrong way,
    or fall over. The fact is these things are not perfect, flocks of birds,
    shoals of fish, herds of animals, crowds of people, roads full of traffic-
    they all demonstrate patterns in their movements, but those patterns are not
    perfect- some birds lose their flocks (especially on long migratory
    flights), some fish lose their shoals, some Wlidebeast go the wrong way,
    some people get trampled in crowds, some cars crash.

            <This group-mind effect is revealed in the arch-building behavior of
    > termites. Researchers commonly observe termites building columns, and if
    > one column is close enough to another, then the termites, at a certain
    > height, will begin building the columns together into an arch. Though the
    > termites are blind, and none of them are running back and forth between
    > the
    > columns to measure the difference in their locations, the two columns
    > always
    > meet up perfectly. It was assumed that the termites use their sense of
    > smell to guide the columns together, but when Eugene Marais stuck a steel
    > plate between two columns, he found that they still matched perfectly.
    > Marais also discovered that all the coordinated activities of the termites
    > are somehow facilitated by their queen. Even if the queen is isolated
    > from
    > the workers in a compartment, when the queen is killed, all work instantly
    > stops.>
            Wouldn't all social insects disperse on the death of the central
    queen? Reference please.

            <Phenomena such as this can only be explained according to the field

            I don't see why. You're not seeing the trees for the wood, seeing
    immense complexity that "must" be the product of something more than the sum
    of its parts, when it categorically doesn't need to be. Does MR apply to
    the tree line?

            <Sheldrake has never suggested that traffic jams are caused by
    morphic fields
    > (though morphic resonance with past drivers might cause a progressive
    > improvement in our ability to drive safely).>
            Might or should? Either this theory applies universally or not at
    all, it can't apply to just those things you want it to.

            Apologies for the intensity of this discussion, it's not personal on
    my behalf, I'm just enjoying the intellectual fencing.

            I have a feeling that the problems of MR are related to the problems
    of memetics, that some have suggested, namely- why have the theory at all?
    What does it add that isn't covered by other well established, and
    empirically supported theories? Etc. This discussion is a good work-out for
    those kinds of arguments.


    The University of Stirling is a university established in Scotland by
    charter at Stirling, FK9 4LA.  Privileged/Confidential Information may
    be contained in this message.  If you are not the addressee indicated
    in this message (or responsible for delivery of the message to such
    person), you may not disclose, copy or deliver this message to anyone
    and any action taken or omitted to be taken in reliance on it, is
    prohibited and may be unlawful.  In such case, you should destroy this
    message and kindly notify the sender by reply email.  Please advise
    immediately if you or your employer do not consent to Internet email
    for messages of this kind.  Opinions, conclusions and other
    information in this message that do not relate to the official
    business of the University of Stirling shall be understood as neither
    given nor endorsed by it.

    =============================================================== This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing) see:

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Tue Aug 21 2001 - 15:55:09 BST