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Starlings, Humans And "Emergent Order"

Summary:Noah Strycker describes the swarming behavior of starlings in his enjoyable book The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human. Starling flocks produce intricate flight patterns that seem coordinated, but in fact result from each individual starling following a small set of simple rules. This kind of “emergent order” also occurs in human behavior, such as the operation of free economic markets in which individual agents pursue their own self interest. A Murmuration Of StarlingsLarge flocks (“murmurations”) of starlings produce intricate flight patterns, first all moving in one direction and then suddenly moving in another. It is tempting to think there must be a leader or set of leaders as one observes in the “V formations” that geese produce. But Ed Young’s excellent description of swarming behavior in Wired explains that is not the case:

“If a falcon attacks, all the starlings dodge almost instantaneously, even those on the far si…

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