Friday, November 16, 2007

The instinct to swarm

Groups of social animals whose individual members follow simple sets of rules do surprising things. This NY Times article by Carl Zimmer in the Nov. 13 science section quotes Ian Couzin, a mathematical biologist at Princeton: “No matter how much you look at an individual army will never get a sense that when you put 1.5 million of them together, they form these bridges and columns. You just cannot know that.” The article notes the simple models that predict swarming behavior by setting the population density that which individuals switch from going their own way to following others. It also describes experiments using human subjects to test Couzin's models.

Many take our brains to be a more massive and complex version of the "hive minds" displayed by groups of bees, ants, birds and fish. Brain modelers assign relatively simple properties to their model neurons and then watch amazing patterns emerge when their whole society of neurons is fired up to interact.


  1. Anonymous12:36 AM

    Hi Deric! Have you read Global Brain by Howard Bloom?


  2. I did try to get into his book soon after it was published, but gave up after awhile. He had original ideas and gave off lots of sparks, but also was very chaotic, disorganized, and often dead wrong in his science.

  3. Anonymous8:37 AM

    Thanks a lot for the reply. He's actually a friend of mine and if you have any issue with his science, would like to contact him about it? To clarify something or let him know what you picked up on? I could give you his email address if you'd like.

    On another note, I really am enjoying your blog. Glad I came across it.