Think of yourself, aloft.
To the front and back of you,
to the left and right of you, are bodies, all moving at the
same tremendous rate, just over arm’s length apart.
But The Laff Box, that machine of the much-maligned laugh-track, and it’s inventor, Charles Douglass, are distinctly modern–
Suddenly, you sense a shift.
You feel the body to your left pull that way and you oblige, and then,the body beneath you moves into your space, so you follow suit, signaling the body above you, and so it goes.
You are a starling,
and your movements, commonly called murmurations, can only be described accurately as–
In the past few years,
researchers have started to study murmurations,
and how they may be an entry into the as-yet-unknown
relationship between biology and very strict mathematical concepts in physics.
More specifically, something researchers call ‘scale free correlations.’
In essence, the movements of the birds do not rely on the either the size or the intensity of the flock,
something which may be non-obvious to the casual viewer. In layman’s terms, it doesn’t matter whether
the starling flock is 100 birds –
– or even if the birds are next to each other or separated by 300 feet, the actions between the birds will always be a constant, like some kind of invisible magic power.
Even more mysterious is that this behavior is
less similar to other biological functions, like honeybee communication,
and closer to a physics concept known as criticality.
Criticality concerns critical shifts
in the dynamics of systems from one state to another –
prime examples include crystals forming, or magnetic attraction.
The transmission of such shifts are termed ‘low noise’ events, which means very little degradation of the signal, and a near instantaneous transmission of that signal.
In the words of one research paper, “the group respond[s] as one” and “cannot be divided into independent subparts.”
Additionally, further computational modeling analysis concluded that each individual starling probably communicates with its up-to-seven closest neighbors, in a lightning quick game of telephone that is optimal for murmuration formation.
The calculation of starling reaction time was under 100 milliseconds.
What and how these messages are conveyed is still anyone’s guess –with some theories more outrageous than others.
The work still to be done may just unlock another door
that brings the entire natural universe a little closer together.