I was watching an ants’ nest that had been disturbed in my garden during our most recent renovation activity. The ants were scurrying around seemingly at random, running here and there without apparent purpose, until I realised that there was indeed a very methodical method in their running. To me, the ants are identical, but I guess to ants, humans are identical. I couldn’t recognise individuals but I could recognise patterns of movement that emerged as I took the time to watch what happened.
There were obvious patterns and tasks that were allocated to specific individuals. You’ve probably read about the information that bees pass on to each other about locations of food sources through their dances. Well, information of some sort was being passed around the ants with resultant changes to their behaviour when an obstacle was put in their way.
That got me to thinking about how that relates to human behaviour. We like to think we are all individual with our own choices, and independent behavour patterns, but we are also swarm animals. Whenever we are together in big groups, you can see that behaviour emerging. Just watch behaviour patterns at airports when there are flight delays or cancellations. Watch the crowd at a sports match. On occasion, and for the sheer fun of it, I’ve stood in a busy area and looked up a the top of a building, or the sky, and waited to see how many people look up too. It’s quite funny! Once one person looks up, another will do so and on and on until most people glance up just to see what everyone else is looking at.
The same kind of reaction can be generated by businesses looking to sell things. If you can get people to think that everyone else is buying the product, then the swarm behaviour kicks in. Just think of the January sales!!
Swarms also have impacts greater than the efforts of the individuals involved. If you can’t solve a problem on your own, and you ask a group of people for help, other people’s different approaches to the problem can help all of you solve the problem. That’s called collective intelligence and nature uses it frequently. So do the armed forces and rescue services.
I love that we just have to look at what is happening in nature to see what happens in human experience. We like to think that we are superior beings but we march to the same tune as everything else!! We can express ourselves perhaps in more diverse ways, but really we are all related to everything else and that is a fact we should never forget.