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Archive for May 6th, 2018

Watching the murmurations of starlings is a fascinating and hypnotic thing to see, indeed.  Murmuration is the word for the starling flock and for the intricate dance in the sky performed by these huge groups of birds which often number in the tens of thousands.

The murmurations move gracefully and quickly, creating constantly shifting forms that seem derived from some higher levels of geometry and quantum mechanics than my simple mind can comprehend. I get the feeling when I watch them that I am seeing some essential base element of our universe made visible.

We have never really fully understood the hows and whys of these complex movements. Researchers have found that these displays are almost always set off by a predator such as a falcon near the edge of the group. The group responds as a single unit without an actual leader in order to avoid and distance the group as a whole from the predator.

Researchers believe that this done with something called scale-free correlation which allows birds at any point in the group to instantaneously sense and react to what any other bird in the group, no matter how far away, might be experiencing. Any information moves through the group instantly and without any degradation of the message. It’s like an incredibly complex version of the telephone game. With people passing a simple message along in this game, the message is often garbled beyond recognition within a relatively short time. Here the message is passed tens of thousands of times without missing a word, a comma or inflection.

How they do it remains a mystery. Maybe that’s why they remain so fascinating, to remind us that we still know so little of the grand scheme of things.

For this Sunday morning music here’s a piece, On Reflection, from contemporary composer Max Richter. It is accompanied here by a video of the murmurations of starlings. The music and the flowing motions of the birds create a hypnotic and soothing effect. Give a listen and relax. Maybe you can imagine being part of that murmuration.

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