December 21, 2007 at 8:23 am #26693
note: Both articles below are pretty interesting, One is interpretative, the other is straight biology studies of human behavior. But both give a new perspective on what drives collective behavior. This is a big issue for cultivators – do you harmonize your “internal collective/5 shen/yin-yang chi” or do you harmonize with the external collective – which may be behaving like a mob intelligence that is not in alignment with your inner conscience?
This is a very very very fundamental tension on planet earth amongst humans. I think that freedom is found in shifting the level at which you are “swarming”, or following a collective. Spiritually, this could mean that each of One Cloud’s alchem formulas is a different “swarm” or set of collective energetic flows that you entrain with. If the different “sets of flows” all entrain, great.
But if some level of your life is in disharmony, does it mean you have to let go of that “swarm pattern of disharmony” and bring it to a higher level, or try to move that same disharmonious level into a more harmonious flow?
WISE SWARMING ON EVOLUTION’S EDGE?
Introduction By Tom Atlee
December 20, 2007
At a late November gathering of about two dozen people from August’s Story
Field Conference, we did an experiment in flocking. Gathered in a large
room, all facing the same direction, with rhythmic music playing, we were
instructed to imitate or flow with whomever was immediately in front of us.
We moved as a mass, led by whomever happened to be in front. When we neared
an obstacle, the leader would turn away from it, say to the left, and every
individual in the group would turn as well — and that imitative movement
would leave someone who happened to be on the left side of the group
suddenly the new leader and we would then follow them. I found it
fascinating how simple the instruction was that could generate that level of
The article below is about such “swarm intelligence.” In its descriptions of
ants, scientists speak of “chemical trails” that the ants leave, which
influence the behavior of ants who come after them.
In reading this, however, I realized it would be more useful to call these
“information trails” or “meaning trails”. Framed that way, we can see that
groups of organisms turning toward or away from each other’s trails of
meaning begin to generate collective movements. Not only ants do that.
People do that, spread throughout real society. From teen fads to great
religious and political movements to the “people who bought this book also
bought Book B” algorithms on Amazon to stock market crashes, we have been
turning toward and away from each other’s meaningful messages for millennia,
generating collective behaviors.
The lead scientist in the article suggests that we haven’t evolved long
enough in our groupings to have developed the kind of ant-like instinctive
simple rules and powerful information trails that could make us naturally
more orderly — for example, preventing traffic jams.
But humanity’s special abilities are not primarily found in our instincts
and automaticities. Among our most powerful gifts are our ability to create
our own meanings, as needed; to change them through learning, reflection,
and conversation; and to spread them rapidly through writing, arts, and mass
communications of all kinds. Furthermore, unlike the kind of swarming
behavior described in this article — where participants communicate to each
other only in the simplest forms, if at all — we have the ability to share
complex evolving understandings — to hear each other in depth and to use
our diversity — and our conflicts — creatively to generate new and better
ways to think, feel, and act, individually and collectively.
So our task isn’t to evolve the perfect set of behavioral rules to keep us
all in a particular orderly swarm. Our task is to evolve the capacity to
individually and collectively observe our individual and collective behavior
— in all its details and diversity — and to generate new rules, systems,
stories, tools, and states of consciousness, that can shape our collective
behavior in newly appropriate, productive, and enjoyable ways — over and
over again. Our task, in short, is to become a richly diverse
swarm-that-is-not-a-swarm that is able to consciously evolve itself.
This is a complex challenge and — given the increasing need for certain
changes in our collective behavior — our evolutionary “window of
opportunity” is pretty narrow. But the act of figuring this out will develop
exactly the capacities we need for our next evolutionary leap.
We have so much awareness, so many tools, so many good hearts, competent
hands and articulate voices. Together, we are being prepared for this leap,
which is already underway, even as we try to get our act together….
PS: One of the capacities we need is the collective ability to foresee and
act on the potential dangers of training robots to swarm. (See this near the
end of the article below.)
FROM ANTS TO PEOPLE, AN INSTINCT TO SWARM
By Carl Zimmer
New York Times
November 13, 2007
If you have ever observed ants marching in and out of a nest, you might have
been reminded of a highway buzzing with traffic. To Iain D. Couzin, such a
comparison is a cruel insult — to the ants.
Americans spend 3.7 billion hours a year in congested traffic. But you will
never see ants stuck in gridlock.
Army ants, which Dr. Couzin has spent much time observing in Panama, are
particularly good at moving in swarms. If they have to travel over a
depression in the ground, they erect bridges so that they can proceed as
quickly as possible.
“They build the bridges with their living bodies,” said Dr. Couzin, a
mathematical biologist at Princeton University and the University of Oxford.
“They build them up if they’re required, and they dissolve if they’re not
The reason may be that the ants have had a lot more time to adapt to living
in big groups. “We haven’t evolved in the societies we currently live in,”
Dr. Couzin said.
By studying army ants — as well as birds, fish, locusts and other swarming
animals — Dr. Couzin and his colleagues are starting to discover simple
rules that allow swarms to work so well. Those rules allow thousands of
relatively simple animals to form a collective brain able to make decisions
and move like a single organism.
Deciphering those rules is a big challenge, however, because the behavior of
swarms emerges unpredictably from the actions of thousands or millions of
“No matter how much you look at an individual army ant,” Dr. Couzin said,
“you 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.”
To get a sense of swarms, Dr. Couzin builds computer models of virtual
swarms. Each model contains thousands of individual agents, which he can
program to follow a few simple rules. To decide what those rules ought to
be, he and his colleagues head out to jungles, deserts or oceans to observe
animals in action.
Daniel Grunbaum, a mathematical biologist at the University of Washington,
said his field was suddenly making leaps forward, as math and observation of
nature were joined in the work of Dr. Couzin and others. “In the next 10
years there’s going to be a lot of progress.”
He said Dr. Couzin has been important in fusing the different kinds of
science required to understand animal group behavior. “He’s been a real
leader in bringing a lot of ideas together,” Dr. Grunbaum said. “He has a
larger vision. If it works, that’ll be a big advance.”
In the case of army ants, Dr. Couzin was intrigued by their highways. Army
ants returning to their nest with food travel in a dense column. This
incoming lane is flanked by two lanes of outgoing traffic. A three-lane
highway of army ants can stretch for as far as 150 yards from the ant nest,
comprising hundreds of thousands of insects.
What Dr. Couzin wanted to know was why army ants do not move to and from
their colony in a mad, disorganized scramble. To find out, he built a
computer model based on some basic ant biology. Each simulated ant laid down
a chemical marker that attracted other ants while the marker was still
fresh. Each ant could also sweep the air with its antennas; if it made
contact with another ant, it turned away and slowed down to avoid a
Dr. Couzin analyzed how the ants behaved when he tweaked their behavior. If
the ants turned away too quickly from oncoming insects, they lost the scent
of their trail. If they did not turn fast enough, they ground to a halt and
forced ants behind them to slow down. Dr. Couzin found that a narrow range
of behavior allowed ants to move as a group as quickly as possible.
It turned out that these optimal ants also spontaneously formed highways. If
the ants going in one direction happened to become dense, their chemical
trails attracted more ants headed the same way. This feedback caused the
ants to form a single packed column. The ants going the other direction
turned away from the oncoming traffic and formed flanking lanes.
To test this model, Dr. Couzin and Nigel Franks, an ant expert at the
University of Bristol in England, filmed a trail of army ants in Panama.
Back in England, they went through the film frame by frame, analyzing the
movements of 226 ants. “Everything in the ant world is happening at such a
high tempo it was very difficult to see,” Dr. Couzin said.
Eventually they found that the real ants were moving in the way that Dr.
Couzin had predicted would allow the entire swarm to go as fast as possible.
They also found that the ants behaved differently if they were leaving the
nest or heading back. When two ants encountered each other, the outgoing ant
turned away further than the incoming one. As a result, the ants headed to
the nest end up clustered in a central lane, while the outgoing ants form
two outer lanes. Dr. Couzin has been extending his model for ants to other
animals that move in giant crowds, like fish and birds. And instead of
tracking individual animals himself, he has developed programs to let
computers do the work.
The more Dr. Couzin studies swarm behavior, the more patterns he finds
common to many different species. He is reminded of the laws of physics that
govern liquids. “You look at liquid metal and at water, and you can see
they’re both liquids,” he said. “They have fundamental characteristics in
common. That’s what I was finding with the animal groups — there were
fundamental states they could exist in.”
Just as liquid water can suddenly begin to boil, animal swarms can also
change abruptly thanks to some simple rules.
Dr. Couzin has discovered some of those rules in the ways that locusts begin
to form their devastating swarms. The insects typically crawl around on
their own, but sometimes young locusts come together in huge bands that
march across the land, devouring everything in their path. After developing
wings, they rise into the air as giant clouds made of millions of insects.
“Locusts are known to be around all the time,” Dr. Couzin said. “Why does
the situation suddenly get out of control, and these locusts swarm together
and devastate crops?”
Dr. Couzin traveled to remote areas of Mauritania in Africa to study the
behavior of locust swarms. Back at Oxford, he and his colleagues built a
circular track on which locusts could walk. “We could track the motion of
all these individuals five times a second for eight hours a day,” he said.
The scientists found that when the density of locusts rose beyond a
threshold, the insects suddenly began to move together. Each locust always
tried to align its own movements with any neighbor. When the locusts were
widely spaced, however, this rule did not have much effect on them. Only
when they had enough neighbors did they spontaneously form huge bands.
“We showed that you don’t need to know lots of information about individuals
to predict how the group will behave,” Dr. Couzin said of the locust
findings, which were published June 2006 in Science.
Understanding how animals swarm and why they do are two separate questions,
In some species, animals may swarm so that the entire group enjoys an
evolutionary benefit. All the army ants in a colony, for example, belong to
the same family. So if individuals cooperate, their shared genes associated
with swarming will become more common.
But in the deserts of Utah, Dr. Couzin and his colleagues discovered that
giant swarms may actually be made up of a lot of selfish individuals.
Mormon crickets will sometimes gather by the millions and crawl in bands
stretching more than five miles long. Dr. Couzin and his colleagues ran
experiments to find out what caused them to form bands. They found that the
forces behind cricket swarms are very different from the ones that bring
locusts together. When Mormon crickets cannot find enough salt and protein,
they become cannibals.
“Each cricket itself is a perfectly balanced source of nutrition,” Dr.
Couzin said. “So the crickets, every 17 seconds or so, try to attack other
individuals. If you don’t move, you’re likely to be eaten.”
This collective movement causes the crickets to form vast swarms. “All these
crickets are on a forced march,” Dr. Couzin said. “They’re trying to attack
the crickets who are ahead, and they’re trying to avoid being eaten from
Swarms, regardless of the forces that bring them together, have a remarkable
ability to act like a collective mind. A swarm navigates as a unit, making
decisions about where to go and how to escape predators together.
“There’s a swarm intelligence,” Dr. Couzin said. “You can see how people
thought there was some sort of telekinesis involved.”
What makes this collective decision-making all the more puzzling is that
each individual can behave only based on its own experience. If a shark
lunges into a school of fish, only some of them will see it coming. If a
flock of birds is migrating, only a few experienced individuals may know the
Dr. Couzin and his colleagues have built a model of the flow of information
through swarms. Each individual has to balance two instincts: to stay with
the group and to move in a desired direction. The scientists found that just
a few leaders can guide a swarm effectively. They do not even need to send
any special signals to the animals around them. They create a bias in the
swarm’s movement that steers it in a particular direction.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean you have the right information, though,” Dr.
Couzin pointed out.
Two leaders may try to pull a swarm in opposite directions, and yet the
swarm holds together. In Dr. Couzin’s model, the swarm was able to decide
which leaders to follow.
“As we increased the difference of opinion between the informed individuals,
the group would spontaneously come to a consensus and move in the direction
chosen by the majority,” Dr. Couzin said. “They can make these decisions
without mathematics, without even recognizing each other or knowing that a
decision has been made.”
Dr. Couzin and his colleagues have been finding support for this model in
real groups of animals. They have even found support in studies on mediocre
swarmers — humans.
To study humans, Dr. Couzin teamed up with researchers at the University of
Leeds. They recruited eight people at a time to play a game. Players stood
in the middle of a circle, and along the edge of the circle were 16 cards,
each labeled with a number. The scientists handed each person a slip of
paper and instructed the players to follow the instructions printed on it
while not saying anything to the others. Those rules correspond to the ones
in Dr. Couzin’s models. And just as in his models, each person had no idea
what the others had been instructed to do.
In one version of the experiment, each person was instructed simply to stay
with the group. As Dr. Couzin’s model predicted, they tended to circle
around in a doughnut-shaped flock. In another version, one person was
instructed to head for a particular card at the edge of the circle without
leaving the group. The players quickly formed little swarms with their
leader at the head, moving together to the target.
The scientists then sowed discord by telling two or more people to move to
opposite sides of the circle. The other people had to try to stay with the
group even as leaders tried to pull it apart.
As Dr. Couzin’s model predicted, the human swarm made a quick, unconscious
decision about which way to go. People tended to follow the largest group of
leaders, even if it contained only one additional person.
Dr. Couzin and his colleagues describe the results of these experiments in a
paper to be published in the journal Animal Behavior.
Dr. Couzin is carrying the lessons he has learned from animals to other
kinds of swarms. He is helping Dr. Naomi Leonard, a Princeton engineer, to
program swarming into robots.
“These things are beginning to move around and interact in ways we see in
nature,” he said. Ultimately, flocks of robots might do a better job of
collecting information in dangerous places. “If you knock out some
individual, the algorithm still works. The group still moves normally.” The
rules of the swarm may also apply to the cells inside our bodies. Dr. Couzin
is working with cancer biologists to discover the rules by which cancer
cells work together to build tumors or migrate through tissues. Even brain
cells may follow the same rules for collective behavior seen in locusts or
“One of the really fun things that we’re doing now is understanding how the
type of feedbacks in these groups is like the ones in the brain that allows
humans to make decisions,” Dr. Couzin said. Those decisions are not just
about what to order for lunch, but about basic perception — making sense,
for example, of the flood of signals coming from the eyes. “How does your
brain take this information and come to a collective decision about what
you’re seeing?” Dr. Couzin said. The answer, he suspects, may lie in our
inner swarm.December 21, 2007 at 2:34 pm #26694
The Collective is not a choice, it is not something over there or over here, it is only illusion that created this false belief that we are separate, we our always part of the collective, knowing this much of human made pain and suffering is disolved as we know our Yuan Shen. Humans are both individual and collective, they exist simultaneously, as prenatal and postnatal exist simultaneously, which is in the NOW.
The Five Shen are not five separate influences, they are one, just different aspects of Yuan Shen.
May the natural forces of nature guide us in this Solstice to turn inward to see we are part of the whole, have always been part of the whole and will always be part of the whole, knowing this allows us to live in a spontaneous and dynamic way.
Ba GuaDecember 22, 2007 at 11:38 pm #26696
Often if seems like collective has ‘Head for the cliff lemmings’ MO.
Evident often with retrograde planets – when ‘Heaven’ is indicating a pullback, review, revise etc collective often seems to go against this and push harder. Then, when planet turns direct, ‘Heaven’s’ signal to resume and get moving again, often a crisis occurs because all the extra pushing forward has created a mess which has to undone. I found it perplexing watching and predicting market behaviour, which sometimes seems out of synch with planets, until I realised this. Hence I Ching advise often is to wait. An example was Saturn in Cancer retro a few years back, saying, hey, hold off on big home expansion right now, as this transit is about a deeper inner connection to real security. Result – a real estate and housing boom against the flow. When Saturn turns direct and moves over that ground, oh oh whoops, many problems emerge. Practicing adherence to the Way saves many problems in the longer run but is often a bit uncomfortable when the collective is pressing (swarming) forward, ‘in opposition to fate’ as I Ching says.
RDecember 23, 2007 at 12:11 am #26698
Another example – Uranus in sign is about 7 years of collective awakening, revolution and higher energy potential expressed in that sign. Uranus in Aquarius was internet revolution. Now Uranus in Pisces potential for spiritual connection to cosmic order, dancing with stars, sacred dance and mysteries. Collective, we get ‘Dancing with the Stars’.December 23, 2007 at 1:36 pm #26700
I completely agree with you, the individual and the collective have been and always will be One. The Collective has birthed itself as many “Small Ones”, which each contain the collective within themselves.
Knowing this eases but does not solve for most people the dilemma presented by Individual Free Will. We are free to align with the Collective Will (harmony), and free to move against it (disharmony). Sometimes disharmony creates pain and suffering, other times it leads to a higher level of collective awareness and greater freedom for all as the Collective adjusts to the demands made by individual (small ones).
I feel it is a dynamic process. Being spontaneous in my opinion will not automatically eliminate all pain and suffering, which seem to be ingredients needed to some extend to motivate change. Trusting your “core” or orignal self and living spontaneously eliminates the worst kind of existential pain, but it may bring you into deeper contact with ancestral and collective karmic levels of suffering. There seem to be endless layers to resolve.
Diving deep into the Dark Night of Solsstice,
michaelDecember 24, 2007 at 12:50 pm #26702
I agree with you and thanks for sharing this very insighful and clear understanding.
I offer something to ponder. It seems to me Taoists are about understanding their true nature, the cultivation we do is for us to realize this and it is a process in the sense we have to go from where we are now to being able to realize and live from your core nature or Yuan Shen. It seems to me the key is at some point turning our qi, blood and jing away from life’s things that come and go and focus it on our yuan shen, in doing this we dont identify with the endless comings and goings of material pulls, we dont deny them we just see them for what they are. In realizing and living from our Yuan Shen there is nothing to process as we dont view ancestral or societal influences as our true indentity, it is giving up the attachment to the past in all its dimensions. In my view it is the Tao cultivation methods that allow us to realize and live from this space. If one begins their journey and process from this understanding the alchemical formulas can be more effecient, IMHO.
Thanks for another year of sharing your deep insights, its much appreciated.
Smiling in the Tao,
Ba GuaDecember 24, 2007 at 1:25 pm #26704December 30, 2007 at 8:39 pm #26706
I also agree with you. That is why I introduce the notion of yuan chi in Qigong Fundamentals 1 – so that it is there from the beginning, as the linchpin for yin and yang processes. And why I’ve linked it to the Inner Smile as well. When I studied these basic Tao methods, there was never any mention of yuan chi. I put them in, not because they are needed to learn those practices, but because they will, as you say, improve the learning efficiency when adepts get to the higher formulas.
Wishing you an abundance in the western New Year of what is already abundant but we never seem to allow enough in- Yuan Chi.
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