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Communications Science

How Bird Flocks Resemble Liquid Helium 40

sciencehabit (1205606) writes "A flock of starlings flies as one, a spectacular display in which each bird flits about as if in a well-choreographed dance. Everyone seems to know exactly when and where to turn. Now, for the first time, researchers have measured how that knowledge moves through the flock—a behavior that mirrors certain quantum phenomena of liquid helium. Some of the more interesting findings: Tracking data showed that the message for a flock to turn started from a handful of birds and swept through the flock at a constant speed between 20 and 40 meters per second. That means that for a group of 400 birds, it takes just a little more than a half-second for the whole flock to turn."
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How Bird Flocks Resemble Liquid Helium

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  • by Artifakt ( 700173 ) on Monday July 28, 2014 @03:52AM (#47548069)

    One factor not mentioned in the summary, is that bad computer models for flocking can still generate what looks like realistic flocking behavior. The herd dinos in Jurrassic Park are an example of this - the animation formula assumed each dino was instantaniously aware of all the rest, without allowing time for their nervous systems to work, but the flocking motions still looked right to most people, including professionals. People should remember too, humans probably have some pretty good mechanisms built into their brains for analyzing flocking, so that our ancestors, going at least as far back as the ape-like ones, could successfully hunt birds in flocks, and we collectively and historically certainly have had a lot of practice at that. We, as a species, ought to have some skill at detecting what constitutes real flocking behavior, but if we do, it doesn't always make a bad formula look jarring or wrong. So when somebody claims they have a real formula for what's going on when birds and such flock, the next question is "Can this claim even be proven or disproven?"

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