It is not only the scientific literature that documents the unexpected “doughnut” pattern in swarms. Italo Calvino’s fictional Mr. Palomar observed (rather more lyrically) about the flocking of Roman starlings, “Finally a form emerges from the confused flutter of wings, advances, condenses: it is a circular shape, like a sphere, a bubble, the balloon-speech of someone who is thinking of a sky full of birds … ” (Mr. Palomar, 1985, Harcourt Brace).

J. Pound
Worcester, Mass.

The article argues that reaching a consensus for movement is more complicated in humans than in animals, requiring “fancy cognitive skills.” However, in an airport or on a busy sidewalk, simple rules linked to crowd density and speed of walking may emerge to influence behavior in a rather mindless way.

Tim Schallert
Austin, Texas

Since it is a hallmark of most humans not to stick out from their crowd, a surprisingly large number of behaviors and thought processes in people are defined no differently than they are in the fish school. This includes religion, music and movie taste, fashion, and choosing to love or hate some group or individual.

Barry P. Skeist
Waverly, N.Y.

From the Nature Index

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