Birds of a feather flock together, without knowing anything about the mathematics of pattern formation.
Or maybe they do. Who knows what goes on in bird brains? A more interesting question, though, is not whether birds understand the math behind their flocking but whether physicists do.
Physicists have long sought formulas to describe the flying patterns of bird flocks. A flock in flight offers a spectacular example of collective biological behavior: Dozens or hundreds of birds assemble into a blob that flies off as a unit in a specific direction. Physicists would like to see if they can describe such behavior with the same math that describes flocks of atoms and molecules.
That math, known as statistical mechanics, successfully quantifies the large-scale behavior of tiny molecules interacting among themselves. Individual gas molecules fly around in all sorts of directions and speeds that statistical math can average in a way that allows precise knowled