Lately I am fascinated by a phenomenon of nature: the instantaneous motion of birds in a murmuration. The flock moves in concert, creating ever-shifting shapes across the sky. These twists and turns are thought to be communal fear reactions to escape a nearby predator—an avian “circling of the wagons.” When one bird moves, so do its closest neighbors in a reaction time under a tenth of a second. The connected flock is “a system poised on the brink, capable of near-instantaneous transformation, like an avalanche or a ballet.” (Dawna Markova & Angie McArthur in Collaborative Intelligence)
And I wonder: Do human beings react this way? Do we express our communal fear, anger, horror in a kind of murmuration? We seem to jump from one fear or outrage to another, provoked by news reports and online posts. Our social media responses travel near the speed of light and tend to cluster—rather like a flocking behavior. “Look over HERE! NO, look over THERE!” We swoop nervously through clouds of uncertainty, trying to make sense of information which may have serious consequences. We are continually on edge in these edgy times.
We humans feel our solitude deeply. We float on this planet, shifting with currents of change. We gather together, drift off on our own, and gather again. In the experience of profound emotions, we seek out other people to calm and center ourselves within the safety of a larger community. These human murmurations allow us to move forward together, profoundly connected and no longer alone—better able to cope with whatever difficulties lie ahead.
Murmuration, 16″ x 12″ (oil, cold wax, pastels on wood panel