Action at a distance – Starling clouds – they look almost like a crazy sci-fi monster or a rippling wave. Easy to believe we work alone, we sail our own path, we are free traders…

In a 2010 study, they showed that changes in the velocity of any one bird affected the velocity of all other birds in a flock, regardless of the distance between them…

In the new study, the researchers looked not at velocity but at orientation, measuring how a change in direction by one bird affected others.

Rather than affecting every other flock member, orientation changes caused only a bird’s seven closest neighbors to alter their flight. That number stayed consistent regardless of flock density, making the equations “topological” rather than critical in nature.

“The orientations are not at a critical point,” said Giardina. Even without criticality, however, changes rippled quickly through flocks — from one starling to seven neighbors, each of which affected seven more neighbors, and so on.

It looks so joyful – so connected. Perhaps there are ways we can find ourselves, and lose ourselves, when we realise we too travel in flocks?

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