Collective Animal Behavior

By David J. T. Sumpter | Go to book overview

— Chapter 1 —
Introduction

Some scientists invest an entire career in the study of organisms of a single species, others in understanding particular types of cells or in determining the role of a certain gene. The elements of each level of biological organization can take more than a lifetime to understand. How then can we put all this information together? Understand how genes interact to drive the cell, how cells interact to form organisms, and how organisms interact to form groups and societies? These questions are fundamental to the scientific endeavor: how do we use our understanding of one level of organization to inform us about the level above?

Linking different levels of organization involves the study of collective phenomena: phenomena in which repeated interactions among many individuals produce patterns on a scale larger than themselves. Collective phenomena are within us and all around us: the clustering of cells to build our bodies, the firing of neurons in our brains, flocks of birds twisting above our heads, and the pulsating mass of bodies surrounding us on a Saturday night dance floor. Understanding these phenomena is an important part of the fields of developmental biology, neuroscience, behavioral ecology, and sociology, to name just a few. Even researchers studying the most intricate details of the components of a particular system are acutely aware of the need to understand how these components fit together to create a whole system.

The study of collective phenomena is founded on the idea that a set of techniques can be applied to understand systems at many different physical scales. This idea originated from mathematics, theoretical physics, and chemistry. Books by Wiener (1948), Ashby (1947), von Bertalanffy (1968) and Nicolis & Prigogine (1977) all aimed at providing a framework for the study of collective phenomena. Von Bertalanffy argued for the existence of general growth laws of social entities as diverse as manufacturing companies, urbanization, and Napoleon’s empire. Wiener argued that homeostasis, a stable functioning of natural systems, could be achieved through simple feedback loops. Nicolis and Prigogine aimed to

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Collective Animal Behavior
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Chapter 1 - Introduction 1
  • Chapter 2 - Coming Together 14
  • Chapter 3 - Information Transfer 44
  • Chapter 4 - Making Decisions 77
  • Chapter 5 - Moving Together 101
  • Chapter 6 - Synchronization 130
  • Chapter 7 - Structures 151
  • Chapter 8 - Regulation 173
  • Chapter 9 - Complicated Interactions 198
  • Chapter 10 - The Evolution of Co-Operâtion 223
  • Chapter 11 - Conclusions 253
  • References 259
  • Index 293
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