[lit-ideas] Re: The continuation of Realpolitik -- a rant

  • From: Robert Paul <rpaul@xxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sat, 24 May 2008 14:47:21 -0700

Mike Geary wrote

Well, in that regard, sheep too just follow the ass in front of them. But they don't do the bidding of dogs or wolves. Apparently most flocking / herding animals (humans?) just follow the one in front which results in the wonderful "braiding flights of birds"

I think it is a bit more complicated than that. Flocking birds and schooling fish don't move in single file, natürlich, or else they wouldn't form flocks or schools, nor would there be the 'wonderful braiding flights of birds.' Think of starlings suddenly rising up in great clouds, or of chimney swifts returning their resting place at night. Each bird must do more than follow the one in front of it: they move in three dimensions, and are somehow aware of this, aware of their positions relative to each other continuously, through swerves and swoops and dives. It's much more than beak to ass.

In 1987 Craig Reynolds began to create computer models of this behaviour, in which entities he called 'boids,' do the maneuvering. Here's a link to his initial paper. It might be of interest.


I don't know any of this off the top of my head: my colleague, Mark Bedau, has been studying artificial life (not artificial intelligence), of which the boids project is a part, for some time, and it was from him I first heard of it. Mark is a nice guy.


When it comes to herding sheep, it seems to my untrained eye that the movement of the herded flock begins at the periphery, and that the sheeps' nervousness (or prudence) is transmitted to the rest of the flock from there. Different breeds of dogs have different herding styles, something having to do with 'straight eye' vs. 'loose eye.' I had a good link to this but I can't find it just now. But Borders approach things differently from Bouviers, e.g.

If you want to know the real truth about dogs and sheep, though, here's a smuggled tape.


Robert Paul
School of Fish and Hard Knocks
Mutton College
Sheepskin, Nebraska

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