“More than the sum of its parts” is practically the slogan of systems thinking. One canonical example is a beehive: individually, a honeybee is not that clever, but together they can function like shapeshifting metamaterials or mesh networks — some of humankind’s most sophisticated innovations. Emergent collective behavior is common in the insect world — and not just among superstar collaborators like bees, ants, and termites. One firefly, alone, blinks randomly; together, fireflies effect an awe-inspiring synchrony in large, coordinated light shows scientists are only starting to explain. It turns out that diversity is key, even in a swarm; variety improves the “computations” that these swarms perform as they adapt to their surroundings. Watch them self-organize for long enough and you might ask, “Is this what people do? What hidden patterns and emergent genius do we all participate in unawares?” If bees and fireflies inspire that kind of question in you, you’ll find yourself at home in this week’s episode…
Welcome to COMPLEXITY, the official podcast of the Santa Fe Institute. I’m your host, Michael Garfield, and every other week we’ll bring you with us for far-ranging conversations with our worldwide network of rigorous researchers developing new frameworks to explain the deepest mysteries of the universe.
In this conversation, we talk to SFI External Professor Orit Peleg (Google Scholar, Twitter) at the University of Colorado Boulder’s BioFrontiers Institute and Computer Science Department about her research into the collective behavior of bees and fireflies. These humble insects can, together, do amazing things — and what science shows about just how they do it points to deeper insights on the nature of noise, creativity, and life in our complex world.
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Podcast theme music by Mitch Mignano.
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