In other sun-drenched shallows on reefs in In- donesia and the Philippines, I was able to observe a further interesting phenomenon among numerous mall shoaling fishes: at regular intervals, one of the tiny fish bodies in the shoal would flash in order to attract my gaze. Seconds later, another would do the same, and then another, so that my gaze was dis- turbed at intervals of a few seconds by the reflected light. Each of the “flashers” achieved this by posi- tioning its silvery gray body at a particular angle be- tween the illuminated surface of the water and my- self in order to reflect the sunlight into my eyes for a tiny fraction of a second—the shoal had spotted me and reacted. After these experiences, if not before, I began to feel great respect for the mysterious power that so reliably unites these simple creatures into a “com- plex organism.” A shoal is more than the sum of its parts: there is also a control mechanism, the “great whole.” Nevertheless, it is, so far, impossible for the observer to figure out how this control mechanism functions. Who thinks and who steers? The mech- anisms that lie at the root of such shoaling behavior are not yet fully understood, but hey are being intensively researched, and it is hoped that what is discovered may have relevance for
the development of artificial intelligence—a “hot
topic” in technology development, especially in the
field of nano-science.
This intangible “certain something” fascinates
researchers, and some of them see general parallels
between schooling and shoaling behaviors and the
workings of the human brain: each individual brain
cell is “stupid” by itself, and it is only in combination that our brain cells are able to exhibit what we
Evolution has repeatedly led to clustering behaviors in certain groups of animals, reinventing it time
and time again because of the inestimable benefits
ithey offer. A shoal is not, is the result of survival
skills evolved over millions of years. Thus numerous
fish species, like many birds and insects, often move
around in groups, to form huge aggregations of individuals that behave in synchrony—sometimes for all
their lives, in other cases only as juveniles or under
special circumstances. The phenomenon of schooling, shoaling, flocking, and herd-forming behavior
runs through the animal kingdom like a red thread.
And it appears that even humans are not entirely
immune. Take, for instance, our tendency to follow trends. Once an idea becomes established as a
trend—in music, fashion, or many other areas of daily life—people jump on the bandwagon, sometimes
millions all over the world. Perhaps Tweeting is just
human shoaling behavior.