Whispering, Murmuring, Swarming, Pulsating Wonder

English: The flock of starlings acting as a sw...

a murmuration of starlings

At the heart of the universe is a steady, insistent beat: the sound of cycles in sync. It pervades nature at every scale from the nucleus to the cosmos…thousands of fireflies congregate in the mangroves and flash in unison, without any leader or cue from the environment. Trillions of electrons march in lockstep in a superconductor, enabling electricity to flow…In the solar system, gravitational synchrony can eject huge boulders out of the asteroid belt and towards Earth…Even our bodies are symphonies of rhythm, kept alive by the relentless, coordinated firing of thousands of pacemaker cells in our hearts.  In every case, these feats of synchrony occur spontaneously, almost as if nature had an eerie yearning for order. (1)

Synchrony is a spontaneous tendency towards united order and it is the most pervasive drive in all of nature.  As a phenomenon, it occurs right across the board – from inanimate objects to complex organisms like human beings.

We wring our hands in despair when we see the difficulties around us in the world, positive that we can never learn to work – or even live – together in unity.

And yet metronomes, starlings, pacemaker cells and schools of fish can spontaneously work together with ease.


If this is a natural condition, then why do we, sophisticated as we are, have such huge difficulty accessing it?

If we increased our powers of empathy and extended our understanding of love would that increase the ‘harmony’ between us?

Are we somehow getting in our own way?

And if so, how exactly are we doing this?

This is an amazing – and totally beautiful – video.  Enjoy.


(1) Steven Strogatz, Sync.

Gender Neutrality

In 1993, the constitution of India was amended to stipulate that one third of positions as village chief were to be reserved for women. These positions were randomly allocated. The results were not always as positive as one might hope – often even the women complained about the female leaders.  However, there was one very significant outcome – follow-up research suggests that once a village has had one female leader the bias against female chiefs disappears and their candidacy and actions are judged by gender neutral standards. (1)

The same would seem to be true in Ireland – having had two consecutive female presidents – both of whom did a marvellous job – the electorate has moved into a very gender neutral place and we now have a male president. The expectation is that he will bring to the job many of the same characteristics of care, community development, human rights protection etc., that Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese made the trademark of their presidencies.  Michael D. Higgins was elected because he is who he is – nothing to do with his gender – and this is due at least in part to us being used to female presidents in Ireland.

If gender neutrality is achieved in political and public life by simply adding women (properly) to the mix – what other emergent advantages might equality – gender and racial and social – bring to all our societies?

Photograph – 11th November 2011 – Inauguration of President Michael D Higgins at Dublin Castle. (The former Presidents Robinson and McAleese, are dressed in red)

(1) Nick Kristoff and Sheryl Woo Dunn, Half the Sky pp 217-18


Sacrifice is defined as:
An act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy: e.g. ‘we must all be prepared to make sacrifices.’ (1)

Sacrifice is an old fashioned idea.  We associate it with punitive self-deprivation. It is a concept associated with misery and joylessness. However, the truth is that sacrifice is a natural phenomenon.  We can’t really have anything unless we are willing to sacrifice something else.

If you plant a seed in the ground, a tree will become manifest from that seed. The seed sacrifices itself to the tree that will come from it. The seed is outwardly lost, destroyed; but the same seed which is sacrificed will be absorbed and embodied in the tree, its blossoms, fruit and branches. (2)

There can be no change without sacrifice, therefore, sacrifice is an agent of change.



Photograph – Sunflower – U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier: 412-DA-2097.  Photographer: Reaves, Bill, 1934-
Persistent URL: arcweb.archives.gov/arc/action/ExternalIdSearch?id=544590

(1) Online Oxford Dictionary

(2) ‘Abdu’l-Bahá – Promulgation of Universal Peace p. 470

Trees as Metaphors

 If we are struggling to understand a concept we often find it useful to compare one thing with another.  I think this tree metaphor is very useful for understanding all sorts of mysteries about growth and change.

As trees and other plants mature over time, new structures appear.  Developments may be obvious, as when flowers or other reproductive structures first appear, or more subtle, like the maturing of xylem or phloem.

BUT – this does not necessarily mean that earlier structures disappear.  Indeed they often spread up and out with the branches or down into the ground with the roots…The structures that appear when a tree is a tiny seedling are still present in a huge tree – at the very tips of the branches and roots. (1)

 See the full description of tree growth here – (1)http://trees.tennessee.edu/concepts.html


Related articles

Better Together.

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel - painted by Michelangelo - and his assistants.

Countless studies prove that human beings are social beings.  We function better and are happiest when we have relationships with others.  Family, friends, work colleagues, neighbours – we belong to all of these networks – and more – and within each we create emergent outcomes that are more than the sum of their parts.

Many of our most valuable achievements, from breakthrough scientific endeavours like the discovery of DNA by Watson and Crick, to majestic art like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, are the product of more than one person.  Even when an individual has a marvellous idea or makes a remarkable discovery, it is generally the case that this can best be developed and enhanced in co-operation with other interested parties.

So it is clear that we (potentially) work well together.  But there may be more to it than that.  Regardless of how much we may complain about others, on both an informal and formal level human beings tend to congregate.  We do this instinctively whether in village or towns or cities, guilds, unions or clubs.  Almost in spite of ourselves we band together – not always for the common good – but nevertheless together. And even in the midst of awful human behaviour, such as war, we are most effective (for good and evil) when we work as collaborative, co-operative units.

Our need for human contact is probably most simply demonstrated by our universal acceptance that solitary confinement – the deprivation of human contact – is universally seen as the harshest of punishments. And yet, notwithstanding all of that, most of our problems – personal and social – also spring from this area of life – social interaction.

The situation, therefore is this – we want to live together (mostly), we definitely need to live together, we tend to live together – the question is if we know how to happily live together?  Surely it’s in all our interests to try to learn?