Flocking in humans

Posted on April 5, 2009 by


I might be wrong but I think that the basic foundation of all emergent or spontaneous orders is rule following. Gus refers to a number of articles on rule following behaviour in animals which lead to flocking, swarming, schooling or apparently ‘commanded’ behaviour. Here are a couple more:



However, humans also coordinate their movements by following rules. As David Hume wrote in An Enquity Concerning the Principles of Morals: We may only learn from it the necessity of rules, wherever men have intercourse with each other. They cannot even pass each other on the road without rules. Wagoners, coachmen and postillons have principles, by which they give the way…. That the lighter machine yield to the heavier, and, in machines of the same kind, that the empty yield to the loaded… That those who are going to the capital take place of those coming who are coming from it… among foot-walkers, the right-hand intitles [sic] a man to the wall, and prevents jostling, which peaceable people find very disagreeable and inconvenient.

Humans can follow different rules in different settings. Thus the behaviour of drivers in different traffic environments can be quite different. This is being exploited by new initiatives on driving safety. Although, the articles do not refer to rule following, it seems to me that these initiatives make more sense if we articulate what is happening in that way. This also presents a problem for initiatives in larger areas like London, changes to road layouts will only prompt a change in the rules being followed if it is completely clear that the setting has changed and what the new rules should be. Mere piecemeal road layout changes is not enough.


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