Swarm Intelligence | Celebrate What's Right With the World
Swarm Intelligence
by Eric Alan
April 14, 2018 - 11:49am

I celebrate that aloneness is illusion. In the course of my life, I have often felt alone in the face of an array of challenges, whether challenged by issues in my personal world or by the wild ways of a troubled world. Yet whatever I am currently challenged by, I soon remember that others are also facing it, or will, or have. Mostly our troubles are so common that they’re more anonymous than unique. If anyone’s been truly alone in human history, it’s that one person who has never felt alone. Aloneness is as inherent as breath. 

I’ve often had the accompanying illusion that I have to solve my problems alone. But haven’t you shared that feeling too? Again, there’s the wisdom of our collective experience to be found;  and when I open up to others about my challenges, more often than not I find that their outpouring of empathy and support is deep. Their insights give me direction as well as comfort. 

Yes, I am often too small and not wise enough to solve my troubles alone. Still, the simple wordless wisdom of nature shows me how unnecessary it is to be individually wise. Collective wisdom can rise out of our togetherness in ways that are truly miraculous.

For instance, those who study ants have discovered that individual ants are really, really stupid. Left to themselves, they’re even more clueless than I am. Yet somehow, when ants interact with other ants, highly intelligent colonies develop. They have complex social structures; remarkable architecture; very effective ways of living together. The same goes for how birds and fish organize into flocks and schools; for how termites create homes that rival the intricacy of our palaces. The miracles of swarm intelligence are now being studied for applications in our human lives and in our artificially intelligent machines.

What I celebrate about swarm intelligence is that no leader is required. In fact, having no leader turns out to be vitally important. Swarm intelligence develops out of decentralized simple decisions made in proximity to neighbors. With birds and fish, it’s merely deciding how and when to swim or fly next in this moment of this day. With us, that applies too. It’s how we treat the person next to us on the street, with a smile or a helping hand. It’s compassion to a friend or a stranger, in a simple moment of listening. It’s sharing a meal with someone who needs it. 

That’s all swarm intelligence needs to be to have an effect everywhere. Perhaps that’s why the old human adage applies, that when the people lead, the leaders will follow. Via simple, small healthy decisions with the few closest ones around us, we can birth huge movements of change, healing, growth, insight. We can indeed create a better world, without needing to carry much of its weight ourselves. 

I think of that and feel comforted by it, while watching sandpipers zipper the ocean shore with their beaks. They’re doing nothing but looking for bugs to eat, yet in the process they’re creating mesmerizing forms of beauty of which they’re not even aware. I realize that at any moment we too may be creating beauty together in ways we cannot notice. And I know that we too are never creating that beauty alone. 

Brenda Tharpon April 21, 2018 - 11:58am

Wonderful words and thoughts, Eric. Thank you for sharing your insights and celebration!

Barbara Kinbackon April 22, 2018 - 6:24am

What thoughtful and uplifting words!  I grew up as an “only child” who was adopted by parents that were in their mid forties and as I grew up in this loving family I became very independent, especially from my teens on when their health began to fail and it became my responsibility to do more and more to help. I was always taught to be strong and found it was “easier” to do things myself.  Over the years I have learned that reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness and can be a good thing.  Having that support, that helping hand not only gets you through but allows the person helping you to ask for help when they have a need.  You said it beautifully when you stated we are creating beauty together and are not alone.

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