Nature in sync

What are the secrets behind the apparent synchronicity we find in nature? Watch these two videos. The first one talks about the weird phenomenon that happened at the opening of the London Millenium bridge in June 2000.

Any theories or explanations? Are the people consciously correcting their gaits to align with the bridge vibrations? Is consciousness necessary to synchronize? To put it in even more stronger terms, do you need to be alive in order to synchronize? Watch the following video.

Do you see any similarity in the lateral motion of the metronomes and the people on the bridge? Kroor has also posted about some aspects of natural synchrony in his blog. The case of the fireflies glowing in harmony was particularly interesting to me. While I was looking for a video on that, I found this wonderful TED talk by Steven Strogatz where he encapsulates all these ideas with a greater perspective (with obvious impacts on the way this post finally turned out or maybe it’s just a massive case of hindsight bias!). In the end it is all about simple systems following simple rules.



  1. The ‘living–non-living’ division is unnecessary.

    Some of us asked RamRam what conditions in general are needed for synchrony, actually. What he said is that pretty much any two systems with some coupling will synchronise. Narasimha asked if there are any general conditions for systems to not synchronise. There doesn’t seem to be any answer to that.

  2. Lord Rayleigh had talked about synchronization in organ pipes in his seminal monograph. There is a nice review of the phenomenon here.

    According to Strogatz the system need follow only some simple rules. (1) Be aware of the neighbours (ensure some mode of communication). (2) Be lined up (if there is no directionality whatever alignment one gains is lost over time or space, think magnetism) and (3) Be attracted to each other (this ensures overall stability of the system). I imagine this like the attractive force that becomes repelling as you get closer thereby ensuring an optimum distance of separation which is true for birds and fish.

  3. Organ-pipes are connected at the bottom, are they?

    This is pretty much what RamRam said in his talk too. This isn’t necessary/sufficient, or even precise, though. I don’t know if there could be necessity/sufficiency conditions for synchrony. But then I don’t know anything about synchrony in the first place.

  4. I was thinking about one of the comments made in the video. It could well be the same reason people end up rocking boats which then topple.

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