Access: TED Talks
Summary: In this TED talk, Nicolas Perony shows how animal groups have many interacting parts that follow simple individual rules to make up complex societies. He works through examples of dogs humorously moving synchronously, the social network dynamics of bat colonies, and how subordinate and dominant meerkats interact to successfully navigate risky physical space (see also this NYT video on "elephant empathy"). His talk first illustrates an important feature of society: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. By working together, individual animals maintain stable social structures that meet the needs of the community and can help a species’ adaptability to their environment. The animals are highly dependent on one another for survival, and often adopt distinct behaviors that enable them to contribute to the whole. The second point is cautionary and comes at the very end of the video. When Perony concludes his presentation, the host joins him on stage and asks him: “Is it okay to do these associations [between animals and humans]? Are there stereotypes … that can be valid across all species?” Perony deftly responds that “there are also counter-examples to these stereotypes. For example, in the seahorses and koalas, these are males that take care of the young—always. The lesson is that it’s often difficult and sometimes dangerous to draw parallels between humans and animals.” Viewers might be urged to consider why such parallels are dangerous. For example, these arguments are often evoked to justify inequalities (e.g. that males dominate women within society, or with the pseudo-science of eugenics), although such parallels have also been used to legitimate equality and social solidarity in human societies (see Wilkinson and Pickett’s The Spirit Level, especially chapter 14).
Submitted By: Paul Dean