This is the third of a three-part exploration of the BBC documentary series The Code.
Part 1Part 2 – Part 3

This episode went beyond the other two, which focused primarily on the types of simple repeatable experiments du Sautoy showed at the start of the episode, with the metal ball. As life is more complex and as systems are never “closed” in the real world, this was an interesting extension of the seemingly irrefutable information discussed in Numbers and Shapes.

As I say, the natural world is more chaotic and therefore less predictable than simple individual equations can express. The trajectory of a ball or the movements of planets move in simpler systems than elements of our local environment. I was reminded of the difficulty in creating “perfect snowflakes” discussed in the previous episode. There are simply too many influences at play at any one time for things to be simple to predict – but that doesn’t change the fact underlying principles can be extrapolated from these imperfect individual examples. All are unique, all are moved by the wide range of factors at play in the wider environment – in the Force.

I was absolutely staggered that starling murmuration can be reduced to three basic rules, as shown in the programme. I’ve spent a lot of time watching starlings, both individually and flocking. I find them beautiful birds, intelligent and complex beyond other birds of their diminutive size. I’ve spent many evenings watching a flock murmurate (is that the word?) over Brighton’s dilapidated Old Pier. The way a starling flock moves feels very “Force-like” to me. I once thought that the shapes and “identity” the flock creates is most like my conception of a God – a God of this flock of starlings, perhaps. The many express something single, individual and more powerful than the single starlings which can easily be taken by predators. To see such a clear replication of this most mysterious flowing, fluid movement on a computer obeying only three simple rules was food for thought.

Another interesting and related idea was that we could learn how to better process crowd flow from more efficient creatures – ants and shoals of fish. We have much to learn from other creatures and the length of time evolution has worked to specialise means we’d be foolish to disregard something just because we’re snobbish in thinking humans are “above” other animals. All are creatures in the Force, all must live with the same sorts of conditions, the same environment. Anyone who has seen a shoal of fish can surely recognise even their small fish brains have a better understanding of mass transit than humans

The programme went on to speak of the apparent “rules” of human behaviour, patterns and tendencies which enable even the supposedly “free” choices of humans to be predicted to some extent, be that to win a game of rock paper scissors or to trap and capture a serial killer. We can surely all relate to that experience of ploughing familiar furrows, and behaving in somewhat repetitive, and therefore predictably patterned, ways.

I’ve spoken at length in my journal about my beliefs around cause and effect, that I think we are simply incapable of comprehending enough data to make meaningful predictions and we characterise this as “freedom”. The implied freedom of free will is essentially a random element. If I’m not choosing from a basis of evaluative, comparative or environmental factors, I’m simply choosing willy nilly. The programme had some fascinating insight into this, under the umbrella of Chaos.

When systems are so complex we can’t easily perceive patterns, we call them random. But they may just be massively complex, such as the examples of lemming populations or the weather. We understand the fundamental underlying principles underpinning both of these systems, but we’re unable to make meaningful predictions because even slight variation causes huge implications to the eventual outcome.

The Jedi Code contains the line “Chaos, yet harmony”. I believe this is a perfect embodiment of the wisdom around Chaos du Sautoy presents in The Code. We must make peace with the fact we don’t or can’t know everything, that things may seem chaotic. We must accept that we will always be surprised. We’re in the midst of the most complex system imaginable, the Force. We must use our discretion and focus on what we can meaningfully comprehend, still accepting there will always be something out there which can surprise us. This is why openness and flexibility are to be prioritised over rigid knowledge and certainty; we can’t know it all, so we’re best placed when we’re equipped to tackle whatever comes. “Ignorance, yet knowledge”.

A mind-blowing part of this episode was the section on the “Wisdom of the Crowd”. That the figure of jelly beans was just four off the mark was simply mind-boggling. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the ideas of collective intelligence, that a group of people should, in theory, be more intelligent than an average individual. But seeing it realised in quite such stark terms was a real surprise. The fact companies such as Google can use these huge samples of data to make predictions about the world shows that as a species, we are becoming more aware of these underlying patterns.

A lot of people are afraid of companies like Google and the range of data they have access to, but I feel this kind of technology is one way in which we are moving closer together, unifying as a species. Google is free. We can all benefit from the search service it provides, and a wide range of other free products it offers, things like Google Maps for example. It is making the world a smaller and more comprehensible place. As Jedi we believe all is one. If we can come together as a species to produce technology that allows us to make increasingly accurate predictions of the world around us, and if we can make as much data available to as many people as possible (in a format they can actually make sense of and use), I believe we’re moving in the right direction.

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