Hummingbird Effect


I have mentioned the Butterfly Effect in several posts. Made popular by the movie of the same name. I suspect the theory itself is popular because it can be described in one simple sentence. A butterfly flaps its wings in Mongolia and it sets in motion a wind that develops into a hurricane in Florida.

Really?
I mean, I’ve liked the concept of undiscovered connectiveness. But is it true? Is it verifiable? Have we placed radioactive ions under butterfly wings, then logged them as a brisk breeze in China, downright windy in Kansas, and then a named storm off of Florida? Or is it just a clever concept to make a connective point. A cascading connective point.
It was coined by Edward Lorenz (from chaos theory), for the example of small causes that make huge changes, that are completely random and undiscoverable.
No ions from butterfly wings.
So, while the common theory is that there is a direct line of change, the actual theory states that the path is random and unknowable.
Thanks, Edward Lorenz. A useful thought!
Then along comes Steven Johnson, a writer of science. He brings us the “Hummingbird Effect”. Not so simply stated, (or misstated), that describes the “co-evolutionary dance between a flower and an insect. Both have survival needs. One needs to eat, the other needs to reproduce. A symbiotic relationship develops.
The insect collects the nectar, and makes dozens of trips to various flowers. The flower produces pollen which collects on the insects body, which is then brought to dozens of flowers in order to pollinate.
Who is the thinking individual in this scenario? The insect does have a nervous system in order to control its movement. Is it aware that collecting nectar comes at a price? “Carry pollen and you get to eat!”
The flower doesn’t appear to have the same sort of nervous system. It has developed colors that attract more insects. It has created a inviting platform for insects to visit. It has created nectar to keep insects coming back for more. That’s a lot of thought. Thought at the highest level.
While this does propose the “chicken or the egg” dilemma, there is no doubt that the two species are in an interesting dance. The flower does not need color or nectar. It needs to reproduce and it can’t move to go find a mate.
The insect can’t stick an appendage in the earth to draw nutrition. It needs to hunt and gather. So where does it go? It develops the ability to see colors and some sort of insect smell. It has movement and the senses draw them to food. The food sustains them so they can reproduce.
Haha, the basic need to join the “circle of life”.
So where does the “hummingbird effect” come in? This is when another species enters, and innovates, based upon an already established relationship.
A common bird gets wind of the nectar and the flower. Perhaps there is a few years of just dive bombing the flowers, randomly collecting the droplets of nectar. Then, another few decades of slowing their flight with beating wings. It would have been so much better if the landing pad developed for insects were strong enough to support their weight.
Finally the bird develops the ability to rotate their wings in order to stay in one spot.
Indeed, they develop the ability to hover and fly backwards. The only bird in the world that can do that. Of course, their beak and tongue changes as well. If innovation is rewarded with success, then everything changes.
The “hummingbird effect”, innovation that is traceable, not random.
Thank you Steven Johnson, a much more useful theory.