Feature Article - June 2020
by Do-While Jones

Buffaloes, Birds, Bass, and Bees

Despite not sharing a close common ancestor, all know how to move in harmony.

Many animals move rapidly in large groups (herds, flocks, schools, swarms) without bumping into each other, so it may seem like it isn’t hard to do. But, if you have ever tried to write software that simulates troop movements for war games (or tried to leave a stadium quickly after a football game) you might appreciate how hard it was to program 300 drones to fly in close formation at Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl LI half-time show in 2017. 1 To better appreciate the problem, you can find videos on-line describing the technology that was necessary. 2 You no doubt have seen flocks of birds, schools of fish, swarms of insects, or even stampeding animals change directions in unison so quickly as to make any marching band envious. It looks so easy to do—but it isn’t.

Collision Avoidance

Because flying without colliding isn’t easy to do, it was the topic of two articles in the journal Science last month. The editors introduced the subject this way:

Evolutionary pressures in the animal kingdom have, over the course of several hundred million years, produced a diverse array of creatures highly adapted to survival within their own niche environments. Such adaptations coincide with optimized and efficient materials, body structure, and behavior. Humans have long drawn inspiration from nature in the creation of new technologies—for example, the earliest attempts at flight based on emulation of birds—and many benefits stem from the study of processes, materials, methods, and organizational structures of living organisms. On page 634 of this issue, Nakata et al. exemplify the bioinspired design methodology through their investigation of the sound- and airflow-sensing capabilities of the southern house mosquito  Culex quinquefasciatus and subsequent creation of a small quad-copter drone with an autonomous collision avoidance system based on the same sensing principles. The sensor displays compelling advantages in weight, power, and deployability over existing technology. 3

If the editors had said, “God created a diverse array of creatures … ,” that statement would have been pure speculation which could have been dismissed without a second thought. Instead, they said, “evolutionary pressures” did it, which is equally speculative, but undeniably true.

Seriously, evolutionists believe these diverse creatures don’t have a close common ancestor. They have assigned mammals, birds, fish, and insects to four different classes. If evolutionary pressures gave them the ability to move rapidly in synchronism, it either had to evolve at least four different times, or it evolved in the animal kingdom before these classes evolved from a higher phylum. If this capability evolved at the base of the evolutionary tree, and it is clearly advantageous, why don’t all animals have this capability? Why don’t humans (as highly evolved as we are) have it?

Scientists have long watched flocks of birds and schools of fish instantly change directions in unison with no apparent leader, and have been amazed at how they do it. If one individual changes direction suddenly, it should take some time for the individuals closest to him to notice the change and turn the same way. Then the next closest individuals would have to change direction to avoid a collision. There would be a visible wave of motion in the school of fish or flock of birds as the change of direction propagates throughout the group. But no wave motion has been observed. The change of direction seems to happen instantaneously.

The Red Light Problem

For years (probably even decades or centuries) scientists have pondered this problem. You have no doubt experienced it when you were stopped at a traffic light behind several other cars. The first car moved, then shortly thereafter the next car moved, and the next, until you can finally go. Wouldn’t it be great if every car was signaled at once, and all started moving at the same time?

But wait! All the cars ahead of you can see the light turn green at the same time. So, why don’t all drivers step on the gas at the same time and start moving simultaneously? Theoretically, they could. But it just doesn’t work that way in real traffic.

It does work in a real swarm of mosquitoes. Why? How do all the mosquitoes know when to turn the wheel or step on the gas? There isn’t any traffic light for them to see, signaling them to start at the same time.

Mental Telepathy

It is possible that mosquitoes have Extrasensory Perception (ESP)—but that possibility is too incredible to be taken seriously because of our human arrogance. I don’t believe in ESP, but just because we can’t read other people’s minds, we should not think it is inconceivable that mosquitoes can.

Imagine you have a friend who was born without a sense of smell. You go to a house where an apple pie has just been baked. As soon as you open the door, you say, “Somebody baked an apple pie!” There’s no way your friend could understand how you know that. The pie didn’t make a sound. The pie wasn’t in sight. How could you possibly know an apple pie had been baked?

Why does a housefly take off as soon as it sees the fly swatter in my hand? It could not have learned the effects of being swatted first-hand. Nor could it have been warned of the danger by a fly that had been swatted. Once swatted, the fly takes the secret with it to the grave. Perhaps it learned by watching other flies get swatted. Even so, learning by observation requires a significant amount of mental ability. Why assume that behavior just evolved?

The point is that it is good to be curious about things we don’t understand, and not to be so quick to dismiss alternative answers without proper consideration. We should not blindly stick with unfounded speculation about evolution.

Active Avoidance

Let’s get back to the mosquitoes. The editors summarize the article by saying,

The work of Nakata et al. showcases a simple, reliable, and passive technique for avoiding obstacles at close range, inspired by hearing in mosquitoes. 4

The editors were wrong. It is an active, not passive, technique. Vision, hearing, and smell are passive techniques because they passively detect signals they did not produce themselves. Radar and sonar are active techniques because they actively produce the signals that are detected. Since the mosquitoes hear the reflection of the sound made by their own wings, it is an active, not passive, sensing technique.

Unlike the article editors, the article authors recognized the difference. In the authors’ own words,

Some flying animals use active sensing to perceive and avoid obstacles. Nocturnal mosquitoes exhibit a behavioral response to divert away from surfaces when vision is unavailable, indicating a short-range, mechano-sensory collision-avoidance mechanism. We suggest that this behavior is mediated by perceiving modulations of their self-induced airflow patterns as they enter a ground or wall effect. We used computational fluid dynamics simulations of low-altitude and near-wall flights based on in vivo high-speed kinematic measurements to quantify changes in the self-generated pressure and velocity cues at the sensitive mechanosensory antennae. We validated the principle that encoding aerodynamic information can enable collision avoidance by developing a quadcopter with a sensory system inspired by the mosquito. Such low-power sensing systems have major potential for future use in safer rotorcraft control systems. 5

Computer Models

They used fluid dynamic simulations to determine how pressure waves change when they get close to walls (as opposed to in the open air). Unlike the models which predict global temperatures decades in advance, and predicted COVID-19 death tolls which are quoted so often on TV, fluid dynamic simulations have been tested and verified many times. Fluid dynamic models aren’t just numbers produced by a computer to advance a political agenda. You can trust verified models.

The models show that there is a big enough difference that mosquitoes might be able to hear the difference between the sound of their own wings when they are out in the open, and the sound of their own wings echoing off a nearby surface.

We took inspiration from such neurophysiological evidence and postulated a sensory mechanism for C. quinquefasciatus [mosquitoes] that can explain recent behavioral experiments showing that mosquitoes avoid surfaces invisible to their compound eyes. The absence of visual cues indicates that another source of close-range information exists, and we hypothesized that these alternative cues are manifest within interactions between the fluid and antennae or hair structures. Specifically, we propose that mosquitoes can detect changes to their self-induced flow patterns caused by the proximal physical environment. These changes to the downwash flow patterns initially generated by the flapping wings arise as the jets of air impinge on the obstacle’s surface. 6

Their conclusion is that mosquito wings cause vibrations in the air. Those self-induced vibrations bounce off stationary objects and are detected by sensitive mechanosensory antennae and processed by a collision avoidance algorithm.

They didn’t just depend on models. They actually built a drone based on what they learned from observation of mosquitoes and fluid dynamic models. They confirmed their hypothesis with an experiment. They did real science!

Nakata’s team was actually working on a simple version of the collision avoidance problem. They were just trying to figure out how a single mosquito avoids running into a stationary object. That’s a lot easier than trying to figure out how many mosquitoes avoid colliding with many other moving mosquitoes simultaneously. You have to learn how to crawl before learning how to walk (or fly, in this case).

Engineering Imitates Nature

They suggest the same technique can be used to keep a single drone from running into stationary things. That’s not new. Human design is often inspired by nature.

This study of mosquitoes reveals a complex solution to a difficult problem; but there is no proof the solution was discovered accidentally through random mutations and natural selection.

As impressive as their work is, we must remind you that their solution to the one-on-one collision avoidance problem pales in comparison to the many-on-many problem (necessary to create an American flag formation of drones in the sky) that has already been solved by intelligent engineers. The half-time display drones flew in formation on purpose with the same goal. Schools of fish swim in unison with some goal in mind; and that goal is not simply to avoid bumping into each other.

The larger problem still remains. How do herds of buffaloes, flocks of birds, schools of fish, or swarms of bees move together with a common goal and no discernable leader? The evolutionists’ answer is, “It is an ability that evolved naturally.” That’s merely an assertion without any factual basis. It isn’t a scientific fact. They just accept the notion that it happened by accident because they aren’t open to any other explanation.

Almost Pure Science

Nakata’s team observed collision avoidance in mosquitoes. They hypothesized that the mosquitoes could hear echoes of their wings off a nearby surface. They used a model to verify the plausibility of their hypothesis. They did an experiment to confirm their hypothesis. They didn’t mention the word “evolution” anywhere in their paper. That’s real science.

The editors of the journal Science (who don’t know the difference between active and passive) introduced the article by attributing collision avoidance to “evolutionary pressure.” That isn’t true, and it isn’t science.

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1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Bowl_LI#Halftime_show
2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mk7TsDNuhs0, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQlg6i4IdjU, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-NWKttIh14
3 John Young, Matthew Garratt, Science, 08 May 2020, “Drones become even more insect-like”, pp. 586-587, https://science.sciencemag.org/content/368/6491/586
4 ibid.
5 Toshiyuki Nakata, et al., Science, 08 May 2020, “Aerodynamic imaging by mosquitoes inspires a surface detector for autonomous flying vehicles”, pp. 634-637, https://science.sciencemag.org/content/368/6491/634?intcmp=trendmd-sci
6 ibid.