Harrison Middleton University



We’re excited that you’ve joined the conversation! At HMU, we want to continue the great authors’ conversations in a contemporary context, and this blog will help us do that. We look back to Aristotle and the early philosophers who used reason and discourse to gain wisdom and now we endeavor to do the same every day.


When you watch a flock of birds, do you wonder…how, exactly, are they moving in tandem? There must exist an energy, invisible, but powerful enough to be experienced by more than one being. Music also contains an energy, rhythm, which individuals sense individually. We each, as they say, ‘walk to the beat of our own drum’. So, how could we create a successful community from various minds, hearts, actions and specialties – without needing a leader?

Immanuel Kant claims that observation of the natural world enables us to construct plausible ideas (not proofs) about a Supreme Being. He also says that information gained from things of the sensual, empirical world will never translate into a concrete explanation of a supreme being. The Supreme Being, of course, cannot be sensed.

Yet there are things of the natural world that move us in certain, nearly indefinable ways. Move us beyond ourselves, beyond our senses. People speak of transcendent experiences, but there is no way to quantify or combine these experiences in a reasonable manner. We often internalize beauty and experience structure and it causes great joy or peace or happiness. Why? What is it about that which pleases us that…pleases us?

Two examples come to mind. First: music. Music often accompanies experience and emotion, it can match or enhance our moods. Sometimes it stabilizes a mood. Sometimes we play music which reinforces a particular mood. Or maybe music calms down anxious nerves, relaxes or even gears up the adrenaline. Whatever the intent, there is no doubt that music has a great effect on us. This effect is also highly personal.

A relatively new musical group, A Far Cry Orchestra, is experimenting with the idea of playing orchestral pieces without the aid of a conductor. To what end? Their website claims that they aim to “pass on the spirit of collaboratively-empowered music”. They also consider themselves a leaderless community, one in which responsibilities are shared and rotated. And they are correct, collaboration is empowering…when it works. But the question is an important one. Can leaderless communities function and, more importantly, thrive? Are there appropriate places for these communities, or will they be efficient regardless of application?

There are obvious political repercussions of such an idea. But what about applying the questions raised from the idea of a leaderless community to a transcendental idea such as the creation of the universe. What are we seeing and/or experiencing in nature…and is it indicative of more? While this idea is not entirely new, current technology offers potential growth that never existed before. Email, live chats, and social networks build communities that may enable leaderless communities to thrive. Many questions remain, however. Among them, what is the longevity of a seemingly unorganized (not disorganized) system? And does the experiment actually teach us anything new?

The second example of a leaderless community comes directly from nature: starlings in flight. They rise, turn, dive and change in beautiful waves. Members often alter their placement among the group seamlessly. It seems unfathomable that a large group (sometimes hundreds) can fly in such close proximity, with accuracy, and yet, apparently without a lead. Are they communicating? And if so, how? If we, as in the case of the orchestra, enact an experiment that mimics nature, what does it allow us to study? Do we gain information about ourselves, our world, both? A Supreme Being?

The following video presents a few minutes of a murmuration of starlings. What are they pursuing, and in pursuit, what do they gain: experience, beauty, community, leadership, nothing?

Starling Murmuration (set to Pachelbel’s Canon in D): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eakKfY5aHmY&index=2&list=PL1953C0B05CFD4623

Website for A Far Cry Orchestra: http://www.afarcry.org/

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