When I returned home from Montreal, I reevaluated this idea of using of flocks and birds as an example. Then I remembered Jennifer Price's book, “Flight Maps”, an exploration of the ways that Americans view nature (Price). Through the course of her book, she uses birds as a way to track our cultural relationship to landscaping, television, dining, and fashion. From the extinction of the passenger pigeon to “nature at the mall”, Price deftly analyzes our conception of nature as “a place apart” (Price 160). The chapters of her book serve as in-depth case studies that connect these big philosophical questions directly to American life. Like De Landa's “A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History” her book provides portable models for concepts that are quite abstract. In “The Flocking Party” I would use birds as an analogy for both human culture and Gaia's emergent properties in the form of a fictitious story.
I continued to find reasons to use birds. For starters, they have long been a symbol of nature: people are fascinated with the mysteries of flight, eggs, feathers, and flocks. This symbolism would allow me to map my ideas about emergence and evolution onto a representation that people are familiar with. Birds are a powerful example of evolution, especially due to their transformation from dinosaurs into aerial acrobats. All of the different bird species that came form this were a perfect example of what evolution is capable of when a landscape of evolutionary possibilities opens up. But there were other openings. The airwaves were littered with stories about bird intelligence; scientists were rethinking their view of the avian brain, even re-charting its brain anatomy to reveal that it has more in common with our own brains than we thought (Study). Birds are a rich topic.
As I began writing “The Flocking Party”, I realized that I needed
my own, more specific, examples of birds. I had seen the power in presenting
thorough case studies from Price's book. I wanted people to recognize them
in their environment with new perceptions after reading my story. The idea
of doing embedded case studies like Price, appealed to me, because of the historical
corollaries. History is a great way of mapping one event onto another. So I
chose two of the most prominent avian species around us, House Sparrows and
European Starlings. I soon realized that these species brought with them another
dimension of symbolism. Their prominence was not as natural as it appeared.
Despite their ubiquity in North America, they were strangers until 1890 and
1851, respectively, when they were introduced from Europe (Withers). Each species'
population exploded into the millions and they owe much of their success to
Americans and the changes that we've made in our environment. Starlings love
our green lawns. So, I gained an effective twist; my symbol of nature was also
an invasive species.