I just finished reading the book Emergence by Steven Johnson. It is a work of popular science that gives concrete examples of how small, unsophisticated systems can produce very complicated and adaptive larger systems. Mr. Johnson writes about how many people believe that swarm insects, like bees and ants, work in a top-down structure where the queen orders around her massive armies to attain group goals but that just the opposite is true. Ants are deeply independent, performing whatever duties they see fit. They make their decisions based on the stimuli they come across totally independent of any other ants decision. But because they all respond to stimuli in the same way a large system develops where all the needs are met.
This is an excellent argument for evolution, it shows us how seemingly too-complicated-to-randomly-emerge could actually emerge. Scientists have used the same ideas to create computer systems that can evolve new programs and to explain the bizarrely competent behavior of slim molds coalescing in harsh environments.
Its an interesting way to have certain quandaries re-freamed. It gives a mechanism for the complicated behavior of bird flocks and schools of fish that seemingly act in unison. Could it describe human behaviors as well? Mr. Johnson supposed that neighborhoods develop this way, one merchant moving to where similar merchants are. Once established these neighborhoods seem to perpetuate themselves by continuing to be attractive to individual merchants. Could this be how certain cities develop their own flavors? Myself, making individual choices, moved to the Finger Lakes in NY because the people living here, creating the culture, were more like me than the rural Pennsylvanian town I moved from. If lots of people make decisions like this than this area will continue to become like the people it attracts.
What other kinds of human behaviors could this explain?