CitizenCue t1_ixg57x4 wrote

What exactly is so surprising here? And what seems to be so unique to sheep rather than simply to herds in general, or even just crowds of any species?

The article’s comparison to formal transfers of political leadership in human societies is obviously a silly strawman. A better comparison would be to how crowds of people navigate obstacles or problems.

Have you ever gone on a hike with a large group through rough terrain? Or tried to walk through a concert crowd with your group of friends? Or done an escape room?

Exactly these sorts of transfers of leadership happen seamlessly all the time. Sometimes they’re articulated like “Hey guys I found a way through over here!” and other times they’re accomplished silently as the group notices who’s making quicker progress and gravitates their way.

The people/sheep closest to the current “leader” follow them until that leader’s progress slows, then as they realize the leader is struggling, their body language reflects backward through the group and other members begin looking around for alternatives. Then when someone else finds a new solution, they strike out towards it and the people/sheep nearest them notice the breakthrough and follow accordingly. That body language reflects back through the group until even the previous leader joins in the new direction.

This sounds simply like natural crowd dynamics. Is there something I’m missing about how the sheep do it uniquely?