The Daily Insider: Why most herd animals – Sapiens included – tend to stay in crowds

In his excellent book Beyond Order, Jordan Peterson shares a story from polymath Robert Sapolsky, a Stanford professor of biology, neurology and neurosurgery. It explains why most herd animals – Sapiens included – tend to stay in crowds. And why someone like Rob Hersov is such an exception.

Sapolsky and his team were struggling to differentiate individual wildebeest whose behaviour they were studying. Someone had the bright idea to drive up to the herd in their Jeep and dab a red spot on the haunches of one animal. “Guess what happened?” Peterson writes. Time and again predators killed the differentiated animal.

He explains: “Lions cannot easily bring a single wildebeest down unless they can identify it. They cannot hunt a blur of indistinguishable herd animals. They would rather dine on a healthy wildebeest than one that is tiny, old, or ill. But they must be able to identify their prey.”

Moral of the story, he adds: “Make yourself colourful, stand out and the lions will take you down. And the lions are always there.” For humans too. Which is why we should celebrate the Hersovs, Nick Hudsons, Herman Mashabas and others prepared to stick their necks out. For it is these outliers who keep our species moving forward.

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