Sunday, September 06, 2015

Let's walk a few steps together

I saw this man waiting near the postbox near my home.  He was looking for someone.  He was getting ready to walk.  As another man came near him, they both started walking.

A very common event, that we come across almost everyday.  We walk together with others.  I wonder at the ability of our brains to do something as simple as walking together.

Walking, by itself demands a lot of coordination between the brain and the limbs.  That's out of scope for this blog.  Other than that, a lot of processing goes on in our brains to walk together.  The first one is to identify the other as someone related.  Note that we don't attempt to walk together with total strangers.  This is followed by continuously adjusting the pace of walking.  The brains of both the walkers continue to go through this process.

Do animals exhibit this capability?  Dogs do, probably due to their long association with humans.  With other animals, this is a rarity.  A herd walking together isn't the same as two individuals walking.  For a herd,  the direction and the pace is controlled by an external agent.  It could be a shepherd herding them together or a predator chasing them.  If a member is left out, the herd doesn't usually wait for the left out animal. Elephants could be an exception in this case.  Elephants exhibit a social behavior similar to humans.

Simulating walking-together on robots could be an interesting problem to solve.  That would be just a simulation.  For humans, it is involuntary.  The simple social skill is hardwired in the brain.

Hindu myths give importance to this social skill

  • Savithri refers it to Yama when Yama takes away her husband.
  • In Mahabharata, Yudishtra takes a dog as his friend as the dog walked with him.
  • Hindu marriages treat walking together for seven steps as a lifelong friendship and companionship.  At the time of marriage, the couple take seven steps and say:

"By these seven steps you have taken with me, you have become my best friend. I will never move out of this relationship. God has united us in this bondage. We shall perform all activities together with love and affection and with good feelings. Let us be friendly in our thoughts. Let us observe our duties and rituals together. If you are the lyrics, I am the music. If you are the music I am the lyrics. If I am the heavenly body You are the earthly world. While I am the life source and you are the carrier of the same. I am the thoughts and you are the speech. When you are like the words, you work with me who is like the meaning of it. With your sweet words, come with me to lead a prosperous life begetting our progeny with children."

Closing this write-up with a beautiful scene from the movie Gandhi.