There are a few places in the world where these unique fireflies can be found, including the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee.
A question researchers had was “why do they light up at the same time?” The hypothesis was that there was some master bug that was somehow commanding the others to blink in unison. One imagined viscious attacks of the master bugs on asynchronous outcasts, producing successive generations where mindless obedience was bred into the system.
Honestly, researchers did posit some kind of centralized control for these insects.
But then they found out what is really happening. It turns out the flashing of a firefly is controlled by an internal clock. Most species of firefly flash to their own rhythm and don’t take cues from their neighbors. But Photinus carolinus fireflies will adjust their internal clock in response to their neighbors. Let’s call it photoluminescent empathy.
This empathy causes a firefly that hasn’t yet lit up to see another’s light and say “let me speed up my next cycle a bit to be like them.” My daughter had found a website where you could turn on this “empathy” and watch the screen as dozens of animated fireflies slowly blinked into synchronicity, based on the math of the natural phenomenon.
The animation was set up so you could click and move your mouse to cause a photonic disturbance in the unity. So we spent some time “messing up” the unified blinking, only to relax and watch as the virtual fireflies slowly returned to their soothing unison pattern.
Those who accept Christ’s baptism and strive to honor that commitment are like these special fireflies. They look to the faithful around them and yearn to be one. It isn’t because of central mind control from Salt Lake City or harsh sanctions against the slackers, but because one sees another doing good and is inspired to try a little harder oneself.
It made me reflect on a couple of events of the past, recent and non-so-recent. As we would click to disrupt the unison flashing, I thought of high-profile disruptions that have spun away segments of those who were previously one with the Saints. Like wounds in the beauty of the unity, however, our click and drag disruptions would heal. And in similar manner I see the disruptions in our own unified body healing.
Alas, my quinquagenarian google-fu isn’t leading me to the fun animation I enjoyed with my daughter last night. If any of you know where to find the synchronous firefly animation, please share.
And in the mean time, I will look to my brothers and sisters and try to be more like the good I see in them.