paul bourke, associate professor at the university of western australia, scours google earth looking for fractal patterns, or self similarity, in the rivers systems, mountains ranges and deserts of the planet. in nature, self similarity doesn’t exist ad infinitum, as with a mandlebrot set, but branching structures are found across two, three, even four scales. paul invites people to submit their own finds to his site, which links to the pictures shown here on google earth (click pics for the country)
This project is several layers of recursively cool.
Welcome to Infinity
Can you imagine a more perfect thing than Arthur C. Clarke narrating a film about fractals and the Mandelbrot Set, with a soundtrack created by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour?
Featuring interviews with Benoit Mandelbrot and Stephen Hawking?
Because that is a thing that exists. It’s right up there, just press play. Thanks to Open Culture for posting this. Enjoy!
To celebrate, here’s a Mandelbrot Set GIF:
Oh, did you guys hear the joke about Benoit B. Mandelbrot’s middle name?
All three of these fractals were created using a fractal generator. They were inspired by German biologist Ernst Haeckel’s famous biology book Artforms of Nature. In particular, these fractals were based on Haeckel’s artwork Astrophyton darwinium.
These fractals show that mathematics and biology can make a very stunning combination!
If you’re new to the classic illustrations that inspired these, you’re in for a treat. Check the links above.
Bacteriart and Fractal Forms
Eshel Ben-Jacob studies how bacterial communities communicate when faced with a challenge. What odd decisions we would face were we living in these colonies of single-celled foragers:
Larry: The food’s a little scarce over here. It’s getting crowded. Should we turn left? Or branch out forward? I’m not good with directions. Maybe we should ask the group. Or not. All I know is that I’m hungry, and I want to move away from you guys. You’re letting off gross chemicals.
Lisa: There’s some undiscovered country over there, maybe we can branch off of this branch. What’s that? I’m four branches down already? Why is that enormous scientist up there taking a picture of me? And why does he keep saying the word “fractal”?
The intricate patterns created by these microbial colonies are thought to be an emergent property of a brainless system turning simple decisions into very complex ones (which is something that bothers me about Ben-Jacob’s work, since he invokes the idea of “bacterial social intelligence”). They are not designs. they are only results. The key difference? There’s no intelligence involved. Rivers carve the same sort of fractal fingers, and they only obey the rules of gravity and friction.
The science of decisionless decision-making is a fascinating one. Ed Yong covered it marvelously earlier this year in a must-read piece for Wired. Everything from fish schools (eyes on your neighbor) to locust swarms (don’t get bit by your neighbor) to honeybee hives (head-butt your neighbor until they agree with you) create complex behaviors from simple inputs and outputs.
There’s a reason that slime molds, nerve cells and city maps look similar. Simple rules applied at large scales beget complex results.
These microbes might not be that different from the above examples, which makes sense if you stroke your chin and ponder the math behind it all. But they’re certainly more attractive, and for that, they win the day.
Thanks to io9 for the link.
When lightning travels through air, its fractal extensions and plasma-infused tendrils are only present for a fleeting fraction of a second. This makes studying those patterns a bit difficult, obviously.
You could use an expensive high-speed camera to capture the phenomenon at >7,000 frames per second, but there’s a much cheaper method: Pump 15,000 volts through plywood.
That’s what Melanie Hoff did above. Sure, it’s not a perfect recreation of a meteorological event, but the slow creep of fractal zaps makes their patterns, and how they are created, jump out. A lesson in math, or weather? You decide.
(via Open Culture)
I know you love fractals, because we’re friends, and all my friends love fractals. We’ve seen them in nature, in the recursive spindles of branching rivers, but they’re more rare in living things (although our blood vessels follow a certain fractal-like pattern as they spread to capillaries).
That’s why it makes me so happy to see fractals captured in an imaginative art/nature intersection. Silvia Cordedda uses fractal generation software to digitally draw fractal flowers. They are mystically unreal (unfortunately for us) but they remind me of several near-fractals in actual flowers.
That’s right, fractals (or at least near-fractals, because they aren’t infinite) DO exist in nature, and you’ve probably seen them. My favorite flower fractal? Romanesco broccoli (yep, it’s a flower!):
If you can’t choke that down, pour some Vi Hart cheese sauce all over it and check out this video of fractal fractions:
(via My Modern Met)