Shapes: Nature's Patterns: A Tapestry in Three Parts

Shapes: Nature's Patterns: A Tapestry in Three Parts

Philip Ball

Language: English

Pages: 320

ISBN: 019960486X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Patterns are everywhere in nature - in the ranks of clouds in the sky, the stripes of an angelfish, the arrangement of petals in flowers. Where does this order and regularity come from? It creates itself. The patterns we see come from self-organization. Whether living or non-living, scientists have found that there is a pattern-forming tendency inherent in the basic structure and processes of nature, so that from a few simple themes, and the repetition of simple rules, endless beautiful variations can arise.

Part of a trilogy of books exploring the science of patterns in nature, acclaimed science writer Philip Ball here looks at how shapes form. From soap bubbles to honeycombs, delicate shell patterns, and even the developing body parts of a complex animal like ourselves, he uncovers patterns in growth and form in all corners of the natural world, explains how these patterns are self-made, and why similar shapes and structures may be found in very different settings, orchestrated by nothing more than simple physical forces. This book will make you look at the world with fresh eyes, seeing order and form even in the places you'd least expect.

Little Did I Know: Excerpts from Memory (Cultural Memory in the Present)

Deleuze and the Diagram: Aesthetic Threads in Visual Organization

Figures of Simplicity: Sensation and Thinking in Kleist and Melville (SUNY series, Intersections: Philosophy and Critical Theory)

Heidegger and the poets: poiesis/sophia/techne (Philosophy and Literary Theory)

Wittgenstein and Aesthetics: Perspectives and Debates

The Ideology of the Aesthetic














did it seem very satisfactory to suppose that Aulonia hexagona has been equipped by natural selection with a kind of hexagonal-mesh-making machinery that includes instructions to insert precisely twelve pentagons. The problem is, rather, how an individual organism, possessed of the faculty for condensing a mineral out of the dissolved ingredients in sea water, can arrange that hard material into such an organized pattern. 52 j NATURE’S PATTERNS: SHAPES Fig. 2.12: Richard Buckminster Fuller

directions. But at the surface there is a net ‘downwards’ tug that tends to smooth away ‘bumps’ in the surface. area as small as it can be. A volume of liquid suspended in free space, like a water droplet in mist, will take on the form of a sphere because this is the shape with the smallest surface area. It amounts to the same thing to say that surface tension pulls the droplet into a spherical shape: surface tension and the energetic cost of a surface are equivalent expressions of the same

surprising that such shapes in these artificial cell-like bodies, which give them a superficial appearance of amoeboid life, can arise simply from the physical forces that determine form. Bilayer sheets are agitated by little ripples, a consequence of the random motions that heat induces in molecules. In a stack of bilayer sheets, called a lamellar phase, these fluctuations can make adjacent sheets touch and fuse, rather as if they were two soap films, opening up channels 84 j NATURE’S PATTERNS:

the fox population rises while the rabbits decline. Within a certain range of value of the relative rates of the three steps in the process, the system undergoes regular oscillations in the numbers of both foxes and rabbits, with the fox population peaking almost perfectly out of step with the rabbits (Fig. 3.3). This is precisely the scheme that Lotka used to show how sustained chemical oscillations might occur. He replaced rabbits and foxes with chemical compounds; for example, suppose that a

they detect and follow a concentration gradient. Like ink seeping into blotting paper, the chemo-attractant released by a bacterium gets more diffuse the further away it travels, and so one bacterium can find its way to another by following the upward slope in concentration, using thrashing whip-like appendages to propel itself. This chemically stimulated movement is called chemotaxis. Bacteria are not the only cells to employ chemotaxis. Our own cells communicate this way too, which is how they

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