Tag Archives: fractals

Recurring patterns

Picture of the earth's tectonic platesWhen I was at primary school I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who noticed the way some of the continents kind of fitted together, like a (rather ratty) jigsaw puzzle. Some scientists did, too. As early as 1912,  Alfred Wegener proposed all the continents were once joined together. (Although I’ll bet he wasn’t the first to notice the patterns) But he couldn’t explain how they could have drifted apart. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that scientists mapped the sea floor, found spreading, and were able to explain how the continental drift worked. These days, it’s known as plate tectonics and it’s accepted fact.

So what do you think of these?

picture of a whirlpool, a cyclone, Jupiter's red spot, a galaxy

From left to right, a whirlpool in a pond, a cyclone, Jupiter’s great red spot, and a galaxy. In particular, the similarity between the cyclone and the galaxy is compelling.

Picture of a galaxy in Pavo

Galaxy

picture of a cyclone

Cyclone

And now you see why I think some day down the track, scientists will prove that the Universe is fractal. Nature is frugal. She re-uses patterns that work. I talked about this in my earlier post about dark matter, dark energy and fractals.

And now I’ll get back to writing the next Morgan’s Misfits adventure. Thank you for your time.

Dark energy, dark matter and fractals – Cosmology according to Greta

butterfly

This guy could be causing snow in Scotland

I’m not a scientist, folks. This is mainly because I suck at maths. I’m good at logic, though. You have to be if you want to be a half reasonable computer programmer. And along with that, I’m curious. As a kid I looked at the stars and wondered, I looked at animals and plants and wondered, I looked at history and wondered… So I read books and magazines and found out about the night sky, constellations, the moon and planets. Ultimately, I started reading about Cosmology. Where did the universe come from and all that stuff. Those subjects are not easy, either from a science/maths point of view, or from a philosophical, get-your-head-around-it point of view. Take the Big Bang theory. We have to ‘believe’ that 13.5 billion years ago, everything was nothing, until it exploded, and there’s plenty of measurable evidence to support that contention. Rather than mess my head with numbers, I particularly enjoyed reading Isaac Asimov’s many articles which explained complex science to intelligent lay people like me, without peppering us with too many mathematical formulae.

That’s why I’m delighted with the Science of Discworld books; real science iced with a bit of Discworld. I’ve just finished The Science of Discworld 4: Judgement Day, by Terry Pratchett and Doctors Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, which delves into Cosmology and Divinity. I’m not going to discuss God. I don’t care what others choose to believe, but I don’t. End of argument. What I’m very happy to discuss, though, is dark matter, dark energy and fractals.

One thing I’d noticed when reading New Scientist and the like, was the introduction of this stuff called ‘dark matter’ and a force called ‘dark energy’. It seems there wasn’t enough matter in the universe, and that certain interactions didn’t work as they should. With these two ‘dark horses’ introduced, the calculations worked as expected. I thought at the time that scientists seemed to be making up stuff so their equations would work. And in SoDW4, Cohen and Stewart said just that! They also mentioned the search for the elusive Higgs boson, and what scientists have – and have not – discovered from inferring the existence of something based on its destruction.

To me, Nature works by the KISS principle. It all looks very complex, but break things down far enough and it isn’t. One of the best examples I’ve ever seen of this is fractals, those beautiful, enigmatic patterns which go on forever, never quite repeating. We see them at work in coastlines, leaves, snowflakes, weather and the storms on Jupiter. You’ve probably heard of the famous Chaos weather butterfly (top left) which can cause storms on the other side of the world.  This video plunges into the most famous fractal of all, the Mandelbrot set. This BBC documentary explains the whole idea.

Cohen and Stewart included a chapter in their book, discussing whether the Big Bang theory had had its day. The need for additional constants to make the calculations work was one of the reasons given. Dark energy, dark matter and the Higgs boson are just three examples. I can’t help thinking that it’s not going to be so complicated. Nature isn’t like that.

One solution that makes lots of sense to a lay person like me, is that the Universe itself is fractal. I’d seen a tiny article in New Scientist to that effect, some several years ago. And now I’ve just found this slideshow. To me, it’s simple, and elegant. Circles and spirals, repeating patterns. Will it need dark matter and dark energy? I don’t know – but it sure does explain why the universe is lumpy.