Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Patterns in Nature: Why the Natural World Looks the Way it Does by Philip Ball

This is a gorgeous-looking book. Since this topic has been one I have been promising myself to examine for some time, I picked up this striking volume from a face-out display in my public library which has, I was surprised to learn later, a large collection of Philip Ball's books, but not yet his latest, called The Water Kingdom, about China and its relationship with water. It sounds fascinating.

This book about patterns found in nature has very little discussion within. One must make do with the magnificent photography that includes some of the very best pictures I have seen of a certain weather phenomenon, say, or a geologic feature. Many of the microscopic subjects (viruses, insect eyes, closeups of sea creatures) are artificially colored so that the features stand in stark contrast. It is definitely coffee-table quality.

For creatives and artists, this work is positively inspirational. Scientists may use it to demonstrate some observable phenomenon, but although the photos are labelled, the text sometimes proved insufficient to adequately explain the complicated reasons for why such patterns appear. Some of the less complex subjects and accompanying text were sufficient to pique further investigation elsewhere.

Something I may have encountered before but do not recall ever seeing in quite the same way were pictures of Chladni figures, or fine grains on a flat surface subjected to sound waves. The grains formed intricate patterns. The figure I use an example here is not from Ball's book. His was so glamorous it sent me spinning to find more information.

The other single coolest thing I have ever seen was a photo of Fingal's Cave on the Isle of Staffa in Scotland. Again, this is not the photo that Ball included in his book, but hopefully will give you some idea why it was so thrilling to me. Cracks have formed six-sided posts of basalt.

Something similar can be found at a place in California called Devil's Postpile: columnar cracks in the side of a hill. Unbelievably cool.

Devil's Postpile

There is much, much more in this book. While I did not find answers to all my questions, the book contains gorgeous examples of patterns you will wish to research further, having seen them in such brilliant detail.

Hardcover, 288 pages Published April 5th 2016 by University Of Chicago Press ISBN 022633242X (ISBN13: 9780226332420)

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

1 comment:

  1. Ball suggested further reading on reasons for shapes and forms here.