The waves of desert sand blown by the wind follow a sinuous course that resembles the stripes of a zebra or a marine fish. In the lattice-shaped shells of microscopic sea creatures we see the same angles and intersections as in the walls of bubbles in a foam. Forks of lightning reflect the branches of a river or tree.
The natural world seems conceived by universal patterns, and some forms seem more common than others. That’s what Phillip Ball explains in his book The Self-made Tapestry .
Shapes and patterns
Nature commonly weaves its tapestry through self-organization, without employing a blueprint or blueprint, but through simple and local interactions between its components, be they grains of sand, diffusing molecules, or living cells, which give rise to spontaneous patterns.
Many of these patterns are universal: spirals, spots and stripes, branches, honeycombs .
In a way, Ball’s book is an offshoot of a classic: On Growth and Form , by D’Arcy Thompson :
On Growth and Form, the greatest prose work of science of the 20th century, highlights the role of physics and mechanics in determining the shape and structure of organisms. Thompson is revealed as a great scientist sensitive to the fascination and beauty of the natural world with a style that has led the specialized press to describe his work as "as good literature as science. a discourse on science as if it were a question of humanity.
Adrian Bejan , Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Duke University, has another simulated book: Shape and Struture, from Engineering to Nature .
It only addresses three natural forms: the aborescent networks (lungs, river basins, etc.), the circular section (of blood vessels) and the watermelon-shaped section of rivers.
Perhaps the most curious recent book on this subject is Jorge Wagensberg’s : The Rebellion of Forms :
Around us, an enormous number of objects seem to share a very small number of forms: although it did not have to be that way, nature exhibits rhythm and harmony. In addition, although it did not have to be that way, nature seems intelligible. In this essay vibrates the ambition to deal with the perplexity that these verifications can arouse. Why are certain shapes (spheres, hexagons, spirals, helices, parabolas, cones, waves, catenaries, and fractals) especially common? Why precisely these and not others? How do they emerge? How do they persevere?
According to Wagensberg, each of these so frequent forms usually appears to exert a main function: the sphere protects, the hexagon paves, the spiral packs, the helix grips, the tip penetrates, the wave displaces, the parabola emits and receives, the catenary hold on and the fractals colonize.
An almost unknown author, in fact, tried to write a novel dedicated to each of these forms . You can know more about him in the following video: