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Patterns in art and nature by Philip Ball

In aesthetics, art, biology, nature, photography, science, visual arts on February 24, 2013 at 01:03

From: Patterns in art and nature by Philip Ball, http://www.philipball.co.uk

Fingal’s Cave on the island of Staffa, near Mull in Scotland, has inspired artists (this is Turner) and composers – Felix Mendelsohn wrote his orchestral piece named after the cave in 1829. But it also made an impression on an awestruck Joseph Banks, president of the Royal Society, when he sailed to Staffa in 1772 during an expedition to Iceland. This is what he said:

    “Compared to this what are the cathedrals or palaces built by men! Mere models or playthings, as diminutive as his works will always be when compared with those of nature. What now is the boast of the architect! Regularity, the only part in which he fancied himself to exceed his mistress, Nature, is here found in her possession, and here it has been for ages undescribed.”

Banks had noticed that the entrance to the cave was flanked by these great pillars of rock. Close up, you can see the regularity that Banks spoke about: hexagonal cross-sections.

Now, this of course has its counterpart on the west coast of Ireland itself: the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim, built in legend by the giant Finn MacCool.

There are something like 40,000 pillars of rock in the giant’s Causeway, and they generally have this extraordinarily regular and geometric honeycomb structure. When we make an architectural pattern like this, it is through careful planning and construction, with each individual element cut to shape and laid in place. At Fingal’s Cave and the Giant’s Causeway, the forces of nature have conspired to produce such a pattern without, we must presume, any blueprint or foresight or design. This is an example of spontaneous pattern formation.

Read the article

Reposted with permission from: Philip Ball

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