On Beauty & Patterns

What is Beauty? They say it’s in the eye of the beholder. Can beauty exist without someone to see it and call it beautiful? I can’t answer that, but while pondering what beauty is as we perceive it, my mind started to link things together that for me was very profound. I don’t for a moment think that I am the first to consider these things in this way, but… Well, I’ll try to explain myself.

First beauty is a pattern. We see something that we recognize as beautiful and it is always going to consist of a pattern of some sort. There’s all kinds of patterns in nature. Look if you want. Here is a full encyclopedia article on just that.

If you look at nature closely enough you’ll find:

  • Symmetry in your body.
  • Fractals in the branching of trees.
  • Spirals are found in seashells and the formation of some galaxies. The mathematical golden spiral and it’s associated golden ratio is tied so closely to our sense of aesthetics that it has been recognized and used in architecture and more since ancient Greece. The golden ratio helps define what we find as pleasing in the features of the human face, and it’s found at the atomic scale in the magnetic resonance in the spins of some crystals.
  • Chaos, flows & meanders control the patterns that develop in river erosion and vortex streets in clouds.
  • Waves and dunes ripple and interact in their mediums forming patterns.
  • Bubbles and foam build and follow spherical patterns.
  • Tesselations form complex 3D patterns in crystal formation, animal & fruit scales.
  • Cracks form in a desert floor or the paint in your wall in patterns.
  • Spots and stripes on animals and plants create and settle into patterns.

How do these patterns form? Let’s start with a REALLY simple universe. Imagine our universe is a 2-D computer screen of pixels; dots that fill the screen from left to right, top to bottom. Zoom in and these dots form a big graph with each square being a cell. A cell can either be on or off, 1 or 0, alive or dead. If the cell is on, it lights up and is alive; if the cell is off, it’s dark & dead. Now let’s build some simple laws for our universe. Lets say that any cell can interact with it’s eight neighboring cells, that are horizontally, vertically or diagonally adjacent to it. At each step in time, we’ll say the following changes can occur:

  1. Any live cell with fewer than two live neighbors dies, as if by underpopulation.
  2. Any live cell with two or three live neighbors lives on to the next generation.
  3. Any live cell with more than three live neighbors dies, as if by overpopulation.
  4. Any dead cell with exactly three live neighbors becomes a live cell, as if by reproduction.

This little universe depending on the initial conditions you, acting as God, put into your 2-D universe, creates all kinds of interesting patterns that arise, move, change and grow across the screen of the universe as time passes, much like life itself evolving. Watching the results can be truly fascinating. This mathematical exercise was named the “Game of Life” by its creator, and is just ONE very simple example of algorithmic models called Cellular Automata. The video below gives a good introduction on it.

Cellular Automata can be FAR more complex than our little two dimensional example with only two states and a few simple “laws”; they have been created with multiple dimensions, multi-state changes and complex interactive laws much like those of our own universe. But even with the simple example in the “game of life” we can see how patterns can evolve, mutate, change, fall into chaos or become steady state entities. The game of life can be used to calculate or perform any operation a computer can, all with just using those few laws and the two states.

So what the point? What does all this have to do with anything? Well if something so simple can create interesting patterns from the “life” & “death” of cells on a screen or grid, what can an entire UNIVERSE such as that we live in and indeed are a part of produce? You look at these patterns that are evolving and changing which means it’s going to have things being created and things being destroyed, order and chaos, life and death. From the small scale to the big. Look at a galaxy with the spinning spiral arms of billions of stars, all orbiting a giant black hole that is slowly gobbling up those stars. But its that VERY act of destruction that spins up the gas & dust of the galaxy to start new star formation.

So it’s the same old story of any fantasy story between good & evil, black and white, yin & yang, order & chaos. You can NOT have one without the other. You may hate when people, pets, or any thing changes and dies, blaming an uncaring God, or figure it is just little dots turning on and off on the computer screen of the universe and there is no point to it. But you can’t deny that those patterns can be incredibly beautiful, that we are PART of the Pattern (however minuscule and insignificant a part of it,) and that NONE of it is possible — that Beauty ITSELF is not possible — without BOTH Birth and Death.

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