Saturday, October 22, 2016

Geometric Harmony

Many living organisms, inanimate objects, and geologic formations have polygonal shapes. Polygons are a chain of straight segments that form a closed chain like the hexagonal cells of honeycomb:
Hexagonal paper wasp honeycomb
by coniferconifer

The pentagonal shape of a sweet potato flower:

The variably-sided segments of desiccation cracks:

Polygonal desiccation cracks in sewage plant sludge
by Hannes Grobe

Our observable universe seems characterized by a curious preponderance of geometric forms.

Seventeenth century astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler wrote of the harmony and congruence in geometrical forms and physical phenomena in The Harmony of the World (Harmonice Mundi).

Archimedean polyhedra used by Kepler in Harmonice Mundi

To me it seems that diversity in things is created from nowhere other than matter, or from occasions caused by matter, and where there is matter there is geometry.

— Johannes Kepler, 1601
In The Nature of Order twentieth century architect and design theorist Christopher Alexander writes of the relationship between life and space.

Alexander argues that life is not merely in space, but of it. He proposes that the nature of space accounts for the occurrence of life.
I believe that all centers that appear in space - whether they originate in biology, in physical forces, in pure geometry, in color - are alike simply in that they all animate space. It is this animated space that has its functional effect upon the world, that determines the way things work, that governs the presence of harmony and life.
Christopher Alexander


Saturday, October 15, 2016

Prairie Dust

On Black Sunday, April 14, 1935, sixty mile per hour winds buffeted the North American prairie displacing some 300 million tons of topsoil. The term Dust bowl was coined by an AP reporter.

The ecology of the plains weren't well understood. Farmers over-planted. Crops weren't rotated. Successive drought years kicked up massive dust storms that stripped topsoil.

Buried machinery in barn lot
Dallas, South Dakota

Dryland farming that would have limited topsoil erosion was not commonly practiced. Thousands lost their livelihood and their property. Subsequent waves of migration contributed to joblessness, social strife, and prolonged economic depression.

Thousands of young men were rescued from dust bowl devastation by enrolling in the Civilian Conservation Corps in the spring of 1933.

Civilian Conservation Corps Camp No. 2, Jackson Lake
by George A. Grant, circa 1933

The Civilian Conservation Corps, one of Roosevelt's New Deal social programs was an exemplary work relief initiative enacted by Congress in 1933 and operated until 1942. Nearly 3 billion trees were planted, 13,100 miles of foot trails were constructed, and more than 800 parks were developed or upgraded.

Civilian Conservation Corps worker weeding white spruce seedlings

An excerpt from Franklin D. Roosevelt's second Fireside Chat:
First, we are giving opportunity of employment to one-quarter of a million of the unemployed, especially the young man who have dependents, to go into the forestry and flood prevention work. This is a big task because it means feeding, clothing and caring for nearly twice as many men as we have in the regular Army itself. In creating this civilian conservation corps we are killing two birds with one stone. We are clearly enhancing the value of our natural resources, and we are relieving an appreciable amount of actual distress. This great group of men has entered upon its work on a purely voluntary basis; no military training is involved and we are conserving not only our natural resources, but also our human resources.


Saturday, October 8, 2016

Looking Glass Light

In Six Lectures on Light: Delivered in America in 1872-1873, physicist John Tyndall observed that the human construct of Nature is phenomenological.
All our notions of Nature, however exalted or however grotesque, have their foundation in experience.

Out of this bias of the human mind to seek for the causes of phenomena all science has sprung.

— John Tyndall, 1875
Scientific inquiry sprouted from the soil of innate curiosity.

Cloud Pool, Artist's Point
by Bob MacNeal


The change in direction of an incoming wavefront, commonly experienced as water, sound, and light waves, is reflection. Reflection occurs at the interface of two media like air and water.

Sunlight traveling through the air meets a still, dark pool which reflects the wavefront back into the atmosphere.

Reflection of light must have been an early curiosity.
Light was a familiar phenomenon, and from the earliest times we find men’s minds busy with the attempt to render some account of it.
They satisfied themselves that light moved in straight lines; they knew also that light was reflected from polished surfaces, and that the angle of incidence was equal to the angle of reflection.

— John Tyndall, 1875

A ray from a single incoming direction reflected into a single outgoing direction is called specular reflection. Specular reflection occurs in a mirror.

Mirror Reflection

Mirror reflection surely was a curiosity for self-reflective animals like humans. Specular reflection requires a surface roughness that is less than the wavelength of the incoming light.

The word mirror was once considered lowbrow by educated classes who preferred the more poetic looking glass.

The first mirrors might have been pools of dark, still water.

Cloud Reflection, Artist's Point
by Bob MacNeal

The X-Y image reflected in a mirror hasn't been swapped from left-to-right or from top-to-bottom, rather inverted from front-to-back in the Z-direction.
Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.
Søren Kierkegaard, 1813-1855


Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Human Imprint

Humans are changing Earth on a massive scale.
Nothing is made, nothing disappears. The same changes, at the same places, never stopping.
― Dejan Stojanović, The Shape
The Anthropocene is the proposed name of geologic epoch to mark the era when human activities began to have an observable impact on Earth's geology and ecosystems.
Busy with the ugliness of the expensive success
We forget the easiness of free beauty
Lying sad right around the corner,
Only an instant removed,
Unnoticed and squandered.
Dejan Stojanović
Each year humans:
  • Emit 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide,
  • Produce 60 billion tons of non-biodegradable plastics, and
  • Extract and process innumerable tons of rocks and minerals.
A satellite image of Chuquicamata, the largest open pit copper mine in the world, shows the surface impression of moving, extracting, and processing countless tons of rocks and minerals for over a century.
image: ASTER/Terra/NASA

The Holocene is the name given to the geologic epoch spanning the last 11,700 years since the ice age. Scientists seemed poised to declare the end of the Holocene. We now exist in a geologic epoch of humankind’s making.
We will go far away, to nowhere, to conquer, to fertilize until we become tired. Then we will stop and there will be our home.
― Dejan Stojanović
The consequences of human activities on Earth’s geophysical processes are yet fully realized.