Nature revealed

The synergy of work and weather has precluded much time out-of-doors with the camera this week so, out of frustration, I have once again taken to the archives. Although summer mornings here invariably begin with heavy mists, these dissipate well before noon. When I first looked at this image, of a tree down along the river bottom, I thought if turned through 180° you might think you were looking at a respiratory system. The dichotomous branching characteristic of apical growth in plants is common among both plants and animals. The architecture of respiratory passages is organized in this way, the trachea branches to bronchi, which branch to the bronchus, which then branch to the bronchioles. Nature’s patterned architectures have attracted the attention of mathematicians, other scientists, artists, poets, and the like, for centuries. In particular the logarithmic spiral, as exemplified by the chambered nautilus, spiral galaxies, and pine cones, has been much studied, discussed, and admired. This geometry is nature’s unconscious way of allowing organisms to increase in size without changing shape. We say that organisms grow isometrically when their linear dimensions increase at the same rate …  small starfish are the same shape as large starfish, for example. [The situation is a bit more complex for approximately spherical organisms such as molluscs … their pattern of growth is more precisely described as a logarithmic spiral.] In other organisms, such as dogs and cats, the various parts of the body grow at different rates and small forms differ from large ones in shape (such organisms grow allometrically). It has been observed that nature is miraculous and we marvel at its secrets and mystery. Often, however, when we stop to think critically and look more deeply, nature’s seemingly inexplicable puzzles reveal themselves in straightforward and mundane ways. I cannot see how it might be otherwise. Although there are alternate views to this question of design, I personally see no difficulty in recognizing and celebrating the purposeless of all things. I believe that nature’s beauty is enhanced when one submits to the fact that it is unplanned and unimagined. This conclusion then serves as a call to the humanities to give meaning and substance to all things.

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