So as I mentioned, when I was a kid I wondered all these crazy things like what was outside of the universe and what that meant. I just was talking to one of my bosses and she told me she used to wonder the same things when she was a kid and freak herself out as well. I was pleased to hear that and I wonder how many other kids had or are having those thoughts. There’s a scene in a Woody Allen movie (which one escapes me now) about him being concerned about the universe expanding when he was a little kid. His mother keeps yelling at him “What does that have to do with you!” Her countenance is hilarious and it reminds me that our society has deemed certain topics “appropriate.” Stay within appropriate subjects and no one will get hurt, right?
My need for more information on the nature of the cosmos was answered by the person of R. Let’s call him Arrr instead of R (looks more like a name and has a fun pirate sound). I was in college and my roommate’s boyfriend had this friend, Arrr, that would drop by frequently. He lived in the big city near my school. At first, his purpose was to provide certain…party favors to my circle of friends. He was the crazy haired dude that started sleeping in my roommate’s and my room. And we didn’t mind. He was really cool, fun, unorthodox and had really interesting things to say. I have to say I probably missed more classes because of his presence, but not enough to affect my scholarship so I deemed that acceptable.
Arrr spent so much time on campus with us that he started to think he might want to go back to school. He was 23 and hadn’t gone to college (I don’t think – he’ll correct me if I’m wrong on this point!). He was really interested in philosophy and I and my boyfriend at the time were in several philosophy courses and we would talk philosophy for hours. By the beginning of the next school year, he had enrolled in the college and had a dorm room of his own.
I think it was that first year he was enrolled that he showed me this film about fractals. I had never heard of these things and I was fascinated. A fractal is “a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole,” a property called self-similarity. Real life examples of this are things like a head of broccoli, a tree, or a coast line. If you look at floret of broccoli, doesn’t it look remarkably like a mini version of the whole head? And if you look at a branch of a tree with other smaller branches coming off it, doesn’t it look a lot like the whole tree? That is self-similarity.
Mandelbrot set fractal. Notice that each time you zoom in, you will continue getting self similar patterns
Fractals can be created with certain mathematical equations. When you feed a value into the equations, you get a point that you graph. Then you take that numerical result that you just graphed, and feed that value back into the same mathematical equation. Then you graph that resulting point. And so on and so forth until you get these unbelievable graphs that go on and on forever. No matter how far in you zoom on the graphed image, 2000 times, 1,000,000 times, you will keep seeing the same patterns repeat within themselves over and over again, infinitely. See the images to the right to get a visual of this.
I’ve marinated on fractals for 10 years until recently when I really started to think what they meant in terms of life. If you think about the basic building block of life, the atom, what does it’s structure look like? It has a nucleus in the middle surrounded by orbiting electrons. What does that remind you of? The solar system! Our planets revolved around the sun like electrons around a nucleus. Then think about the galaxy – all the stars and solar systems in our galaxy revolve around the center of the galaxy. See a repeating pattern?
Remember the scene at the end of Men in Black, where the cat is wearing a charm around it’s neck that when you zoom in it contains our entire universe that we are all living in? That’s where my mind kept going with fractals. I kept imagining that it could be possible that at our very atomic level, a whole other world was contained in there on a much smaller scale. Or that our universe was just an atom in another much larger reality. I couldn’t help but think these repeating self similar patterns were describing the very nature of reality and that we have a hard time seeing these patterns because they’re not at the same scale as our “normal” reality.
Now think about humans. We have a copy of everything needed to make us in our DNA. A mini version of the pattern that creates our body contained in each and every cell. Self similarity! Pretty weird, right?
Some of you might be thinking, what the hell does this have to do with anything? Well, if we are really all a part of some giant fractal type reality, that means that we are all a part of some large amazing whole, and that every part of that whole is contained within us, as well. I personally think that’s pretty powerful. It means everyone one of us and every one of our lives means something and is a part of something greater. Whatever you might call that, whether God, Allah, Oneness, the Great Being, etc, it makes you reconsider the value of yourself. You are, I am, we are precious. And the best part about this to me is that I’ve come to this conclusion through math. Math!
In a practical sense, if you understand that the very nature of reality is self similar repeating patterns within patterns, you start to look for patterns in everything around you. You can start pulling back and looking at situations from a different perspective, because you’ll always find a larger pattern. When you find that pattern you now have a better understanding on how to tackle the problem.
For instance, suppose you encounter a real asshole on the road. He cuts you off and you glare, yell back and wave your arms (well, I do these things). Before I would just think to myself, that guy is a real douche and he sucks and that was the end of it. But now, I try to think of why he might be doing that. What happened to that guy to make him such an asshole? What bigger pattern is going on in his life to cause his assholishness? These patterns don’t justify the behavior, but they can help to put things in perspective. When we see that there are patterns and reasons for things, maybe that helps us to shrug off the incident and not let it affect our day.
And speaking of that, I hope you all have an awesome day today. ‘Till next time!
P.S. Thank you, Arrr, for bringing this amazing phenomenon to me. For those of you that are curious, Arrr now teaches English and philosophy in Eastern Europe and DJs on the side. Not too shabs!