Did you know that nature is full of patterns?

Ripples of windblown desert sand follow a sinuous course resembling the stripes of a zebra or marine fish. In the lattice-shaped shells of microscopic sea creatures we see the same angles and intersections as in the walls of bubbles in a foam. The branches of the lightning reflect the branches of a river or a tree.

The natural world seems conceived by universal patterns, and some shapes seem more common than others. That is what Phillip Ball explains in his book The Self-made Tapestry.

Nature commonly weaves its tapestry through self-organization, not using a master plan or blueprint, but through simple and local interactions between its components, be they grains of sand, diffusing molecules, or living cells, giving rise to spontaneous patterns.

Many of these patterns are universal: whorls, spots and stripes, branches, honeycombs.

Adrian Bejan, a professor of Mechanical Engineering at Duke University, has another similar book: Shape and Structure, from Engineering to Nature.

In it he only addresses three natural forms: aborescent networks (lungs, river basins, etc.), the circular section (of blood vessels) and the watermelon-shaped section of rivers.

Perhaps the most curious recent book on this subject is Jorge Wagensberg’s: La rebellion de las formas:

All around us, an enormous number of objects seem to share a very small number of forms: although it did not have to be, nature exhibits rhythm and harmony. Also, although it didn’t have to be that way either, nature seems intelligible. In this essay vibrates the ambition to treat the perplexity that these verifications can arouse. Why are certain shapes (spheres, hexagons, spirals, helices, parabolas, cones, waves, catenaries, and fractals) especially common? Why just these and not others? How do they emerge? How do they persevere?

According to Wagensberg, each of these frequent forms usually appears to perform a main function: the sphere protects, the hexagon paves, the spiral packs, the helix grips, the point penetrates, the wave displaces, the parabola emits and receives, the catenary hold on and the fractals colonize.

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