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How Fractal Patterns Ease Our Minds

By Tanya Jacobs

The Power of Fractal Design

Humans have a range of different sense available to use, and many scientists argue that the five base senses that we’ve all been taught throughout our lives are not the only ones we have. But no matter how many more scientists find, our primal sense has and will always be sight. Depth perception, colour, detail; these are all part of what makes our vision so unique in the animal kingdom. While we may not be able to see as wide a spectrum of colours as other species, our eyes have developed in such a way to give us the best of all worlds, as opposed to the best of just one.

Pleasing aesthetics have always appealed to the human race, and scientists now finally understand what it is about certain patterns that cause a sense of calm and ease in our brains: fractal patterns.

What Are Fractal Patterns?

Fractal patterns, at their most basic, are mathematically inspired patterns that are found in the natural world, most commonly among plants and trees, and especially at higher magnifications. We can’t perceive these patterns as a whole with the naked eye, but they’re always around us, and our brain is able to pick up on them fairly easily, even if we don’t realise it on a conscious level. The best example is with a healthy tree: from afar, a tree seems chaotic with its many branches and leaves. But look closer, and you begin to notice certain patterns that these leaves follow. Putting the leaves under a microscope reveals endless patterns upon patterns, ad infinitum.

It’s something that we’ve incorporated into our art over the years, too. Immensely famous artist Jackson Pollock created most of his art using the concept of fractal patterns, which is why many feel relaxed when looking at his masterpieces. Critics have battled for years over Pollock’s work, but almost all of them can agree that many of his pieces have a natural, organic feel to them. And over the years, as his art has slowly been dissected by scientists, it became apparent that somehow Pollock was able to integrate nature’s fractal aesthetics into much of what he created.

How Do Fractal Patterns Affect Us?

The idea of patterns in nature has a number of theories. Some believe it allows nature to follow a certain order, much like how online betting often follows a predetemined path; patterns that allow a tree to maximise its surface area to the sun, for example. But it goes much deeper than this. Scientists have found that fractal aesthetics have a tremendously powerful affect on the human brain. A study conduced in the 1980’s revealed that patients who were kept in a room filled with art and plants tended to recover faster, and on average left the hospital two days earlier than those that were in normal ward rooms. It’s believed that even just looking at photographs and pictures of nature has a large impact on our stress levels, affecting the autonomic nervous system directly.

Our perception of fractal patterns in the natural world is one that we’ve developed over countless millennium, and it’s not just our eyes that can capture the information. Fractal fluency is the term used to describe the universal affect that these patterns have on humans, and it’s so profound that it has inspired our art for thousands of years. Cave paintings, for example, often follow a series of patterns – they aren’t just thrown on the cave wall at random. Our ancestors knew that these natural patterns were present, even at a subconscious level.

The Complexity of Fractals

Jackson Pollock, as he grows older, made it his mission to increase the complexity of the fractal patterns that he used in his work. He added more and more, making his art many layers deep. And it’s a complexity that he took from nature. With the invention of the microscope, we’ve been able to take a glimpse into a world usually far too small for us to see, and the patterns have remained consistent. From snail shells to insect exoskeletons, these patterns are an important building block for all of creation in the natural world.

Despite how appealing we subconsciously find fractal patterns, we’ve largely abandoned them in the modern world. Our cities, skyscrapers, and buildings are built with practicality in mind, often with the design of providing as much living space as possible. It’s had a powerful negative affect on those people living in cities, and researchers believe the absence of fractal aesthetics in cities is a big contributor to the increased levels of depression, anxiety, and suicide that are becoming more and more prevalent in ever-expanding metropolises. This has in turn inspired many new generation architects to design structures with fractal patterns integrated naturally into the building’s aesthetics, with the hopes of making cities more relaxing to live in. We may even begin to see it in other parts of our daily lives, from the films we watch, the games we play, the stores we visit, and the websites we enjoy.

Tanya Jacobs is a former sports journalist, now blogging about all things wellness. An avid hiker, she's climbed some of the tallest peaks in the world, survived a shipwreck, and camped in Yosemite for a month. Now a digital nomad, Tanya and her partner share their home in California with a cheeky cat named Eliot.
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