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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

The Deep Insight You Can Gain from Broccoli

Author: Guest Writer/Monday, November 26, 2012/Categories: Uncategorized

By Reilly Capps

Great photographs are able to illuminate a larger point, to show you something amazing that you might not have grasped if someone had merely told you about it.

This is often true of photographs of big things, such as James Balog’s photos of the shrink arctic ice.

But photos of small, ordinary things can do that, too. Consider broccoli.

File:Fractal Broccoli.jpg

This isn’t just dinner. This is an example of a fractal, something that has the same structure, the same pattern, at a large scale and at a small scale. See how each little nub looks, essentially, like the broccoli as a whole?

A new autobiography by the man who essentially discovered fractals, Benoit Mandelbrot, has just been released. Here’s how Stephen Wolfram describes fractals in his review of Mandelbrot’s book:

In nature, technology and art the most common form of regularity is repetition: a single element repeated many times, as on a tile floor. But another form is possible, in which smaller and smaller copies of a pattern are successively nested inside each other, so that the same intricate shapes appear no matter how much you "zoom in" to the whole.

That’s a difficult concept to grasp, but a photo of it – even a photo of something as simple as a broccoli – makes it immediately clear. Mandelbrot believes that much of the natural world is structured like a fractal. More photos of potential candidates -- from the animal trails to clouds to snowflakes to ferns – will help further illustrate and test his theory.

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