Patterns in Nature – Spirals

The natural world might appear astonishingly overwhelming at first sight. Our minds grapple to make meaning of what our eyes see. What’s fascinating is that in this seemingly chaotic world lays an implicit order and structure.

If you pause,  absorb these surroundings in segments, you will begin to see patterns in everything – repetition, fractals, meanderings, spirals, ratios, rings, waves, and on and on it goes.

The ripples etched into sand, the branching veins of a leaf; these patterns are examples of artistry in nature and are yet an undeniable combination of biology and physics. And the wonder of it is,  these patterns occur naturally, created by forces of the physical, chemical and biological world.

The coiling pattern observed in whip coral is not always regular, and common belief is that the shape of the whorls is brought on by the intensity of the prevailing current in that region; Photo credit : Umeed Mistry

Let me explain

In the world of mathematics, one is in constant pursuit to explain the seemingly abstract patterns around us. The laws of physics often apply the abstractions of mathematics to the real world, linking visual patterns with explanations set in theory.

The fathers of philosophy as well as present day astrophysicists, thinkers, scientists and artists have been attempting to explain order in nature. According to Plato, ‘Organicism’ is the position that the universe is orderly and alive, much like an organism.

Why are spirals omnipresent in our natural world and in the universe at large?

They are in everything around; the pattern in shells, fresh fern leaves as they unfurl, flowers and even the galaxies beyond our immediate realm of awareness, in space.

This might be the reason why the visual motif of the spiral is one of the oldest and most enigmatic sacred symbols across ancient cultures.

Spirals

The structure, formation, growth and flow of the spiral has been viewed through multiple lenses. The physics view sees them as lowest-energy configurations which emerge spontaneously in dynamic systems. In chemistry, a spiral can be generated by a reaction-diffusion process. In the biological eye, the arrangement of leaves as far apart as possible in a given space maximizes access to resources, especially sunlight for photosynthesis. Many natural spirals, like that of a snail shell, begin with graceful, almost languid curves, but become increasingly tightly coiled as we move in toward the center. (Condensed from: Philip Ball, Patterns in Nature)

What a beauty! A climbing plant that’s an equal marvel for botanists and engineers alike. Not to mention, artists!
With a universal appeal and a mysterious connect to the human spirit, the spiral is complex yet simple, captivating and beautiful; Photo courtesy: Pooja Gupta

In conclusion

Though we see the commonality of the spiral across life forms as well as non-living formations, it is clear that their function in each case is not common. Is this chance or is there a deeper factor that drives this formation? Or, has it appeared in parallel, for varied, unconnected reasons, across matter and evolutionary occurrences?

Photo story by Tasneem Khan | 4 Photos | Edited by Pooja Gupta

Additional editing by Dominic D’Cruz