Looking at nature is so helpful for us because when we look at nature, we’re looking at fractal patterns. What are fractal patterns? Fractals are complex patterns that seem chaotic but actually repeat by simple processes. Scientists can measure them with mathematical equations. They occur all the time in our world: hurricanes, galaxies, tree branch patterns, river systems, etc. They’re a building of simple calculations that create a complex whole. Pretty cool, isn’t it?
A Physicist’s Hunch
Fractals also appear in the artwork of Jackson Pollock. You know those paintings that look like a thousand random drips and streaks? Turns out they’re not so random. In fact, physicist Richard Taylor was able to determine whether a private collector’s Pollock paintings were fake. Just by studying the fractal patterns. Afterward, Taylor wondered what it was about Pollock’s artwork and fractal patterns in general that people enjoyed so much. How did the human brain respond to them? So he conducted experiments. What he found was pretty amazing.
Drastic Stress Reduction
People who looked at nature photos that had been reduced to their fractal patterns produced alpha brain waves. Those are the waves we produce in conscious relaxed states. In another study, he found people’s stress reduced by 60 percent after viewing mathematical fractals. He and his team also found that the human eye looks at fractals in the same way that they’re structured, by looking at the larger portion before branching out into the smaller and smaller. It’s almost as if our visual system is built to feel at one with fractal systems. The looking part is a visually fluid process.
Nature Offers Several Choices
This explains a lot about why we feel so much better after a walk in the woods. We’re accidentally seeing a ton of fractal imagery. But do you have to walk in the woods to achieve the relaxed state? Nope. You can look at clouds, ocean coastlines, dunes, leaves, and more. The point is to settle your visual system into something it finds fluidly natural. In other words, not straight lines and sharply-turned corners, but rather the more flowing patterns of nature.
What to Do During That Plant Break
So if you tried my relaxation break exercise from the last post but didn’t feel much, try taking a break today and focusing on a fractal pattern somewhere nearby. Look for tree branches outside your window or check out the clouds in the sky. Notice the rocks on a shoreline or how a leaf’s veins divide out. If you’re near a library, page through outdoor magazines. Even one snowflake is built from fractal patterns.
If you’re in an enclosed, windowless office and there’s nothing natural around, set your desktop wallpaper to Apple’s “Redwoods” or “Leaf Curl” image. You can also set the screensaver to the “Shell” or “Catalina” mode. The first is a repeating pattern and the second images of nature with lots of fractal patterns. And if you don’t have a Mac, you can find similar images in Windows. Whatever you choose, I hope you will take a moment to relax with nature’s fractal patterns today.