Patterns in Nature (8m 28s)

This is definitely the rabbit hole chapter of permaculture, meaning it is challenging and deep and philosophical and I’ll do my best to explain my understanding of this pattern. And I use the singular pattern because while nature appears to be growing chaotically, it actually follows one single pattern. From the leaf arrangement in plants to the petals of a flower to the bracts of a pinecone to the scales of a pineapple, all living species have learned to use this pattern to defend itself against decay, nature’s inevitable opposing force. All of those species that did not figure out the pattern lay in the soil, as part of history, one of the 99.99 something percent of species that didn’t make it.

Nature repeats this patterns for many reasons. The pattern promotes flow, strength, balance, stability, self-regulation, minimum effort, the pattern is about efficiency. My understanding and applying this pattern, we can more effectively design abundant landscapes and in some sense overcome this seemingly insurmountable problem of decay.

Everything starts out as a point. We’re not sure where the pattern actually started, but it continues we could say, with a point, a reference point. Here we’ll use a seed and a single drop of water as our reference point. The seed in the right conditions, sprout and two shoots burst in opposite directions in the shape of a wave. The drop of water combines with the other water in a river, forming a wave. The seed then emerges from the soil spiraling out of itself. Baby ferns are a beautiful illustration of a spiral in nature. The water then may catch wind, a lot of wind and spiral out in the form of a hurricane. Later when the seed is fully grown into a tree, it takes the shape of a toroid. The roots have sprawled all through the soil. And the branches have blossomed in all directions above the soil. The shape of the whole organism is in the shape of a toroid. It’s like a seed is the fuel of an explosion that takes years to mature, and the final shape is this immaculate, self-regenerative plant that uses half of itself to feed the other half. A wave in the ocean spirals over and over and for brief moments, holds the shape of a toroid just before crashing down upon itself. After the seed grows into a tree, the tree produces seeds, so it can repeat the cycle. The seed in this case would be the circle. It was the end goal of the seed. From seed to seed. Once the waves crash onto the beach and splash some water on the side of someone’s lemonade glass, water has returned to its final an original state again, a single drop of water.

So a point, a wave, a spiral, a toroid, and a circle which is the same as a point, only later. These constitute the basic pattern of nature.

Nature then realised, I’ll just repeat this pattern over and over and see what happens. Here’s where nature produced the tessellation, a repeated shape of the same patterns. The eyes of insects, bee hives, spider web are examples of tessellations. Tessellations are very geometrically stable structures. Nature also learned to repeat this shape by using different patterns called crenelations. For example, a leaf or our skin. These use patterns but not exact patterns. They work to just sort of fill the space to catch sunlight and protect the organs, whatever the need. Nature can work it out using the original pattern, a tessellation or a crenelation.

Now if we zoom in we’ll find it’s not actually the shapes that nature repeats. Instead it’s the proportion, the growth proportion. Nature knows it has to start with a seed and it knows that following this growth proportion is the most efficient way to grow and end up as a self-sustaining organism, the dream of every living species.

The proportion is known as the golden proportion or the golden ratio. The simplest way to observe the golden ratio is with a line. There’s one line you can mark on this segment where the proportion of A to B is equal to the proportion of B to the sum of A and B. One segment is in the same proportion to the other segment as the other segment is to the whole. This equation can also be written as B over A equals B plus A over B. Let’s say that this is equal to Phi. When we flip the equation around, it’s A over B equals B over B plus A equals 1 / Phi. There are many videos on youtube that explain how equation is mathematically derived. Here I’m going to skip to the accepted equation of Phi.

So Phi = 1 + 1/Phi. If we were to plug in, what phi is equal to underneath the 1, it would be 1+1/(1+1/Phi). And if we did that again, it would be the same, and it would get smaller and smaller as many times as we wanted to extend this equation. So to see how this equation would look, let’s imagine this line as a big rubberband. And we extended it out and marked all the points of the Phi ratio on the line. As we stretched out the tape measure, we would observe slight shifts at each of the points before. Now let’s mark each point in proportion to Phi. So 1 would be the whole. 1/Phi, 1/Phi squared, 1/Phi cubed, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th… as we extend this line out, we continue adding smaller and smaller multiples of Phi into infinity and it always equals 1. As far as in numbers, phi is equal to 1 + sq root 5 / 2, which leaves us two numbers, 1.618033… and 0.618033… Phi is the only number, the only one, when divided by it’s reciprocal, 1/1.618, you get the same number minus 1, …..0.618033. It’s also the only number that when squared, 1.618 X 1.618 = the number plus 1, 2.618. So this is just sort of an interesting sequence here,

1/Phi =           0.618

Phi =               1.618

Phi^2 =          2.618

Phi is also used in many proportions of geometric shapes. As the shapes expand, the intersections of the lines expand in proportions.

Phi is the rate at which animals propagate. At least this is what Leonardo Fibonacci discovered in his well known rabbit propagation experiment. He paired two rabbits together and counted how fast they propagated over about a years time. They multiplied at the rate of 1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21… So there is some intrinsic natural born understanding of this proportion to creatures as well as plants. Greek mathematician Euclid is often considered the father of geometry, calls Phi the means and extremes ratio. Whatever you’re looking at, whether it’s what you grow or the amount of money you have, if you separate it or cut it into 38 and 62% segments, it is an efficient way at separating something into reasonable but different amounts.

I like the example of our hand. The largest segment of each finger is about 38% of the rest of our finger. And the distance from the center of our hand to the finger is about 38% of the length of each finger. This is why our hands are so agile, we have independent movement with each finger and they can work together because they are in proportion to each other, they stem from the same central processing unit in the center of our hand. Also the width of our hand to the length, the distance from the our nose to our chin, the distance between our eyes. Phi is found throughout the human body, which is one of the reasons we are such awesomely efficient beings.

Great, that concludes the patterns in nature chapter. I’m clearly still on the path of learning about this sort of thing. I hope this, at least, provided something of use for you. Great, thank you for your time.