Big whorls have little whorls
Which feed on their velocity,
And little whorls have lesser whorls
And so on to viscosity.
-Lewis F. Richardson
In the book I reviewed in my last post, Chaos: The Making of a New Science, by James Gleick, this quote begins one of the chapters. And in the first paragraph of that chapter, another quote is mentioned which is in the description of this interesting video about the unexpected math in Van Gogh’s Starry Night.
James Gleick makes no reference to that painting, but goes on to describe the stories of past mathematicians and physicists trying and failing to solve the problem of turbulence. Finally, along came Chaos Theory and Fractal Geometry, and things started to make some sense. It is easy to understand why, when you look at the self-similarity and the complex patterns of a turbulent system.
I wonder what was going through Van Gogh’s mind when he was painting Starry Night. According to the video, it was during one of his “periods of psychotic agitation”. Perhaps the patterns approaching chaos happening in the electrical signals of his brain were translated to his expression with paint? It’s an interesting point to ponder when you consider all of the systems in our bodies that involve fractal patterns.
I can assure you I was perfectly calm and sane during the painting of Turbulence and Bubbles – I was just letting my own hands and brain interpret the patterns that arose from an external fractal formula. When I first started I had a completely different title in my mind, but then as I was painting it, I realized the black whorls reminded me of turbulence, and it looked like the yellow parts were bubbles emerging from some unknown source within it, and merging with each other when they touched. We know turbulent systems do produce bubbles… (think boiling water)… I doubt this is how, but still! I know I’ve introduced it before but here it is again:
Here is a raw fractal which, to me, looks like a cross section of a wave crashing in. A detail, below it, shows the patterns present within. I haven’t quite decided what I’m doing with this one yet, but thought I would show it to you as it relates to this post so well. It’s not exactly turbulence, as there aren’t any true whorls, but you can see how fractal geometry would lend itself to the study of turbulent systems.