Fractals and Culture
Ron Eglash writes about the occurrence of fractal patterns in human art and design in his book African Fractals: Modern Computing and Indigenous Design.

“Fractals are characterized by the repetition of similar patterns at ever-diminishing scales. Fractal geometry has emerged as one of the most exciting frontiers on the border between mathematics and information technology and can be seen in many of the swirling patterns produced by computer graphics. It has become a new tool for modeling in biology, geology, and other natural sciences.

Anthropologists have observed that the patterns produced in different cultures can be characterized by specific design themes. In Europe and America, we often see cities laid out in a grid pattern of straight streets and right-angle corners. In contrast, traditional African settlements tend to use fractal structure—circles of circles of circular dwellings, rectangular walls enclosing ever-smaller rectangles, and streets in which broad avenues branch down to tiny footpaths with striking geometric repetition. These indigenous fractals are not limited to architecture; their recursive patterns echo throughout many disparate African designs and knowledge systems.

Drawing on interviews with African designers, artists, and scientists, Ron Eglash investigates fractals in African architecture, traditional hairstyling, textiles, sculpture, painting, carving, metalwork, religion, games, practical craft, quantitative technologies, and symbolic systems. He also examines the political and social implications of the existence of African fractal geometry. His book makes a unique contribution to the study of mathematics, African culture, anthropology, and computer simulations.” (Amazon editorial review)

Fractals
Under Construction
Romanesco broccoli a cross between broccoli and cauliflower. It displays great fractal spirals on top.
photograph from Ron Eglash's Book:
African Fractals: modern computing and indigenous design
From the Irish / Celtic Book of Kells:
Stunning Examples of (pre-Fractal) Fractal Art.

The mind has always had a fixation with recursive and fractal patterns,
largely because our environment is filled with them. Only in the last forty years, however, have we been able to finally describe these interacting patterns through exquisitely subtle math mapped as dimensionality

Read more about fractals and visual math
Fractals are much more than just mesmerizing patterns. Fractal geometry was developed in the 1970s to describe irregular but repetitive forms found in nature that Euclidean geometry failed to explain. Examples of fractal geometry can be found in swirling patterns produced by computer graphics and in the natural world in cloud patterns, the foliage of ferns, and coastline landscapes.

Benoit Mandelbrot, the creator of fractal geometry wrote:

“Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in straight lines."

And Pat Murphy states in By Nature's Design:

“Fractal geometry has enabled geologists to analyze these irregular forms that occur in the natural landscape, describing the cragginess of a mountain peak or the roughness of cracking slate.”

Fractals have also become an investigative tool in the natural sciences. As we develop more complex modes of representation, we are able to make more complex models of nature. This ability to better understand increasingly complex patterns in nature makes possible new levels of technological innovation.

Benoit Mandelbrot, the innovator of the {Mandelbrot set}, coined the term "fractal" in 1975 from the Latin fractus, which means "to break."
Browse our bookstore: