Artificial Intelligence

Not Fractals but Maples: the New Math

Mathematics is great. I love it. But I think it has too much power. For instance, the maple below is not solely a function of mathematics. To say it was would be to say that this is a fractal, a repetitive form that holds its shape no matter how large or small, one that maples exploit. But the thing is, maples were there before fractals. We should say “This is maple”, instead of “This is a fractal,” but of course mathematics needs to generalize, to find universal principles. That is its value, but also its limitation, because at the end of the day this is a maple. If it is a fractal at the same time, then that is a function of the universe. Mathematicians would agree, but perhaps without saying “The Universe is a maple.”

This is not a trivial distinction, because if we are to contemplate healing the Earth, we will have to step off from mathematics at some point and speak the Earth’s life, the way it fits into fractals. And that is to speak maple. How are we going to do that, if we don’t practice? Well, simply, we won’t. Of course, it’s not just maple. There’s bunchgrass, for instance.

Look at that beautiful stuff. That’s not a fractal. It’s bunchgrass. It’s only a fractal if you look at your response to it, rather than look into the variability of the grass itself. A different kind of math, perhaps? Of course, it’s bunchgrass. I wonder, though, what the mathematicians might make of this:

Geese, eh. Don’t look at the lines or the near-fractal pattern. Don’t look at the chaos mathematics here, or the statistics. Just look at the clumping into hollow circles.  That’s not the geese. That’s us. In fact, everything in that image is us, and that’s the secret of mathematics: it can only guess at the world. It’s powerful and beautiful, but it can only look at it through numbers and pattern, inferring the existence of a real world from that. We know there is a real world. We are designed to manipulate it.

It would be best to say that this is not an image of a sumach but a self-portrait. Sure, as humans we are able to look at faces, but we are able to do more than that.

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