Scale: The neverending story

| Scales of Interaction |

Studying time and space and value across different scales, we start to see different types of interactions. We begin to think about how the interactions we perceive everyday are situated relative to these other scales. We inevitably find ourselves looking for patterns.

But how do we find patterns of interaction across dimensions of scale? What kind of order is defined in the context of chaos? Can simplicity emerge within and out of complexity?

Fractals may help us understand these questions. As complex multi-scale patterns arising from simple recursive interactions, fractals embody the dynamic relationships between interaction and scale, order and chaos, simplicity and complexity. In studying fractal patterns, we may cultivate a better sense of the design underlying emergence.


Mysteriously beautiful fractals are shaking up the world of mathematics and deepening our understanding of nature.

You may not know it, but fractals, like the air you breathe, are all around you. Their irregular, repeating shapes are found in cloud formations and tree limbs, in stalks of broccoli and craggy mountain ranges, even in the rhythm of the human heart. In this film, we takes viewers on a fascinating quest with a group of maverick mathematicians determined to decipher the rules that govern fractal geometry.

For centuries, fractal-like irregular shapes were considered beyond the boundaries of mathematical understanding. Now, mathematicians have finally begun mapping this uncharted territory. Their remarkable findings are deepening our understanding of nature and stimulating a new wave of scientific, medical, and artistic innovation stretching from the ecology of the rain forest to fashion design. The documentary highlights a host of filmmakers, fashion designers, physicians, and researchers who are using fractal geometry to innovate and inspire.

Hunting the Hidden Dimension (Intro) | NOVA
Hunting the Hidden Dimension (Full) | NOVA

A background lesson on fractals

A fractal is a pattern that repeats itself at different scales. It is ideal for modeling nature: a tree is a branch of a branch of a branch; mountains are peaks within peaks; clouds are puffs of puffs, and so on. But modern computer scientists aren’t the only ones to use fractals: Africans have been using them for centuries to design textiles, sculptures, architecture, hairstyles and more. In this website you will learn how fractal geometry is used in computing and science, and apply that knowledge to simulating African designs.

African Fractals (interactive site) | Culturally Situated Design Tools

The fractals at the heart of African designs | Ron Eglash