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Nature is Round, and Humans are Square

Haight

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I came across an interesting thought when I was walking my dog through a forest and around a lake yesterday.

I thought, I don't see anything in nature that is square, either aesthetically or down to the biological structure, if I were to examine them though a microscope. Moreover, after walking back into the housing tracks, I realized that the vast proportion of things that humans construct are square, and would done correctly, they are perfect squares. Then I started thinking about the possible conflict that this creates for us, for our world, and for our environment. However, my lack of understanding within the biological sciences keeps me from reaching a conclusion, or even a decent theory.

So . . . am I missing something? Am I full of nonsense? Is this a fact that everyone knows except me?

And most importantly, what are the implications of this situation, if nature produces that which is round, and humans produce things that are square?
 

disregard

mrs
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trees have rings because they grow from the center. water droplets are round because the attraction holds the molecules together. the sun is round for the same reason. nothing man-made "grows" or is a force revolving at such great velocity that it would become round over time. man's creations must be structured and strong, and the most efficient structure is rectangular.
 

Brendan

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I think it points to the inefficiency of humanity as a whole. A bubble is round because circular and spherical objects are the most efficient forms in the universe. They have no weakpoints. Look to old Rome. The domes were a pain in the ass the construct, but will last for a very, very, long time.
 

Brendan

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man's creations must be structured and strong, and the most efficient structure is rectangular.
Rectangles are actually very easy to destroy. Think of a cardboard box. Put a small amount of force on any one side and the systems fails.
 

reason

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Nature does produce square things, they're called humans.

(note: it also produces other rigid and squarish shapes, like the atomic structure of lead.)
 

Littlelostnf

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trees have rings because they grow from the center. water droplets are round because the attraction holds the molecules together. the sun is round for the same reason. nothing man-made "grows" or is a force revolving at such great velocity that it would become round over time. man's creations must be structured and strong, and the most efficient structure is rectangular.

Most builders would disagree with you. My cousin is building a house in the islands (St. Croix) and alot of people building there are going round.

http://www.usitoday.com/article_view.asp?ArticleID=1602

I agree with Haight...I think that many of our structures conflict with our environment...(also mental conflict). I too have no real understanding of the biologicial sciences...but just looking around at nature and the way it constructs itself would give any thinking person a clue that it is a better way of building. I can think of few streamlined and efficient products that are squared off...generally they are rounded.
 

HilbertSpace

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humani nil a me alienum puto -
To me, nothing human is foreign

There are many squares in nature, from inorganic structures like the salt crystal to biological forms ranging from the amorphous but roughly square box jelly, many different species of plankton, and even each and every plant cell.

More important, though, is the question of whether or not humans themselves (and their creations) are natural phenomena. I am not a dualist - I believe that any attempt to draw a line between people and nature is ultimately wrong.

Everything we see around us that is the direct or indirect result of an adaptive process - from a plant cell to a condominium - has a form determined, broadly, by two types of forces: utility and constraint. Houses are square because it gives us maximum availability of floor space, for instance, and because it is easier to construct a lot of straight boards than it is to create them with a uniform curve.

Evolution in biological organisms works with the same forces - that is, natural selection uses the Malthusian aspect of nature to pick and choose on the basis of utility, while constraint is reflected in evolution works with what exists, rather than starting from scratch with each generation.

Nothing human is foreign to this world. Man is no more or less natural than any other life-form. We alter our environment, as does everything from slime-releasing bacteria to mound-building termites to dam-building beavers.

What differences exist are differences of ratio - they are rooted in the differences in information content between the neurological and the genetic. All species learn, all species communicate. In higher organisms, Man in particular, the learning can be done in real-time (neural net type learning). In other species, the learning is done in evolutionary time (genetic algorithm type learning). However, the form and the function of learning are identical - again, shaped by a combination of forces of utility and constraint.
 

hereandnow

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You are discussing nature and HilbertSpace has provided the biological component. In the field of physics we see squares. An interesting thought though.
 

reason

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That's crystallization, and the atoms are still spherical in structure.
Well, on that note we could say that no building is really square either, since the atoms are still "spherical in structure." Besides, atoms aren't spherical in structure, they are just spherical in pictures. The forces that construct atoms are shapeless, precisely because they define what shape is.

My original comment referred to the relationships between the atoms, as did Haight's original observations that humans build flat, rigid, square things.
 

Haight

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[lots of interesting stuff]
Agreed, and I hold the same position on all accounts. However, I wasn't trying to get into the "is man part of nature" debate because I believe that ultimately turns into a religious argument, and hence, beyond the scientific implications that I am seeking.

With that said, and given your examples, square, non-human creations seem rare. Do you agree with that? If so, why do you think that's the case?

I feel that I'm going to end up discovering that humans create a highly disproportional amount of square products relative to non-human creations. And, if that is correct, what would be the implication of that on the over-all environment. Because of course I realize that the things around us are a part of an adaptive process, yet some of the things around us will disappear because they did not retain a cohesive relationship with the environment.

(I know my terms are not biological terms, so I apologize for that.)





And, :doh: . . . why didn't I think of crystals? That's so obvious.
 

kuranes

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This is supposedly the reason why vampires "really" hate the cross. Not because of Christianity, but because the right angles at the juncture are "unnatural", and they are particularly susceptible to that. :)

Buckyballs are cool. Miniature "geodesic domes".
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geodesic_dome

The new "Boron" buckyball will be even more stable than the "traditional" one made of Carbon, since the sphere will be composed of interlocking triangles vs. interlocking hexagons, which relates to "chord factor" a subject that was once the purview of people who keep military secrets. Perhaps aspects of it still are. ( ? )

"Which geometric form would be most stable ?" is an interesting question. It was conjectured by fringe speculators that the Egyptian pyramids were originally designed to withstand the incredible storms that a shift in magnetic poles would cause, which supposedly may happen every few skadillion years.

Interesting tangent - IIRC, fractals were discovered while trying to map a coastline, and the curves and squiggles of the line added up to more than they were supposed to when straightened out, or something like that. I should go look this up right now so as to have a more dignified end to this post. :)
 

Brendan

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Well, on that note we could say that no building is really square either, since the atoms are still "spherical in structure." Besides, atoms aren't spherical in structure, they are just spherical in pictures. The forces that construct atoms are shapeless, precisely because they define what shape is.
Fair enough, but I was referring to the fact that (if I get this wrong, please forgive me as I know nothing of quantum physics) the parts that make up atoms move in spherical patterns.
My original comment referred to the relationships between the atoms, as did Haight's original observations that humans build flat, rigid, square things.
But there we have a difference. Cubes and squares don't come naturally from circular objects. Hexagons do, and aren't crystals hexagonal in shape? So even then, the few flat, squared off structures that nature produces are staying true to circular form.

And even then, for things to grow into a squared off shape, they must be seperated from the elements of wind and water, as they have the tendency to take the edge off of squared off structures. This is what I took Haight's post to be referring to. Human structures have a tendency to fly directly in the face of nature and its effects.
 

Siúil a Rúin

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I've thought about similar things flying over the Midwest and viewing the contrasts between the rigid little squares of farmland and the organic lines of the rivers and landscape.

Perhaps the underlying issue is not so much one of shapes as one of creating arbitrary boundaries. Human beings do seem to have a propensity towards creating boundaries where they would not naturally exist. We do this conceptually in thought and carve it out into the landscape. It creates a continual tension with the natural world, which tends to erode these little boundaries.

Our concepts of red, blue, yellow, are somewhat arbitrary divisions of the light spectrum. Even our music chops the continuum of pitch into 12 equidistant little steps that we rearrange. The categorization of everything we perceive and the tendency to define things based on where the boundaries lie instead of idealized poles towards which ideas lie w/o boundaries is what I understand as the projection of arbitrary boundaries onto nature's continuums. It is like humans reduce reality to a lower resolution than exists. Perhaps this is because our minds are so little, that it reflects our limited perceptions and ability to process these.
 

HilbertSpace

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With that said, and given your examples, square, non-human creations seem rare. Do you agree with that? If so, why do you think that's the case?

I feel that I'm going to end up discovering that humans create a highly disproportional amount of square products relative to non-human creations. And, if that is correct, what would be the implication of that on the over-all environment. Because of course I realize that the things around us are a part of an adaptive process, yet some of the things around us will disappear because they did not retain a cohesive relationship with the environment.

When we're involving biological organisms, I think that it is necessary to extend the concept of 'creations' to organic forms, rather than limiting it to manipulations of the non-living environment. Evolutionary speaking, a plant cell is designed and constructed in a way that is analogous to a building. In this sense, there are a lot more plant cells and rectangular bacteria than there are people, much less buildings.

I think that an interesting angle might be along the lines of to what degree human designers are able to replicate accounting for the diversity of utility and constraining forces. I might say that you'd have to also incorporate architectural history - in the same way that a termite inherits genes that determine the form of the mound, an architect, via school and earlier work inherits acceptable forms. At the same time, learning and adaptation is occurring within his own head - unlike a genetic system, architects can invent as they go, rather than passing on new and untested ideas to students.

Human constructions are, broadly speaking simpler in form than things that are purely organic, which is why we see hard angles and squares. In a large part, it is because we engage in top-down engineering as a byproduct of having a very large adaptive system (the brain) contained within an individual. When building a skyscraper, an architect can design the entire building on a piece of paper, and can have a level of control over its construction. A termite mound, on the other hand, is an altogether different thing in some ways because of the constraints on the termites. No termite has the brain (that is, neural capacity) to design a mound. Termites don't even have the ability to direct each other across a great distance - they can't shout out orders. Instead, we see a bottom-up approach to design using stimergy - coordinating a collective effort to modify the environment by means of modifying the environment. I place my grain of sand here. which triggers a response in you to place yours there.

The bottom-up approach is the one that nature chooses when the problems are too hard to be solved by an individual (and, because of the hierarchical nature of complex systems, we find this metaphor repeated on scales ranging from cellular physiology to ecosystems). It addresses the multitude of constraints in a parallel manner, rather than having to go through things in a serial fashion like the top down designer has to do, and that's part of what's reflected in the geometric lumpiness we find in the constructed forms.

Check out this paper on "Meaning Based Natural Intelligence Vs. Information Based Artificial Intelligence." The author contrasts the nature of the two models of systems. I think the distinction, if any can be said to exist, lies in the way we think about the systems we design - the meta-design process.
 

Wolf

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I keep noticing this, too, but I couldn't distill the exact reason that human stuff looked so wrong while natural stuff looked so right... It was more of a "that looks unreasonable" (human) to "that looks correct and natural".

Staring off my back deck this morning I was looking at the flat they created on top of one of the nearby mountains and the cuts they made into the edge of another, and I keep thinking that while my house seems somewhat illogical, those seem less logical...
 

hereandnow

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Instead, we see a bottom-up approach to design using stimergy - coordinating a collective effort to modify the environment by means of modifying the environment. I place my grain of sand here. which triggers a response in you to place yours there.

The bottom-up approach is the one that nature chooses when the problems are too hard to be solved by an individual (and, because of the hierarchical nature of complex systems, we find this metaphor repeated on scales ranging from cellular physiology to ecosystems). It addresses the multitude of constraints in a parallel manner, rather than having to go through things in a serial fashion like the top down designer has to do, and that's part of what's reflected in the geometric lumpiness we find in the constructed forms.

Nature is not clumsy. The bottom up approach appears haphazard but it's not.
 

HilbertSpace

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Nature is not clumsy. The bottom up approach appears haphazard but it's not.

Absolutely agreed - the lumpiness is not a factor of incompetence. In fact, the opposite is true - the lumpiness is a sign that more constraints are being taken into account.The natural world is highly parallel, and one of our difficulties in trying to understand it is that we tend to account for in our reductionist models. That's not to say that reductionism is bad - it's a vital part of understanding - but in order to understand the system as a whole we need to then step back and understand the dynamics of the interplay between all of the parts of the system.
 

hereandnow

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Absolutely agreed - the lumpiness is not a factor of incompetence. In fact, the opposite is true - the lumpiness is a sign that more constraints are being taken into account.The natural world is highly parallel, and one of our difficulties in trying to understand it is that we tend to account for in our reductionist models. That's not to say that reductionism is bad - it's a vital part of understanding - but in order to understand the system as a whole we need to then step back and understand the dynamics of the interplay between all of the parts of the system.

As you stated elsewhere the Engineer views it as clumsy but not the scientist. As someone with an Engineering undergrad degree with a Masters in Physics my own view is that of the scientist.
 
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