Over the course of the past year, I’ve been considering ways to bolster the foundations on which I create my personal work- with and without Max. While I’m happy not to revisit my old Art School days (where an undeveloped piece of photographic paper was shrouded in conceptual rationale before it even had an image on it), I do primarily produce work that is concept-driven - it’s nice to keep those concepts progressing. Part of that desire to continue to learn involves getting better at mathematics. Upon spotting this book in a neat little Venice Beach bookstore, I thought, "What better way to step up my game than a book about the relationship between mathematics, patterns, and the natural World?"
The author (Ian Stewart) wasn't someone I was familiar with, so I did a little research. It turns out Ian has a very long and successful career as both a professor of mathematics at the University of Warwick, England, and also an author of countless titles based around mathematics that date back to the 1970s.
The book is broken down into just three parts;
- Principles & Patterns
- The Mathematical World
- Simplicity & Complexity
We start off with the question, What shape is a snowflake?, and from there we take off down a rabbit hole with the idea of explaining this phenomena with mathematics by analysing and breaking down the mathematical principles surrounding patterns in nature, our solar system, our behaviour, symmetry and beyond. I have to admit that just a handful of pages into the book I was turning back to Max to put those patterns to the test, such a Fibonacci number sequence - a pattern that appears again and again in the natural world.
Another section that wrenched my mind was the Order & Disorder section, referencing the universe it mentions, “Maybe nature’s alleged mathematical basis is a figment of human imagination”. BOOM!
The nature of how the book is as follows: Part 1 proposes a number of questions, showing examples and questions on how different principles and patterns present themselves, take place, or are observed. Part 2 seeks to relate mathematics to the content presented in Part 1, and part 3 completes the book by taking a look at more complex issues related to the laws of nature - chaos, fractal geometry, the universe - and wraps up by looping back to where the book began, "What shape is a snowflake?"
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. First, it’s allowed me to understand a number of mathematical principles that I’ve known about for years but couldn’t quite comprehend or place into context. With the knowledge in this book under my belt, I’ve found myself walking through my environment applying mathematics to things I never would have imagined; it’s given me a new set of eyes.
Second, it’s been a real blast to apply these new learnings directly to my Max patching and other creative works. At many times during the book, I couldn’t help but put the book down and immediately start building patches using these new mathematical principles and discovering new ways of interpreting aspects of nature I admire. This is truly the way I like to learn, and Ian Stewart has presented some quite complex phenomena in terms that people from very different backgrounds could understand.
I’ve left this book out on the coffee table, since I look forward to revisiting different sections at random moments for inspiration.