The sweeping curves in this sandstone cliff in Zion National Park tell a story of sand blowing in ancient winds (Photo: Callan Bentley)
The human mind is very good at discerning patterns in nature: shapes, symmetries, repetitions. Even in random visual noise like cloud shapes or Rorschach blots, we see things that have meaning to us. But why do we see hexagons in beehives, mud puddles, ice crystals, and lava flows, but not sand dunes, rose bushes, or comets? What are the commonalities among galaxies, hurricanes, and ammonites that inform their spiral forms?
Callan Bentley, geology professor, Piedmont Virginia Community College, explores various formations, from branches and braids to waves and wiggles, and explains the science behind each. By decoding some of nature’s formations—from prosaic to sublime—we can better understand our ability for pattern recognition.
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