• Lizzie Newell

Fractals, Poetry, and Science Fiction

Fractal tree branches

I have become fascinated by fractals, patterns which are similar on multiple scales. If you stand way back you see the pattern, and if you zoom in closer you see the same type of pattern. Closer still and you see the pattern again. The swirling vortex in your morning coffee also occurs as a hurricane, on the surface of Jupiter, and in the swirl of a galaxy.

Every day, I go for a run and write haikus based on what I see and think. Much of my poetry seems to relate to fractals. I see fractals everywhere—the meander of creeks, the growth of trees, the ripple of clouds, even in suburban sprawl.

Fractals are produced by recursion; the outcome of a process is fed back into the process itself—the old chicken and egg scenario. Basically, if you take a simple unit and repeat it recursively you’ll end up with a fractal pattern. Consider a snowflake, made of oxygen connected to two hydrogen molecules at a 60-degree angle. As a snowflake nucleus drifts, more water molecules latch on and in turn, are seized by more molecules, producing the hexagonal fractal-pattern we know as a snowflake. When it's heavy enough it falls. You may be engaged in recursion when doodling, designing quilts, or with painting.

Or with novels. The basic unit of expectation, climax, and resolution can be repeated on every scale: sentence, paragraph, scene, chapter, and book. Linguists get boggling complex when talking about grammatical recursion and the fractal nature of language, so I’m not going to get into the subject any further.

I’m more interested in society. Within human society, sex forms the basic repeating unit. A man and a woman have sex, produce a baby, and raises that child—or somebody does. The child grows has sex, produces a baby and on it goes.

I think about changing this basic unit of producing and rearing children. What if there were more women than men? What if clans raised the children? What if society had a single gender?

Change the basic unit and the entire pattern changes. This fascinates me.

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