All around us is the structure of the universe; all we have to do is pay attention. Viewed from the right distance the image above could be a small, dense star absorbing the spiral of matter falling from the shell of a dying giant star. Or it could be the myelin sheath around a nerve glial cell from a giant squid. As it is, it’s simply the bark of a tree that has grown to seal off earlier damage to the trunk.
Structure is what reality is made of (chaos theory to the contrary), repeating patterns existing on a micro and macro scale from atomic to cosmological. Our eye locks onto patterns quickly, sometimes even trying to create patterns where none exists. Stare at the noise on a TV screen long enough and you start to believe you’re seeing the same groupings of static over and over again.
Why are we so fixated on patterns? Where does this desire for structure come from? It could be we’re instinctively living the life of our early ancestors, hardwired to be watchful for predators or other threats. It was probably important to recognize patterns if only so we’d be able to differentiate them from something that breaks the repetition, like a large cat attacking (you think tigers have stripes to be MORE obvious?). Photographers use this particular trait – look at truly interesting photographs of repeating patterns and you’ll find there’s usually one or two elements that disrupt the pattern. Your eye is almost reflexively forced to see the intruding element.
It’s almost magical the way our brain and eyes manage what we “see” in such a way that you wonder just how much choice you actually have when viewing something. Researchers have already shown that nerve impulses reach the brain measurably before we actually react to the stimulus. Are we actually seeing reality in real-time? Or is the structure resolving itself into patterns we expect to see based on our brain’s interpretation.
There’s a principle in physics that promotes an Anthropic position regarding reality. It essentially says our reality is the way it is because we are here to observe it. The position derived from this is we create our reality all the time by simply watching. Not sure I’m fully in sync with this idea but as a visual person it’s nice to think how much the power of viewing might have on everything around us!