Invisible Driving Force


  Years ago on kids’ first trip to the beach I noticed that the shells in which they found great interest were not whole or colorful, but in fact the most sun bleached pieces – especially those with some intricacy.  Furthermore, that observation reminded me that I’d been the same and even had some ‘originals’ in a dusty collection at my folks’ house.

  It was the shape, not the color.

  Thus it was interesting for me to read in the Science Times section of the 5/1/12 NYT that “Babies are born Euclideans” and that they “use geometric clues to orient themselves in three-dimensional space”.  And not color.  Isn’t that interesting given all of the information provided by our eyes?

  The article was about a researcher at Harvard – Elizabeth Spelke – investigating the innate characteristics of our brains by means of  close observation of infants.  “…Identifying the inherent expectations of babies as young as a week or two by measuring how long they stare at a scene in which those presumptions are upended or unmet.”

  Very young babies would notice if the room in which they were was triangular or rectangular in plan.  They’d remember whether an object had been by a short or long wall.  Much to the surprise to Prof Spelke it was not until the age of five or six that color provided much help in infant navigation.

  Made me think.  First, that the ability to discern even light and dark let alone how to read a map came long after, well, the ability to swim in the primordial soup.  And that even earlier all that stuff moved (moves!) through the cosmos just fine without even being alive.

  The design of our universe is all math.  It is incredible to realize, in the words of architect and theorist Anne Tyng, how completely “we inhabit geometry”.  She showed that “the building blocks of nature are demonstrated as geometry in pure motion”* and that the “power of geometry is the invisible driving force in natural forms”**. 

  Too bad I have to take off my shoes and socks to get past ten…

* ** The comments were from the catalogue for a retrospective exhibition of the work of Ms Tyng. The first was from an essay by Jenny Sabin: “Geometry in Transformation – Computing Mind and Matter”.  The second from the essay “Dynamic Symmetries” by Alicia Imperiale.

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