|One stop on the BrainTime Vacation was a workshop with physicist Dr. Stephen Morris on emergent patterns and self-organising systems. This is a study of patterns that arise from natural process such as cracks in mud flats, ripples on sand dunes, cusps on a beach that is driven by waves, stripes on a zebra, and the ridges that form on icicles. Emergent patterns can also be created in the lab where variables can be controlled and investigated. One classic example of this are the Faraday patterns which occur when liquids are shaken vertically to produce various mysterious grids and intersections on the surface.
In Morris's University of Toronto lab we also met Zeina Kahn who is studying different types of grains and how they interact when rotated in a long tube. Two grains of different sizes, and colours, invariably form a regular stripe pattern when spun together. The effect is graphic and simple. It almost seems obvious, and yet the reasons why this pattern is created are not yet understood.
Zeina's grains are an abstract image, created by nature, with the motivation of a driven system, yet still indifferent to human-style narrative or representation. Can we say that they have meaning? Can we say that they don't?