Richard Taylor, a physicist at the University of Oregon, has worked for years creating artificial retinas for patients with vision problems. His studies, unexpectedly, have led him to see the profound effects of fractal patterns on the human body, as well as their presence in nature and in art, and specifically in the work of American painter, Jackson Pollock.

For a long time, scientists in all disciplines have wondered how it is that the observation of something beautiful (however subjective the concept might seem) has effects on the human body. Why does being in contact with a beautiful sight reduce stress and improve health on so many levels?

During the 1980s, studies showed that patients recovered from surgery more quickly when hospital rooms had windows overlooking gardens or similar natural settings. These studies launched a new trend in the design of hospitals and clinics. Further research showed that even the observation of painted natural landscapes affects the autonomic response of the nervous system to stress.

But what is there in certain images, natural landscapes, or works of art, that holds this incredible power over us? Taylor’s studies found that with fractal, repetitive geometric patterns which gradually magnify themselves (they’re present in elements of nature such as plants, seashells, rivers, clouds, and mountains), lay an answer.

These powerful patterns have been replicated by man in visual art and in other disciplines; in the sacred geometry of temples and ritual expressions across all of human culture. Taylor’s studies led him to look for works of art in which they were most apparent, and so he approached the work of the painter Jackson Pollock.

Many of the paintings of the abstract expressionist, work which emerged in the 1940s, were made by emptying paint cans onto canvases placed on the floor. Pollock’s movements during the pouring of the paint were not random but responded to a kind of balance game invented by the artist. That balance is said to have had a fractal quality. Through a unique technology, Taylor’s team discovered numerous fractals in Pollock’s paintings and fractals like those found in nature. This feature, in Taylor’s opinion, is partly responsible for Pollock’s popularity.

In spite the intuitive charge they can give, the reproduction of fractals in art is neither accidental nor simple. The scientists even discovered that in several imitations of Pollock’s paintings, the appearance of the fractal patterns dramatically diminished.

Based on all of these studies, Taylor coined the term “fractal fluency.” This refers to the (profoundly simple and comforting) way in which the human eye is able to process fractals, and it’s in good part thanks to our permanent contact with nature. The process is made up of multiple stages, from the way the eye moves when perceiving silhouettes, to the parts of the human brain that are activated in these same moments.

Using electroencephalograms and measurements of electrical activity in the skin, Taylor and his team recorded and studied the behavior of the brain in reaction to these visual portents. One of their most incredible discoveries was that in observing these patterns, stress can be reduced by up to 60%. These are remarkable results for a drug-free treatment.

A reverence for beauty is perhaps one of the most essential characteristics of the human condition. And, to that point, Taylor’s studies have shown something truly inspiring: as many have long claimed, there’s an inexplicable wisdom in nature. It surrounds us and exists within us, and the intuition within the creative power of artists from all ages and cultures makes them messengers and bearers of sacred information.

 

*Image: Wooden horse: Number 10A, by Jackson Pollock, 1948. / Emiliano – flickr / Creative Commons

Richard Taylor, a physicist at the University of Oregon, has worked for years creating artificial retinas for patients with vision problems. His studies, unexpectedly, have led him to see the profound effects of fractal patterns on the human body, as well as their presence in nature and in art, and specifically in the work of American painter, Jackson Pollock.

For a long time, scientists in all disciplines have wondered how it is that the observation of something beautiful (however subjective the concept might seem) has effects on the human body. Why does being in contact with a beautiful sight reduce stress and improve health on so many levels?

During the 1980s, studies showed that patients recovered from surgery more quickly when hospital rooms had windows overlooking gardens or similar natural settings. These studies launched a new trend in the design of hospitals and clinics. Further research showed that even the observation of painted natural landscapes affects the autonomic response of the nervous system to stress.

But what is there in certain images, natural landscapes, or works of art, that holds this incredible power over us? Taylor’s studies found that with fractal, repetitive geometric patterns which gradually magnify themselves (they’re present in elements of nature such as plants, seashells, rivers, clouds, and mountains), lay an answer.

These powerful patterns have been replicated by man in visual art and in other disciplines; in the sacred geometry of temples and ritual expressions across all of human culture. Taylor’s studies led him to look for works of art in which they were most apparent, and so he approached the work of the painter Jackson Pollock.

Many of the paintings of the abstract expressionist, work which emerged in the 1940s, were made by emptying paint cans onto canvases placed on the floor. Pollock’s movements during the pouring of the paint were not random but responded to a kind of balance game invented by the artist. That balance is said to have had a fractal quality. Through a unique technology, Taylor’s team discovered numerous fractals in Pollock’s paintings and fractals like those found in nature. This feature, in Taylor’s opinion, is partly responsible for Pollock’s popularity.

In spite the intuitive charge they can give, the reproduction of fractals in art is neither accidental nor simple. The scientists even discovered that in several imitations of Pollock’s paintings, the appearance of the fractal patterns dramatically diminished.

Based on all of these studies, Taylor coined the term “fractal fluency.” This refers to the (profoundly simple and comforting) way in which the human eye is able to process fractals, and it’s in good part thanks to our permanent contact with nature. The process is made up of multiple stages, from the way the eye moves when perceiving silhouettes, to the parts of the human brain that are activated in these same moments.

Using electroencephalograms and measurements of electrical activity in the skin, Taylor and his team recorded and studied the behavior of the brain in reaction to these visual portents. One of their most incredible discoveries was that in observing these patterns, stress can be reduced by up to 60%. These are remarkable results for a drug-free treatment.

A reverence for beauty is perhaps one of the most essential characteristics of the human condition. And, to that point, Taylor’s studies have shown something truly inspiring: as many have long claimed, there’s an inexplicable wisdom in nature. It surrounds us and exists within us, and the intuition within the creative power of artists from all ages and cultures makes them messengers and bearers of sacred information.

 

*Image: Wooden horse: Number 10A, by Jackson Pollock, 1948. / Emiliano – flickr / Creative Commons