Synopses & Reviews
For centuries, scientists have struggled to understand the origins of the patterns and forms found in nature. Now, in this lucid and accessibly written book, Philip Ball applies state-of-the-art scientific understanding from the fields of biology, chemistry, geology, physics, and mathematics to these ancient mysteries, revealing how nature's seemingly complex patterns originate in simple physical laws.
Tracing the history of scientific thought about natural patterns, Ball shows how common presumptions--for example, that complex form must be guided by some intelligence or that form always follows function--are erroneous and continue to mislead scientists today. He investigates specific patterns in depth, revealing that these designs are self-organized and that simple, local interactions between component parts produce motifs like spots, stripes, branches, and honeycombs. In the process, he examines the mysterious phenomenon of symmetry and why it appears--and breaks--in similar ways in different systems. Finally, he attempts to answer this profound question: why are some patterns universal? Illustrations throughout the text, many in full color, beautifully illuminate Ball's ideas.
Most people including most scientists take it as a given that the appearance of complex patterns implies conscious planning on the part of an intelligent agent or, in the case of such patterns in the biological world, the stringent application of the forces of natural selection. Ball (Designing the Molecular World) challenges these assumptions directly, documenting the counterintuitive idea that the operation of simple physical laws often yields complex and beautiful, but wholly natural, patterns. Ball's range is quite impressive. He discusses pattern formation on the hides of zebras, giraffes and leopards; the creation of honeycombs by bees; the uncanny similarities between branching patterns in plants and mineral dendrites of magnesium oxide. Ball also demonstrates how the same physical laws can operate on dramatically different scales: the same pattern of wave propagation has been found both in newly fertilized frog eggs and in nascent spiral galaxies. Despite fascinating material such as that, Ball's text is highly technical and often abstruse so much so that it may prove inaccessible to most nonscientists other than the comprehensible captions on the more than 400 photographs and line drawings (24 in color), that is, which make this a book that's at least worthy browsing for general readers. Publishers Weekly
Nature magazine editor Philip Ball reveals how patterns emerge in nature's beautiful complexity, following simple physical laws. Ball traces the history of scientific thought about natural patterns, showing how common presumptions are erroneous and continue to mislead scientists today. Ball goes on to an in-depth investigation of specific patterns to show how these designs are self-organized, and produce patterns like spots, stripes, branches, and honeycombs. A revolutionary exploration, with stunning color photos that illustrate this lucid, eloquent book, Philip Ball's SELF-MADE TAPESTRY is certain to enlighten anyone who has ever marveled at the shape of a seashell, the brilliance of a spider's web, or how the leopard (and the planet Jupiter) got its spots.
A revelatory, lavishly illustrated exploration of nature's magnificent patterns and forms--and of their origins in simple physical law. 24 color plates. 248 color photos. 166 illustrations.
About the Author
, an editor at Nature
since 1988, has written many scientific articles on all topics for the popular press. His first book, Designing the Molecular World
, won the American Association of Publishers award for books on chemistry.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 - Patterns
Chapter 2 - Bubbles
Chapter 3 - Waves
Chapter 4 - Bodies
Chapter 5 - Branches
Chapter 6 - Breakdowns
Chapter 7 - Fluids
Chapter 8 - Grains
Chapter 9 - Communities
Chapter 10 - Principles