Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Chaos and African Graffiti

IN 1988, RON EGLASH was studying aerial photographs of a traditional Tanzanian village when a strangely familiar pattern caught his eye.The thatched-roof huts were organized in a geometric pattern ofcircular clusters within circular clusters, an arrangement Eglash recognized from his former days as a Silicon Valley computer engineer.Stunned, Eglash digitized the images and fed the information into a computer. The computer's calculations agreed with his intuition: He was seeing fractals. Since then, Eglash has documented the use of fractal geometry-the geometry of similar shapes repeated on ever-shrinking scales-in everything from hairstyles and architecture to artwork and religious practices in African culture. The complicated designs and surprisingly complex mathematical processes involved in their creation may force researchers and historians to rethink their assumptions about traditional African mathematics The discovery may also provide a new tool for teaching African-Americans about their mathematical heritage. In contrast to the relatively ordered world of Euclidean geometry taught in most classrooms, fractal geometry yields less obvious patterns. These patterns appear everywhere in nature, yet mathematicians began deciphering them only about 30 years ago.(..more>>>)

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