5 Insanely Powerful Patterns You Didn't Know Are Everywhere

So many hexagons.
5 Insanely Powerful Patterns You Didn't Know Are Everywhere

The world is full of patterns -- the swirl in a conch shell, the orbit of the stars, the regular bee invasions of the Cracked home offices. (We like honey. Is that a crime?) But like all artists, Mother Nature is shiftless and lazy. Sometimes, she doesn't feel like doing new stuff, and instead opts to reuse patterns in situations you'd never expect. For example, consider how ...

Lightning, Rivers, And Your Lungs All Follow The Same Patterns

5 Insanely Powerful Patterns You Didn't Know Are Everywhere
Steve Waters/Lonely Planet/Getty Images

Well, you've done it again: You've angered Zeus. Frankly, it was inevitable. But hey, at least you can add another badass lightning-induced Lichtenberg figure to your collection:

5 Insanely Powerful Patterns You Didn't Know Are Everywhere
Winston Kemp & Julie Stanford

Hey, with Zeus, you're better off if he doesn't like you.

Say, doesn't that pattern look kind of familiar?

5 Insanely Powerful Patterns You Didn't Know Are Everywhere
Thomas Lottermoser/Moment/Getty Images

We'll go out on a limb and say it does.

Oh, right. It's the scary-ass old tree. Surely a coincidence. But pan back a little, and you'll see that the river nearby follows an eerily familiar, branching pattern...

5 Insanely Powerful Patterns You Didn't Know Are Everywhere
David Clapp/Oxford Scientific/Getty Images

... as does the nearby mountain range ...

5 Insanely Powerful Patterns You Didn't Know Are Everywhere
University of California, Davis

... and if that's too grand a scale for you, so do the air pipes in your lungs:

5 Insanely Powerful Patterns You Didn't Know Are Everywhere
Dr. Andre Kempe/Oxford Scientific/Getty Images

Smokers' lungs look like the Fibonacci sequence.

This branching is due to fractal systems known as dendritic configurations. Every system in which something flows -- be it water, blood, or electricity -- tends to branch and bifurcate in a manner seen above. Parent vessels in these systems, like arteries, air pipes, lung capillaries, and various transport systems in plants, branch into smaller daughter vessels to distribute the nutrients or blood (or whatever the vessels are carrying) as effectively as possible. Trees mostly follow the bifurcation system where one divides into two. The tree trunk divides into several branches so that the leaves are spread on a largest area possible to receive sunlight. Rivers form deltas for similar reasons. When a river starts emptying out into an ocean or a lake, it slows down, and all the silt starts to settle, so bifurcating is a better option than trying to hose it through like a thumb on a garden hose.

Science can accurately replicate this natural phenomenon with a process known as the Lindenmayer system, which works by taking the desired symbol and bifurcating it endlessly.

K 2 3
Dan Wild/RIT

It's not as dirty as it sounds.

Isn't that cool? And it all happened because nature, much like your college education that resulted in a Liberal Arts degree, took the path of least resistance.

Everything From Dirt To Bees: It's All Hexagons

5 Insanely Powerful Patterns You Didn't Know Are Everywhere
Stephen Lovekin/Moment Mobile/Getty Images

What do honeycomb, the wings of a dragonfly, tomato skins, and dried-up soil have in common? Unless you're planning to Dr. Moreau up a garden golem, not much. Except, of course, for one thing: Look closely enough, and they all follow ...

Valengilda/iStock/Getty Images

... the exact ...

5 Insanely Powerful Patterns You Didn't Know Are Everywhere
Rickfrombaltimore/Wiki Commons

... same ...

5 Insanely Powerful Patterns You Didn't Know Are Everywhere
IronChris/Wiki Commons

... pattern.

5 Insanely Powerful Patterns You Didn't Know Are Everywhere
Magdalena Biskup/Moment Open/Getty Images

All we see are patterns. The patterns that repeat.

What? Did the programmers of the Matrix get lazy and reuse the same textures? This seeming glitch in nature's code is actually the exact opposite. The structure is known as the Voronoi diagram. It's nature's way of packing randomly-shaped shit together as tightly as possible, while providing maximum amount of inherent stability.

If you're so inclined, you can make one at home. Draw some random points on a piece of paper. Join them with a pencil. Then, bisect each line at 90 degrees with a pen. Rub away the lines made with pencils, and voila! Your very own Voronoi diagram.

. B B B C G C A A A 'D D D F E F F E E B B B'-B C A A G AA G' D D D F FF' E' E F E E

Again, this works no matter how you drew the random points.

The more symmetrical structures out there are simply nature tweaking even more efficient variations of the structural theme. There are three shapes you can use to fill a two-dimensional space without leaving space: triangles, squares, and hexagons. The last is the strongest structure and thus requires the least building material, so that's how bees shape their hives and how plants structure their cells, but not how we pack our U-Hauls. Because apparently bees and plants are way smarter than we are.

5 Insanely Powerful Patterns You Didn't Know Are Everywhere
Fernan Federici/Moment/Getty Images

We showed this article to some bees and plants, and they were unimpressed.

In fact, nature loves this trick so much that it even pops up in places where structural integrity shouldn't really be an issue, such as a giraffe's fur:

5 Insanely Powerful Patterns You Didn't Know Are Everywhere
Siede Preis/Photodisc/Getty Images

Don't dye the giraffe's hair, or it will collapse.

Animals And Cities Grow In The Same Way

5 Insanely Powerful Patterns You Didn't Know Are Everywhere
Ben Cranke/Stone/Getty Images

Imagine a baby elephant. Then imagine a rapidly growing city like, say, Portland. What do the two have in common (apart from the fact that they'll both inevitably produce more crap)? They happen to grow the exact same way.

10' homeo therme (warmblooded organisms) scale) log poikilotherms (kcal/h: (cold blooded organisms) rate unicellular organisms a metabolic 10 10-9 10-
Gregory C. O'Kelly/BioMed Central

As illustrated by this graph, which compares metabolism to cuteness.

The four of our readers who remember literally anything from high school biology class might be familiar with Kleiber's Law, which governs the metabolism and size of most living animals. Basically, it says that the amount of calories an animal can burn off is its mass to the three-fourths power. Kleiber's Law applies to most living things that we know of, from one-celled organisms and simple plants to blue whales and your mom. As animals grow larger, they get better at storing/releasing energy from the food they eat.

In their attempt to coax the flaccid member of sociology into raging hard physics, Physicist Geoffrey West and his band of rogue scientists stumbled onto a curious find: This exact same principle also applies to cities. Here, see:

5 Insanely Powerful Patterns You Didn't Know Are Everywhere
Luis Bettencourt & Geoffrey West/Nature

This graph compares GDP to number of Starbucks.

As cities grow larger, they become more and more efficient at handling the energy needed to manage them, just like animals. Think of a small village as a simple organism, like a beetle. Compared to its larger counterparts, it might need very few resources to keep going, but it can't manage what it has in an efficient fashion. People have to be stocked in scattered houses, and providing luxuries like power and plumbing is a massive, uneconomic hassle. But the bigger a settlement gets, the more it starts to resemble a large animal -- that elephant. A big city is super-efficient at managing its people. The cells it stores them in are no longer simple huts, but huge apartment buildings. Boulevards are its blood vessels, alleys are its capillaries, and the state senate its decaying, tumorous liver.

Following that idea, the scientists created the law of urban scaling. Although some argue against its viability, it may be able to predict a city's sustainability, status, and future potential ... along with little things like the nature of a city's electrical cables and, oh, its residents' income.

Somewhere out there, a scientist is working on a theory that can predict how much money you have in your pocket based on how elephant biology works. So you better eat up if you know what's good for you, you tusky son of a bitch.

5 Insanely Powerful Patterns You Didn't Know Are Everywhere

Trade And Gravity Follow The Same Rules

5 Insanely Powerful Patterns You Didn't Know Are Everywhere
Valengilda/iStock/Getty Images

Capitalism is the closest thing the Western world has to a common language, even if most of what it says is "Fuck you, buddy." There are tons of books about trade and its inner workings, usually written by men in designer suits and smiles that seem like they belong under a triangular fin. Not that you really need to bother with any of those, though. A fellow called Isaac Newton already wrote the definitive guide on the subject in the 17th Century. Oh, he may have called it "gravity," but don't be fooled. The dude was a hedge fund bro genius in disguise.

5 Insanely Powerful Patterns You Didn't Know Are Everywhere
Godfrey Kneller

He owned, like, so many shares of Apple.

The gravity model is simple: The gravitational force between two bodies is directly proportional to their masses and inversely proportional to the distance between them. The same rule applies to trade, with one tiny change: Switch "mass" to "GDP" (gross domestic product). Two countries are more likely to have better trade relations the bigger their GDPs are and the closer they are to each other.

It's obvious once you make the connection. Transportation of goods is expensive as hell, so companies find it easier to trade with countries nearest to them. Occasionally, an individual company might decrease in size, but the large-scale gravity model for the country remains intact.

USA World Trade 1994 Residuals Model 1 CAN N RALTCER JPN
Journal of Social Structure

See? Simple.

Take Canada. It's by far the largest trading partner of the U.S., with $632 billion dollars' worth of trade in 2013 alone. Meanwhile, our trade with Japan was $204 billion dollars, even though Japan's GDP was almost three times that of Canada's. Sure, there are other things at play here aside from GDP and distance -- colonial relations between countries, pricing, language, and our occasional tendency to bomb the shit out of one another. Still, the basic theory as we understood it holds true: Space is greedy.

You Can Use Earthquake Aftershocks To Fight Crime

5 Insanely Powerful Patterns You Didn't Know Are Everywhere
Arctic-Images/The Image Bank/Getty Images

People are inherently unpredictable, and yet there is a simple way to predict the behavior of the least predictable people of all: criminals. "That's bullshit," you probably think. "If there was a way to do that, the cops would have gone Minority Report on my bird-smuggling ass long ago." Well, you'd best make that big illicit parrot score soon, friend, because your criminal career is coming to an end. And the thing that did you in? An algorithm designed to predict the movement of rocks. We're not joking. The cops are already looking into that shit.

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via Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

It's true. We can blame all this delinquency on the power of rock.

When an earthquake occurs, the area will likely suffer from aftershocks for a time afterward. Predicting the earthquakes themselves is pretty difficult, but these aftershocks are much easier. In fact, there's a reliable mathematical model for it. Here's a fun thing the LAPD discovered in 2014: The exact same model can also be applied to predicting crime.

Let's imagine that some psychopath broke into your house and stole all of your rare pet toucans. What's happened to the world? Who does that? Well, gird your loins and bar your windows, because there's an astonishing chance that other crimes will soon occur in your neighborhood. Thieves now know the area is an alluring target, know the lay of the land, and have scouted potential escape routes. They might even come back for your parakeets, because they're now familiar with your home's layout, the location of your valuables, and your routines. These repeat crime hot spots follow similar patterns to earthquake aftershocks.

M(t) 0.2 0.15 pa 0.1 Hawkes Process model adapted 0.05 fROM Cir seismology 0 100

This discovery is already having Earth shattering consequences.

When the LAPD took a tweaked version of the aftershock prediction model and fed it 13 million crime reports from the last 80 years, it immediately popped out a bunch of eerily accurate patterns that were exactly one Tom Cruise wind sprint short of a sci-fi movie. Using this data and some preemptive patrolling, they were able to decrease burglaries by 33 percent, violent crime by 21 percent, and property crime by 12 percent in the areas where the system was used. Unsurprisingly, other cities have since started eyeing the model with interest.

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Atlanta Police Department

"It's way cheaper than copying the Detroit model."

No need to worry, yet. Cops won't bust you for being in the wrong place at the wrong time while wearing baggy pants that occasionally emit a strange squawking noise. Right now, the system is only used for predicting patterns of offenders who've already had contact with the justice system. So as long as they never catch you, they never will catch you. Even bizarre police earthquake super math can't argue with that logic.

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For more ways Mother Nature is surprising us, check out 7 Awesome Acts Of Nature (That Science Can't Explain) and 8 Terrifying Skeletons Of Adorable Animals.

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