Chaotic Utopia

Casey Luskin, please come out of your box, or stop trying to stick your opinions through the keyhole without taking a look. Luskin, a mouthpiece for the Discovery Institute, recently tried to attack Carl Zimmer’s National Geographic article on complexity. (Zimmer’s article is, as usual, an incredibly fascinating read, accompanied by a beautiful gallery of images that I was tempted to “borrow” for a fractal.) Sufficed to say, Luskin failed miserably in attacking Zimmer’s work, resorting to using the Ford Pinto as an example. (I won’t bother to try to explain how; my fellow SciBlings have done an excellent job already. I recommend starting here.) I could hardly get to Luskin’s statement about the Pinto in his article, however, because this one immediately stopped me:

The article called evolution a “simple” process. In our experience, does a “simple” process generate the type of vast complexity found throughout biology?

That’s it, I thought. This guy lives in a box. I won’t trust him to make any statements about biology–the study of LIFE–if he’s never lived one. His statement, to me, just defies common sense. Has he ever tried to make a meal? Change lanes during heavy traffic on the freeway? Talk to a 5-year-old? Things in life start simple (read the recipe, put on your turn signal, answer that first question) and quickly, as more variables become involved, become more complex (substituting ingredients, finding the jerk in the pickup doesn’t care to give you room, realizing one question leads to five others, and one of them involves something you don’t want to tell a 5-year-old.) That’s life. It starts simple, then gets complex.

So, for those of you who don’t live in a box, and enjoy seeing how simple processes lead to complex forms, you’re in for a treat. I figured I’d try to keep this week simple, with the approaching Thanksgiving holiday, by sharing some more photographs, along the same lines of the simple spirals discussed here on Friday. Of course, I won’t bother to claim that it will remain simple.

To kick off this theme, I’m offering the first photograph as a “puzzle”. Look carefully:


What is it? Feel free to post your guesses below.

Hint: Something from last Friday’s Fractal had a similar (yet less complex) feature to these lines and belongs to the same class.

Look for the answer here on Wednesday.


  1. #1 T. Bruce McNeely
    November 21, 2006

    Oyster shells?
    Beautiful presentation last Friday, BTW.

  2. #2 Chris
    November 21, 2006

    Ammonite sutures. Species indistinct.

  3. #3 kimball
    November 21, 2006

    Chris has got it. I’ve got a wonderful Baculites fossil from Baja that shows much of the same.

  4. #4 outeast
    November 21, 2006

    Hm, I was going to say some kind of fungus. Look, you can see the corner of one of the University shower tiles it’s growing on…

  5. #5 RSG
    November 21, 2006

    It also looks like a satellite photo of a desert area somewhere.

  6. #6 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    November 21, 2006

    Coral, or a petticoat in an oil painting.

  7. #7 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    November 21, 2006

    Hamlet: Methinks it is like a weasel.

    Polonius: It is backed like a weasel.

  8. #8 Mena
    November 21, 2006


  9. #9 rfguy
    November 21, 2006

    I was going to guess some kind of lichen, but ammonite sutures sounds better.

    As for complexity arising from simple processes, has Luskin never heard of a snowflake? There are just so many examples of the simple leading to the complex…

  10. #10 Karmen
    November 21, 2006

    Thanks, everyone! There have been some great guesses so far… including the correct answer, but I won’t verify it until tomorrow, as promised.

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