Nature’s Networks - Fractal Flows of Information and Energy
I WAS READING A SCIENTIFIC ARTICLE
They have photographed the brain
and here is the picture, it is full of
branches as I always suspected
each time you arrive the electricity
of seeing you is a huge
tree lumbering through my skull, the roots waving.
It is an earth, its fibres wrap
things buried, your forgotten words
I touch you, I am created in you
somewhere as a complex
filament of light
– Margaret Atwood
I love how Atwood viscerally evokes ideas, memories, and feelings as dense, electrical, waving trees of neurons. Better still, we know that this is how we think. Watch as electrochemical signals pulse across a neuron; this is living energy and information, in transit through space and time. Then zoom out to see the fractal: as in one neuron, so it is amongst neurons - signals shuttling from one side to another.
Zoom out again and we see fractal networks of neurons; each individual is a member of a group talking to other members of other groups, in exquisitely decentralised synchrony. Zoom out once more, and watch groups of neurons sending streams of electrons down nerve bundles, firing muscles. Decentralised and synchronised, groups of individuals talking to groups of individuals. Now zoom in to the scale of muscle fibres, and see the energy and information cascade through the fibres, again, groups of individuals, sending information and energy across space and time to do something in the world.
Nature is a fractal. As below, so above. Flows of information and energy can seen within a single cell, in the interactions between cells, and in the interactions between individuals, groups and nations. Zoom in, or out, as much as you like, and patterns emerge.
Natural systems transact with one another, in different currencies, without any external governors: a plant converts sunlight and carbon into sugary fruit, so that an animal will spread its seeds. Salmon bring essential nitrogen to the rainforests in which their spawning grounds reside. Cyclical explosions of energy, each part - however big or small - in sublime, ungoverned synchrony with the whole of Nature.
Inside our bodies, energy exists as fats, carbohydrates, ATP, lactate and many other molecules. Information (through the nervous system) triggers energy to be exchanged (at changing exchange rates), with some molecules in existence for mere seconds. The energy molecules for long term storage (fat) are different from those for explosive muscular contractions (ATP). At any instant in time multiple cells in your body are using different energy sources from molecules produces by different biological processes.
Nature has no universally fungible energy source. Is Nature being wise or wasteful with its fractal, layered web of information and energy? Fractal currencies seem faster evolving and more resilient than having Only One.