Life is fractal
(April 1997)

To many scientists, the meaning of life is more important than the physics of life. In physics, most measurements are compared by the way they differ in order of magnitude, of powers of ten. From a microbe to a whale, there is a difference of about 21 orders of magnitude-a whale is 1021 times as large as a microbe.

The importance of this observation is that many measurable features of living things are related mathematically to the body mass of an adult. Metabolic rate varies as the ¾ power of mass, so that larger creatures have slower metabolisms, lifespan varies as the ¼ power of mass, age at sexual maturation varies as the ¾ power of mass, and length of pregnancy varies as the -¼ power of mass.

Logically, if these things are reflecting the three dimensions, the relationship should be 1/3, implying a cubic or cube root relationship. Ecologists James Brown and Brian Enquist of the university of New Mexico, and physicist Geoffrey west of Los Alamos National Laboratory have been exploring this, and find that they can model animals as a fractal network of linear tubes and account for all of these oddities. Life, it seems is fractal.

©WebsterWorld Pty Ltd/contributors 2002


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