Just like you, Islamic artists created intricate designs by repeating simple shapes. Behind the complexity, there is simplicity!
That’s my thesis. I’m Plato, an ancient Greek philosopher, and that is my platonic vision: that behind the world we see there is a pure world of beauty and simplicity and symmetry. Your modern mathematics and physics seem to find truth in this: much of what we understand about the universe can be described with equations of great simplicity, beauty and power.
That is the Platonic vision– the simplest explanation to describe the most is best.
Ahem, to quote myself directly:
“Beauty of style and harmony and grace and good rhythm depend on simplicity” – Plato
Well, your philosophy resonated for the ancient Islamic mathematicians and artists.
Who are you and what do you mean?
I am a genie from Arabic folktales. Allow me to explain.
I believe that Islamic artists created intricate patterns out of geometrical shapes to put us in touch with some deep truths about existence.
A pattern that keeps repeating and repeating suggests the infinite, unending nature of the universe.
Many of these complicated patterns arise from the placement of simple shapes. This harkens back to a vision of the universe where simple and pure truth lies at the heart of everything.
By repeating simple shapes to create patterns of infinity, they show us that infinity is in everything, even in the littlest bits of the universe.
Many of their shapes interlock
This helps shows how all things are connected in an unending chain of existence. Much like the Buddhist truths, I feel. (Hey, another connection!)
I think the artists want you to realize that we are all connected and the sense of self can extend to include all things if you have the wisdom to see the deep patterns. By gazing upon these amazing, mesmerizing patterns without beginning in without end you feel that we are all a part of the pattern, made of the patterns.
Indeed, in many ways science confirms this.
If you go beneath the surface of things, you see some beautiful patterns.
This is true of us too.
If you go beneath the surface on us, patterns define us.
We’re literally made of patterns of cells that form bones and muscle and all the other communities of cells that define our body. In a way, our very bodies reflect those ancient Islamic insights: we are made from an unknowable number of little bits that work together in harmony, in patterns, to create who we are.
We’ll explore in our next workshop how art and logic can celebrate the way simple building blocks can create such richness of complexity that new meaning, greater meaning, arises from the little bits. We’ll look for the soul in the machine.
(smiling genie and smiling Buddhist hedgehog. Plato: I’m not done yet!)
Indeed, even our thoughts are patterns. Our thoughts arise from patterns of cells firing together. Our eyes and our mind respond to the patterns we see in the world around us, and our response is to trigger new patterns within us. It’s as if math is flowing through all of us and everything.
(Genie chiming in with arabesque curls of smoke)
So Math is not fixed numbers and isolated quantities. Math is a process, Math is pattern. Math is a creative force in your hands.
(His eyes are glowing)
Math in your hands is a creative force that can define new worlds.
Let’s move on to define more of these worlds with your math and your creativity.
(Plato) sounds straightforward. I’ll go with that.
(They all exit)
Here’s some strange magic: flower-like shapes have emerged from your circles, even though you did not draw those directly. There’s philosophy and science in this.
Thinking about Thinking
Introspection starts with catching your own thoughts. Examining them, and letting them go.
– the Hedgehog Monk