THE SELF-MADE TAPESTRY: Pattern Formation in Nature

The Self-Made Tapestry: Pattern Formation in NatureThe Self-Made Tapestry: Pattern Formation in Nature by Philip Ball

Why do similar patterns and forms appear in settings that seem to bear no relation to one another? The windblown ripples of desert sand follow a sinuous course that resembles the stripes of a zebra or a marine fish. We see the same architectural angles in the trellis-like shells of microscopic sea creatures as in the bubble walls of a foam. The forks of lightning mirror the branches of a river or a tree.

This book explains why there is more than coincidence in this conjunction of forms and structures. Nature commonly weaves its tapestry by self-organization, employing no master plan or blueprint but instead simple, local interactions between its component parts – whether they be grains of sand, diffusing molecules or living cells. And the products of self-organization are typically universal patterns: spirals, spots, stripes, branches, honeycombs.


In non-technical language and with profuse illustrations, The Self-Made Tapestry tells how nature’s patterns are made.

“Using an inventive approach, with illustrations and descriptions that convey beauty and wonder, Ball explains the development and procedures of the research into the supposed unity of pattern formation in nature. One of the pleasures of this book is the artistic and inspiring free style of the author’s explanations, which do not conform to the strict logical and mathematical formalism of scientific papers.” P. Dullemeijer, Science

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Oxford University Press Hard Back 295 pages (1998) ISBN 0-19-850244-3
A complete rewrite and update of this book has now been published under the title ‘Reviews: NATURE’S PATTERNS: A Tapestry in Three Parts.

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