Accessing Nature’s Fractals in Urban Environments for Meditation

Introduction

Our society has largely conformed to the advancements brought by the scientific revolution of the 1500s, with developmental leaps in mathematics, physics, biology, astronomy and chemistry — transforming the views about how nature works and changing our present lives. Although written records of human history only go back to 5000 years, through findings and consensus we know that our species has inhabited earth for millions of years, evolving in a nature-centric manner as part of a complex biological system. A few months ago, Homosapien remains from 315,000 years ago were found in Morocco, pushing back our origins by 100,000 years. Our anatomy has remained relatively the same since then, and yet our lives are completely different.

Meditation by Nature

Looking through the lens of stress management, biophilia is an evolutionary experience and is only beginning to be scientifically explored. It was introduced in 1984 by Edward Wilson in a volume called ‘Love of Life’ and describes an innate emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms, or being in nature. A recent article from The Washington Post resurrected words from Wilson with contrast to the urgency of mediations on earth’s fragility.

  • Enhancement: To focus senses and extend the threshold of sensory awareness, practices have been around for thousands of years from religious traditions and rituals using the elements (fire, water, earth, air and space) to chants, actions and entheogens that enhance sensory effects. This includes meditative practices such as Vipassana, Zen and Mantra.
  • Deprivation: By diminishing the source or blocking stimulus, traditional methods include fasting, sleep deprivation and isolation. Modern techniques include sensory deprivation tanks where you’re suspended floating in body-temperature water within a dark sound-proof chamber.

Brain Waves

  • Theta waves (3 to 8 Hz) — Theta brainwaves occur most often in adult sleep but are also dominant in deep meditation. It mediates learning, memory and higher understanding.
  • Alpha waves (8 to 12 Hz) — Alpha waves occur in wakeful relaxation and meditation, some of the positive effects of boosting alpha waves include lowering stress and improving creative thinking.
  • Beta waves (12 to 38 Hz) — Commonly observed when awake, Beta waves are involved with conscious thought and logical thinking.
  • Gamma waves (38 to 42 Hz) — Fastest recorded brainwaves, these make the brain highly alert and conscious, improving problem-solving abilities.

The Fractal Universe

The math behind fractal dimensions using Sierpinski Triangle as an example
  • There is a significant correlation between living near nature and healthy brain structure (Kuhn, 2017) and improved mental health (Bratman, 2019; Preuss, 2019).
  • Fractal patterns found in nature are directly responsible for the positive stimulation of human neural activity (Terrapin, 2012)

EEG Experiment

EEG test of watching fractals in a carboard prototype VR
Fractal images extracted from Google Earth, Himalayan Range
Brain waves at the frontal lobe while fractal patterns are visualized in natural (1) and digital environments

Impact and Scope

For those living in urban spaces, access to nature can be challenging and depends on proximity, weather and a range of unpredictable external factors. There is a need for biophilic access for those who are unable to physically experience earth’s elements and its fractal properties. We spend the majority of our time indoors, looking at flat walls and rectangular objects. The potential device would take people into new dimensions to watch something the human eye has evolved to see. From this study, watching fractal geometries in digital and virtual reality was equally or more effective in tuning brain waves for stress reduction. Some methods such as procedural models and VR performed better for producing Alpha waves, which can address physiological and psychological health concerns. I believe combining procedurally modeled fractals in immersive experiences would yield Alpha waves with even longer continuity, which is the neural activity found in flow states. VR technology coupled with fractal mathematics and computer modeling may be a new frontier for biophilia and fractal immersion, expanding the scope in remote treatment and therapy, as well as consumer products and personal use.

Acknowledgements

I’d like to thank everyone who gave me a constant flow of ideas and encouragement in this bizarre experiment that led to exciting results: Peter Dean, Charlotte McCurdy, Andy Law, Tim Maly, Sarah Alix Mann, Jared Mompoint, Saakshi Kale, Rini Singhi, Shravan Rao and everyone from my studio cohort.

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Arvind Bhallamudi

Arvind Bhallamudi

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Arvind is a design engineer Mastering Industrial Design at RISD, investigating green products and systems at the intersection of healthcare and sustainability.