An Atlas of Patterns

Stephen Morris examines icicles.

The University of Toronto professor has written on the origin and evolution of icicle ripples, the morphology of icicles, and on a February day in Georgia not long ago, he delivered a talk called, “Consider the Icicle.”

Dr. Morris readily acknowledges that others are captivated by traditional natural wonders, like flowers. But for him, beauty and curiosity are found in the common icicle. His Icicle Atlas – an online database of images, time-lapse movies, and research – is a plunge into the why’s and how’s of icicle development.

If there’s one non-icy thread linking the atlas’s contents, it’s examining patterns. We people have speech and behavior patterns: my voice gets louder when I’m nervous, I eat quickly when I’m anxious. Icicles have surface and form patterns: they get ripples when the water has impurities, they can stop growing when the air temperature drops.

I’m shaped by my patterns – not just speech and behavior, but thought, sleep, and beyond. And even though many of my patterns don’t serve me, I can let them go unexamined. An icicle is shaped by its patterns. And Dr. Morris examines all of them.

The motivation, he told science, research, and technology news service Phys.org, “is pure curiosity about natural patterns.”

If we give our patterns – be they natural or unnatural – our curiosity, we can examine them. We can examine if they are serving us, if they are shaping us in the way that we want to be shaped. Some patterns will and some patterns won’t.

But the more curious we are, the more examined our life will be. And the more examined our life, the more we can create an atlas of patterns that will help us become the people we want to be.

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