“I believe that scientific knowledge has fractal properties; that no matter how much we learn, whatever is left, however small it may seem, is just as infinitely complex as the whole was to start with. That, I think, is the secret of the Universe.” From I. Asimov – A Memoir
I read that and I paused to take it in, then read it again. I’ve mentioned something similar before, that when we look out into space there seems to be more and more to see. The same happens when we look inside, breaking everything down into smaller and smaller parts.
Years ago, I was organizing weekly group activities for our homeschool group out here in the desert. We had cooking, art, and a book club. I led a drama club that ended in a performance for friends and family. I never thought I’d be using those skills again, but I loved it.
The craziest activity I led was a math group. I wouldn’t call it a class, more like an exploration of math ideas for younger kids. Yes, if you know me, you’re thinking, “Math, Michelle? You? Seriously?” Sounds crazy but it’s true.
I grew up believing I wasn’t much of a math person, but when I first started homeschooling, I heard a representative from RightStart Math speak at a conference and was floored. Hearing her explanation of basic math (seriously), it all suddenly made sense. I wasn’t bad at math. I hadn’t been taught well when I was first exploring and then made to feel like a failure over the years of schooling and gave up.
We used a simplified and voluntary version of their system with our sons. Today, they are both brilliant at math and are both in college as engineering majors. Either the system worked, or they inherited math genes from their dad. I say both.
That’s why I wanted to lead a math exploration group for the local homeschool kids. I wanted to present the fun and exciting aspects of math that are all around us, without getting them bogged down with numbers, formulas, and tests. It was a fun-filled couple of weeks for me!
The first hour I led was on fractals. I searched out examples, went down rabbit holes, followed mysterious trails all week. When it came time for the class, I simply gathered up what I had found and showed it to the kids. We watched a video, read some of a book, and made our own gigantic fractal with paper, pens, and a boat load of creativity.
The lesson was exactly what Asimov described. When we zoom in, we find more and more details. When we zoom out, we see the bigger and bigger picture. How far does it go? Is there an ultimate picture that only some supernatural being outside of our universe can see? That is the secret of the Universe. The science is never settled.
And it’s not simply science, but a metaphysical thing as well. The more we look into ourselves, the more we find. The more we look out, the more connected everything seems to be.
What part is it, that when we break everything down into pieces, is essentially me? And where is the line between us? What makes us different, yet the same?