First published in August 2016
Scientists have discovered a distinct turbulent fluid pattern, surprisingly close to Kolmogorov’s equation, hidden in many of Van Gogh’s paintings. In a period of intense suffering,Van Gogh was somehow able to perceive and represent one of the most difficult concepts nature has ever brought before mankind (the concept of turbulence), and to unite his unique mind’s eye with the deepest mysteries of movement, fluid and light.
Starry Night (detail) by Vincent Van Gogh
Says Marcelo Gleiser:
“The connection has an interesting history, being inspired by “a picture of a distant star from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, where eddies probably caused by dust and gas turbulence are clearly seen,” as physicist José Luis Aragón of the Autonomous University of Mexico in Queretaro, and his collaborators from Spain and England, wrote in a paper from June 2006. You can see the picture, from a March 4, 2004, NASA press release here. The scientists wanted to check whether there was some kind of mathematical correlation between van Gogh’s creation and turbulence as measured in natural phenomena.
They found that van Gogh’s art, in particular in paintings from periods when his mental illness was at a peak, mirrors natural turbulence down to mathematical precision.
The painter’s magnificent brushwork made (intuitive?) use of a property known as luminance, a measure of the relative brightness between different points. The eye is more sensitive to luminance change than to color change, meaning we respond more promptly to changes in brightness than in colors. This is what gives many Impressionist paintings that familiar and emotionally moving twinkle, as we can see, for example, in Claude Monet’s Impression, Sunrise.
The physicists took digital pictures of the paintings and calculated the relative probability that two pixels at a certain distance R would have the same luminance. (They also looked at Wheat Field with Crows and Road with Cypress and Star, both from the same period, with similar results.) They found what scientist’s call a scaling law, when the same patterns are repeated at different spatial scales (other scales are also possible, such as time scales). Scaling laws have a typical power associated with them, usually given by an integer or a fraction. Remarkably, van Gogh’s paintings from his own turbulent period show luminance with a scaling similar to that of the mathematical theory of turbulence.
In fluid turbulence, there is a famous scaling law known as Kolmogorov scaling, from Soviet physicist Andrei Kolmogorov’s theory from the 1940s. When a fluid hits turbulent flow, large eddies of size R break down to smaller ones, and power is transferred from large to small scales according to a scaling law. This can be approximately seen in Jupiter’s famous red spot, a self-sustaining turbulent flow that has been going on for as long as we have been watching it, some 300 plus years. Aragón and collaborators found that van Gogh’s luminance scales in the same way as the relative probability distribution of fluid velocities at different scales R in a turbulent flow.
Van Gogh’s creations during his most turbulent period mirrored nature’s turbulent flows, as if his mind somehow tapped into a universal archetype where luminous becomes numinous — and the painter’s brush and nature’s brush become one and the same.”
Ever wonder how we try to predict the unpredictable? Supercomputers use the power of chaos theory.
There is a mystery that has confounded scientists for a century.
Galaxies can move with each other across huge distances, and against the predictions of basic cosmological models.
Reversing history from Galileo's time, it is now the scientists who refuse to look through the telescope.
The new study demonstrates a bizarre quantum effect at never-before-seen scales
David Bohm was one of the most distinguished theoretical physicists of his generation, and a fearless challenger of scientific orthodoxy.
Physicists See Hints of X17, an Elusive Particle That Could Be a New Force of Nature
So-called “information realism” has some surprising implications
This video is about Bell's Theorem, one of the most fascinating results in 20th century physics.
Donald Hoffman reminds us that we can predict people's choices up to seven seconds before they are conscious of making that choice.
Discrepancies in measures of expansion may point to new physics
How can there be intelligence without consciousness?
What is happening right now? Is your “now” the same as my “now”?
These black hole opposites would spew energy, be impossible to enter, and might even answer some of the universe’s fundamental questions.
Please enter your email and we’ll send you instructions to reset your password