Image shows a close up of an irregular brick path

Written by Zephyr Penoyre

There is an innate value in patterns and maps, as tools for exploration – of worlds simple or complex, imaginary or realisable, and the porous boundaries between.

Things make sense when described in two dimensions – the paths that evolving systems take can dawdle and meander, but they can never cross. If they ever ended up in a state they had been in before then their motion would just repeat the pattern. We don’t realise it, but almost every system that we can “know” – which we can predict or rely upon – can be reduced to two dimensions.

Most systems can’t. The double pendulum exists in four dimensions. The complexities of a conversation or an an economy may live in five or six. And an entire human mind probably exists in some worryingly huge number like eight.

Slipping into these spaces is moving into a space in which orbits can be described moment to moment but the grand-form and structure is unknown. Often fractal – ever shifting. It is a maze of mazes, a tangle of highways feeding into and out of each other – small plateaus of order and vertiginous drops into complete perplexity.

I find it a reassuring place for an autistic mind. It makes sense at about the same level of vague remove that most of the world seems to. Nothing is simple, but nothing inexplicable – objects still roll, in some sense, downhill.

If you find it hard to picture, that’s because it is. If you find it exciting, and maybe just a little foreboding, that’s because it is. It’s an escape into a truer world, nearly useless but completely correct, where any sense that can be made is local, any state transitory. It’s a pleasant place to drift.

I found my way there by drawing maps. Playing out the small ballets of rules and patterns. Start with a piece of square paper and a soft pencil. Pick some imagined geography, a harsh landscape of corners and edges or a sort space of curves. The first few lines can be anything, but watch for the rules in them and follow that path. Go searching for the pattern in the pattern. You can do it by eye if you have nothing to hand, the uneven brick path or the arrangement of glass and ceramic on the table.

Ask how things would move if they became unstuck, how small shifts cascade into different shapes. Look for a harmony in the matter and motion of small things, then before you get too set, look for another. Let imperfections span new patterns. Mesh and weave. And pay little heed to anyone who tells you your maths are wrong.

Image is of an abstract pattern of telescopic squares. It looks to have been painted

zephyr is a tumble of flows writing a thesis on how things roll inexpertly downhill

Image, by the author, is entitled, “Recessed doorbell – upper west”

Published by florence neville (she/her)

PhD student

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