Fractal science and Indigenous Governance.
Recently, I visited a local park where I found a beautiful soft tree fern, with brand new shoots coming through. Anyone who knows what this looks like will have seen the way young stems go through a process of ‘unfolding’ which very much resembles a very familiar spiralised pattern found in nature called a fractal. This fractal pattern is usually identified by its observational properties of “self-similarity” which means that it can almost always be decomposed or broken down into smaller copies of itself. Basically, self-similarity is the property in which the structure of the whole is contained in its parts, and this is a pattern that is found in many parts of the world. Quite often through either natural, artistic, mechanistic and/or theoretical domains of scientific fields such as physics and mathematics, this pattern is said to be “writ large in the human psyche” (Hastings & Sugihara 1993, p. 1) and can be applied in ways that enhance our understanding of the world and the universe.
In nature, we see a very similar logarithmic design in things such as pine cones, bunya nuts, wildflowers, eddies (whirlpools), tornados, sea shells, and even our galaxy. In recent years, this notion has been explored in computation and technological domains such as AI, and neural networks. From a mathematical perspective, this pattern can be used to measure the dimensions of things such as cloud formations, trees, coastlines, feathers, networks of neurones in the body, dust in the air at a particular time, the distribution of frequencies of light reflected by a flower, the colours emitted by the sun, and the wrinkled surface of the sea during a storm (Barnsley, 1993).
While many ancient non-print-based cultures have long understood the importance of this pattern and symbol, it became popularised in the 13th century through the work of Leonardo of Pisa, who used the sequence to discern the breeding patterns of rabbits. It was also used to describe the genetic distribution of bees soon after. Since then, it has been implemented in many modern contexts to measure, scale, analyse, theorise and compute across multivariate systems, to create infrastructure and develop algorithms.
In a K/Gamilaroi and First Nations governance structure, fractals inform the scaling of relationships from ngali (two people as a relational/kinship pair) all the way out to ngiyaninya (us all, as a network of networks).
This is explained as, while every person is in full control and possession of their own autonomy, they are bound by the protocols and requirements of each of the individual ngali (i.e., the two of us) relationships which they have with the other people in their immediate kinship network.
From there, this scales outwards and occurs in a self-similar pattern, where each ngali kinship pair is in full control and possession of their own autonomy, they are bound by the protocols and requirements of each of the relationships that they have developed with other ngali kinship pairs. Those pairs all together then form a greater extended family network, and, while each family network is in full control and possession of their own autonomy, they are bound by the protocols and requirements of the network of family networks that they are part of. This greater family network of networks becomes a clan, and while each clan is in full control and possession of their own autonomy, they are bound by the protocols and requirements of the network of clans that they are part of. It’s the same pattern through to where the network of clans becomes a network of tribes, then as tribes scale to a network dhawuraay (ancestral lands), all the way all the way out further and further and further until we see the emergence of what we call a “continental common Law” which respects the full and absolute autonomy of every individual but also binds them to protocol, in relation to all people and things around them at all times. This Law sustained all Indigenous communities in Australia for more than 2,500 generations at least and still applies today.
Over the course of that time, this was and still is one of the first lessons that children are taught. Using an unfolding fern stem or leaflet, an Elder might describe and position you within this process, and finish with the maayali (whisper) reminding you that: “You are not special… you are part of something special”.
This pattern is what informs our understanding of the world and universe. It always has, and it always will.