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When I meet God, I am going to ask him two questions: why relativity? And why turbulence? I really believe he will have an answer for the first.
~Physicist WERNER HEISENBERG, author of Physics and Philosophy
As difficult as turbulence is to understand mathematically, we can use art to depict the way it looks. Natalya St. Clair illustrates how Van Gogh captured this deep mystery of movement, fluid and light in his work.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the human brain is its ability to recognize patterns and describe them
As difficult as turbulence is to understand mathematically we can use art to depict the way it looks.
In June 1889, Vincent Van Gogh painted the view just before sunrise from the window of his room at the Saint-Paul-de Mausole asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, where he’d admitted himself after mutilating his own ear in a psychotic episode.
In the Starry Night his circular brushstrokes create a night sky filled with swirling clouds and eddies of stars.
Van Gogh and other Impressionists represented light in a different way than their predecessors, seeming to capture its motion, for instance, across sun-dappled waters or here in star light that twinkles and melts through milky waves of blue night sky.
The effect is caused by luminance, the intensity of the light in the colors on the canvas.
The more primitive part of our visual cortex, which sees light contrast and motion, but not color will blend to differently colored areas together if they have the same luminance. But our brains primate subdivision will see the contrasting colors without blending.
With these two interpretations happening at once, the light in many Impressionist works seems to pulse, flicker and radiate oddly.
That’s how this and other impressionist works use quickly executed prominent brushstrokes to capture something strinkingly real about how light moves.
60 years later, Russian mathematician Andrey Kolmogorov furthered our mathematical understanding of turbulence
He proposed that energy in a turbulent fluid at length R varies in proportion to the 5/3rds power of R.
Experimental measurements show Kolmogorov was remarkably close to the way turbulent flow works, although a complete description of turbulence remains one of the unsolved problems in physics. A turbulent flow is self-similar if there is an energy cascade. In other words, big eddies transfer their energy to smaller eddies, which do likewise at other scales.
Examples of this include Jupiter’s great red spot, cloud formations and interstellar dust particles.
In 2004, using the Hubble Space Telescope, scientists saw the eddies of a distant cloud of dust and gas around a star, and it reminded them of Van Gogh’s Starry Night
This motivated scientists from Mexico, Spain, and England to study the luminence in Van Gogh’s paintings in detail.
They discovered that there is a distinct pattern of turbulent fluid structures close to Kolmogorov’s equation hidden in many of Van Gogh’s paintings. The researchers digitized the paintings and measured how brightness varies between any two pixels. From the curves measured for pixel separations, they concluded that paintings from Van Gogh’s period of psychotic agitation behave remarkably similar to fluid turbulence.