Radical Sheet

If you take a sheet of standard-sized paper and fold it in half from top to bottom, the folded sheet has the same proportions as the original, namely √2 : 1. In other words, if x = √2 / 2, then 1 / x = √2:

√2 = 1.414213562373…, √2 / 2 = 0.707106781186…, 1 / 0.707106781186… = 1.414213562373…

So you could say that paper has radical sheet (the square or other root of a number is also called its radix and √ is known as the radical sign). When a rectangle has the proportions √2 : 1, it can be tiled with an infinite number of copies of itself, the first copy having ½ the area of the original, the second ¼, the third ⅛, and so on. The radical sheet below is tiled with ten diminishing copies of itself, the final two having the same area:

papersizes

papersizes_static

You can also tile a radical sheet with six copies of itself, two copies having ¼ the area of the original and four having ⅛:

paper_6div_static

paper_6div

This tiling is when you might say the radical turns crucial, because you can create a fractal cross from it by repeatedly dividing and discarding. Suppose you divide a radical sheet into six copies as above, then discard two of the ⅛-sized rectangles, like this:

paper_cross_1

Stage 1


Then repeat with the smaller rectangles:

paper_cross_2

Stage 2


paper_cross_3

Stage 3


paper_cross_4

Stage 4


paper_cross_5

Stage 5


paper_cross

Animated version

paper_cross_static

Fractile cross

The cross is slanted, but it’s easy to rotate the original rectangle and produce an upright cross:

paper_cross_upright

paper_cross_upright_static

Rep-Tile Reflections

A rep-tile, or repeat-tile, is a two-dimensional shape that can be divided completely into copies of itself. A square, for example, can be divided into smaller squares: four or nine or sixteen, and so on. Rectangles are the same. Triangles can be divided into two copies or three or more, depending on their precise shape. Here are some rep-tiles, including various rep-triangles:

Various rep-tiles

Various rep-tiles — click for larger image

Some are simple, some are complex. Some have special names: the sphinx and the fish are easy to spot. I like both of those, particularly the fish. It would make a good symbol for a religion: richly evocative of life, eternally sub-divisible of self: 1, 9, 81, 729, 6561, 59049, 531441… I also like the double-square, the double-triangle and the T-tile in the top row. But perhaps the most potent, to my mind, is the half-square in the bottom left-hand corner. A single stroke sub-divides it, yet its hypotenuse, or longer side, represents the mysterious and mind-expanding √2, a number that exists nowhere in the physical universe. But the half-square itself is mind-expanding. All rep-tiles are. If intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe, perhaps other minds are contemplating the fish or the sphinx or the half-square and musing thus: “If intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe, perhaps…”

Mathematics unites human minds across barriers of language, culture and politics. But perhaps it unites minds across barriers of biology too. Imagine a form of life based on silicon or gas, on unguessable combinations of matter and energy in unreachable, unobservable parts of the universe. If it’s intelligent life and has discovered mathematics, it may also have discovered rep-tiles. And it may be contemplating the possibility of other minds doing the same. And why confine these speculations to this universe and this reality? In parallel universes, in alternative realities, minds may be contemplating rep-tiles and speculating in the same way. If our universe ends in a Big Crunch and then explodes again in a Big Bang, intelligent life may rise again and discover rep-tiles again and speculate again on their implications. The wildest speculation of all would be to hypothesize a psycho-math-space, a mental realm beyond time and matter where, in mathemystic communion, suitably attuned and aware minds can sense each other’s presence and even communicate.

The rep-tile known as the fish

Credo in Piscem…

So meditate on the fish or the sphinx or the half-square. Do you feel the tendrils of an alien mind brush your own? Are you in communion with a stone-being from the far past, a fire-being from the far future, a hive-being from a parallel universe? Well, probably not. And even if you do feel those mental tendrils, how would you know they’re really there? No, I doubt that the psycho-math-space exists. But it might and science might prove its existence one day. Another possibility is that there is no other intelligent life, never has been, and never will be. We may be the only ones who will ever muse on rep-tiles and other aspects of mathematics. Somehow, though, rep-tiles themselves seem to say that this isn’t so. Particularly the fish. It mimics life and can spawn itself eternally. As I said, it would make a good symbol for a religion: a mathemysticism of trans-biological communion. Credo in Piscem, Unum et Infinitum et Æternum. “I believe in the Fish, One, Unending, Everlasting.” That might be the motto of the religion. If you want to join it, simply wish upon the fish and muse on other minds, around other stars, who may be doing the same.