What Four?

IMG_0763The symmetry of the four. We see it, we use it all the time. Bumbastories continues with the count down… er count up …er…walk through the numbers.  Today we feature the four, the quatro, again!

When we look at a tesselation, a repeating geometric pattern, we see, we organize it, in quite predictable ways. A hundred years ago the early Gestalt psychologists first pointed out some of these organizational principles, these intrinsic patterns of perception: the tendency of the mind to automatically group objects, to distinguish automatically between “figure and ground”, and to search for the “whole” (which is more than the sum of its parts, they remind us). More abstractly, I suppose we search for the “main idea”. The mind’s proclivity toward symmetry is another of these universal phenomena of perception- and what a lovely one it is.

The aesthetic pleasure we receive from a beautiful pattern is perhaps a serendipitous benefit, nay a bounty, of our perceptual wiring. We enjoy order. We love it. As living creatures we already defy the law of entropy: we actually decrease entropy, we organize atoms and molecules while we’re alive – into some really complicated and awesome patterns I may add (that’s a model of a DNA molecule to the right, based on the five by the way). images

It’s a human thing. We enjoy order and the order of beautiful patterns.

What good fortune (for us) that the sultans and Nasrid potentates who built the Alhambra palace in Granada, Spain were forbidden by Biblical edict to worship graven images. As a result they decorated their palaces with extraordinary geometric tile work, these tesselated decorations – which Bumba had the great privilege to visit and photograph last week.

Presented here are some of the four-based tilings. The artisans of the Alhambra also used the three and the six, the eight (they used the eight a lot but that’s just two fours) and even used five-fold symmetry to construct their opulent decorations. We’ll just stick to the four today.



IMG_0807The four, as a square, represents stability. Clearly it tesselates easily. The cross, the four seasons, the four questions, the four letters of God’s name are not total coincidences the mystics tell us. Personally I think that coincidence is largely underrated. However, the four cardinal directions seems to call to something deep within us. The American Indians have shown the power and beauty of the four directions and the importance of proper orientation in life. So stay on the Red Road, brothers. And don’t be no square!images-1 images



14 thoughts on “What Four?

      1. The short one was born in Edinburgh believe it or not and the other is from down south (from my perspective) from Bedford. 70’s comedy always goes down well with you guys over the pond, all our best comedy these days is darker and a little more surreal.

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