Monadism

“The Dakotan tribes of North America found evidence of circular forms in nature nearly everywhere, from the shape of birds’ nests to the course of the stars. The Pueblo Indians of the American south-west, by contrast, tended to apprehend landscapes in rectangular terms: they found parallelograms and rhomboids to be ubiquitous a form which they almost certainly derived from the regular dihedral shapes into which the red rock of the south-western deserts erodes. Jonathan Raban has written beautifully about how the recurring unit of the art of the Indians of the British Columbian coast is the lozenge, which he relates to the distinctive shape into which light forms when it falls on gently moving water.

“Britain and Ireland have produced their own versions of this natural monadism, this obsessive hunting after singularity in nature. Thomas Browne, in his slender work of 1658, The Garden of Cyrus, proposed that the ‘quincunx’, the disposition of five items with four at the corners of a square and the fifth in its centre, existed with such ubiquity thar it ought properly to be considered the figure upon which the universe was constructed. Browne found the quincunx repeating itself throughout natural and artificial forms in five-leaved flowering plants, and in astral motion and took it as hermetic proof of a Universal Spirit of Nature. In 1917, the mathematician and biologist D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson published an elegant book, On Growth and Form, in which he proposed that the form of the spiral had its play throughout the natural world: in seashells, spiderwebs, the distribution of seeds in the head of a daisy, the curve of a beaver’s tooth, the turns of a narwhal’s horn and an elephant’s tusk, in a pine-cone’s configuration of scales, and in the curve of a sea wave as it broke.”

— Robert Macfarlane