Foods as Systems: Physics, Fractals, and Food

A rainbow’s magic defies the scrutiny of the microscope.  Recognizing that particles behave in new and astonishing ways when not under the close lens of the observer,1 we have to suspect that there is a whole lot going on in the world that will always and invariably defy the microscope.  Since “truth” is defined by both the lens of the observer and what is observed, perhaps foods impart nutrition and energy either as particles or waves depending on the lens and expectations of the observer.

There is much that physics, through systems, chaos, and complexity theory, can contribute to the field of food and the theory of nutrition. While bio-chemistry analyzes and fractures in search for the “truth,” physics helps us see the world through the broader lens of the “interconnectedness and continuity” in all things.2
Physics helps us appreciate that the whole functions in a greater way than the sum of the parts.  A whole food is not unlike a “whole” computer…specific parts are assembled in specific ways to perform a specific function.  Regarding foods, fractured foods may provide calories, but the vital force of the plant and its interconnected energy and synergy is missing.


If we take a moment to push back from the microscope and look at the bigger picture, it is not hard to connect with this life force…it leaves its footprint everywhere. Fruits and vegetables share their magic, leaving hints of their greater powers in the intricate fractal patterns of a head of broccoli or cauliflower:  the simple patterns of the entire head are carefully repeated in microcosm in each tiny floweret.   Or slice crosswise a beet, a carrot, a banana, or an orange and marvel at the kaleidoscope array of pattern and color. Fractals patterns exist not only in trees and plants (e.g., ferns and parsley) and plant foods (e.g., pineapples and artichokes), but also in the human body (e.g., the brain, the lungs, and the circulatory system).


Fractals are incredibly complex patterns, yet their complexity originates in simplicity.3
A fractal can be replicated by computer iteration, as results from each successive round of computation are continuously fed back into a set of a few simple nonlinear equations. Through fractals, we begin to comprehend the deep relationship of chaos and order….that through chaos, systems are able to re-organize in completely new, adaptive ordered ways.


A fractal, then, is a “pattern within pattern within pattern.”4 “Shapes are not discerned from close range. They require distance and time to show themselves. Pattern recognition requires that we sit reflectively and patiently…because we are trying to see the world differently.”5


“In a fractal world, if we ignore qualitative factors and focus on quantitative measures, we  accumulate more and more but understand less and less. When we study the individual parts or try to understand the system through discrete quantities, we get lost. Deep inside the details, we cannot see the whole.”6

Fractals can teach us how foods as systems relate to the body as a system. It seems logical, since many foods are fractals, that: Food = Simplicity = Complexity. In addition, it appears that foods have their own unique life force energy packaged by nature that our bodies are uniquely programmed to accept:   Thus, it seems logical, too, that “Food as a system influences the human system.”7 This is a sound model for nutritional theory.


The Power of Traditional, Whole Foods:

Through physics, we can recognize that plants, animals, and people are all living systems…systems of systems… really, parts and components that are unified by an energy force field that governs and organizes the whole living system.8  Ironically, physics may bring us to the “cutting-edge of dietary and nutritional thinking as we are led back to healthy food choices that took root long ago in the traditions and wisdom of our ancestors.  As we realize more and more that the popular emphasis on reductionism-type scientific research misses the complex interaction of the human system with whole foods, they take on new and greater meaning.9 Just as a rainbow defies microscopic examination, we realize that we may never fully understand and appreciate the true power of whole foods.


Copyright 2008 Pathways4Health

  1. See Particle and Wave Theory from physics []
  2. Annemarie Colbin, Food and Healing, 34. []
  3. Wheatley, p. 126. []
  4. Wheatley, p. 123. []
  5. Margaret J. Wheatley, p. 126. []
  6. Wheatley, p. 125. []
  7. Colbin, p. 36. []
  8. Colbin, p. 35. []
  9. “Biologically active plant constituents likely go beyond macronutrients and well-accepted micronutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytoestrogens, and may also include plant enzymes, hormones, and other substances that help to regulate plant metabolism as well as natural phytochemicals” (See Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Vol. 101, Issue 12, Dec. 2001, pps. 1416-1419. []