Does nature really abhor a straight line?


When you see a hill, a tree, a shimmering blue lake, what’s the first thing to cross your mind? Do you think:

“Damn, that’s pretty.”

Or is it more like:

“That would look better with a Starbucks.”

Who was the first person to look at a grove of trees swaying in the breeze, cock her head to one side, and see them in her mind’s eye, stripped of leaves and stacked six feet high to create a wall, a hut, a house?

Who was the first person to look at a crossroad and envision a stop sign, giving birth to order and disorder and lawyers in one fell swoop?

Who was the first person to imagine a strip mall, and did it look as bland and cheap to him as it does to us now?

What I’m really asking is: are humans naturally disposed toward order? And if so, is that a unique trait, or are bird nests and dolphin pods just variations on a theme? Is it just opposable digits that helped us dominate landscapes, or is it something deeper, an innate need to categorize people into neighborhoods, cities, countries, to shoehorn knowledge into words, papers, books?

Or, put another way: does nature really abhor a straight line, and if it does, does that make us unnatural?

(Inspired by a quote I read somewhere–possibly in Charlie Jane Anders’ All the Birds in the Sky, but don’t hold me to it–that could be paraphrased as, “An ordered life is one that wasn’t lived”. Or maybe, “An ordered life suggests that you were preparing for death all along”. Either way, it was striking.)

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