Hidden Order by Felix Flicker, winner of the Art of Science 2014 University of Bristol competition

Art of Science – Hidden Order

Science is amazing. Science is advancement. And sometimes, science is art. Each month this year Memetic Drift will feature a winning image from the University of Bristol’s Art of Science competition 2014.

Order and chaos have been recurrent themes throughout the history of art and science. How do our minds respond to them? How are they connected? Are they really as opposed as they seem?

The work of many artists, such as Andy Goldsworthy and Sema Bekirovic, have explored the interplay and the balance between the two. Order in disorder. Chaos in harmony. It is, however, interesting to note that these artists are both offspring of scientists or mathematicians…

Our brains find symmetry and order inherently pleasing. One thing out of place in an otherwise perfect sequence draws way more attention to itself than it deserves, making you feel annoyed or even angry at the offending object. This holds true even if that object is a cute puppy in a line of other cute puppies. We are also naturally attracted to more symmetrical faces, though it’s something very few of us truly have.

However just because order is so appealing doesn’t mean chaos is necessarily ugly. Disorder gives our minds something to play with, to interpret as we like – a space for freedom. This image, by Felix Flicker from the University of Bristol’s School of Physics, is an autostereogram, sometimes known as a “Magic Eye” picture. What you’ll see when you first look is an apparently disordered array of pixels. Click to enlarge the image.

Hidden Order by Felix Flicker, winner of the Art of Science 2014 University of Bristol competition

Whereas last month’s “hidden” image jumps out at you unbidden, discovering the secret order here requires a little more work. I must admit it took me many viewing attempts to bring forth the 3D ripples emanating from the centre. Success came from using a printed copy of the image, a well lit room and slightly tired eyes that crossed with relative ease.

Felix discusses how our eyes and brain interpret the images before and after the “switch” occurs, and outlines the mathematical steps needed to create autostereograms on his website. Of course, mathematics itself can have a wonderful elegance. As philosopher Bertrand Russell said: “Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty.

Next month’s image really gets to the “heart” of Art and Science combined…

The annual Art of Science competition at the University of Bristol bridges the perceived gap between art and science, showing images which visually demonstrate that the pursuit of knowledge can be as beautiful as it is fascinating. 

This year there were three prize categories; Judges’ vote, People’s vote, and Schools’ vote. Each category had a 1st, 2nd and 3rd prize, and a runner-up. Hidden Order won 1st prize in the Schools’ vote. Image used with permission. 


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