Van Gogh’s Turbulent Mind Captured Turbulence

First published in August 2016

Scientists have discovered a distinct turbulent fluid pattern, surprisingly close to Kolmogorov’s equation, hidden in many of Van Gogh’s paintings. In a period of intense suffering,Van Gogh was somehow able to perceive and represent one of the most difficult concepts nature has ever brought before mankind (the concept of turbulence), and to unite his unique mind’s eye with the deepest mysteries of movement, fluid and light.

Starry Night (detail) by Vincent Van Gogh

Says Marcelo Gleiser:
“The connection has an interesting history, being inspired by “a picture of a distant star from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, where eddies probably caused by dust and gas turbulence are clearly seen,” as physicist José Luis Aragón of the Autonomous University of Mexico in Queretaro, and his collaborators from Spain and England, wrote in a paper from June 2006. You can see the picture, from a March 4, 2004, NASA press release here. The scientists wanted to check whether there was some kind of mathematical correlation between van Gogh’s creation and turbulence as measured in natural phenomena.

They found that van Gogh’s art, in particular in paintings from periods when his mental illness was at a peak, mirrors natural turbulence down to mathematical precision.

The painter’s magnificent brushwork made (intuitive?) use of a property known as luminance, a measure of the relative brightness between different points. The eye is more sensitive to luminance change than to color change, meaning we respond more promptly to changes in brightness than in colors. This is what gives many Impressionist paintings that familiar and emotionally moving twinkle, as we can see, for example, in Claude Monet’s Impression, Sunrise.

The physicists took digital pictures of the paintings and calculated the relative probability that two pixels at a certain distance R would have the same luminance. (They also looked at Wheat Field with Crows and Road with Cypress and Star, both from the same period, with similar results.) They found what scientist’s call a scaling law, when the same patterns are repeated at different spatial scales (other scales are also possible, such as time scales). Scaling laws have a typical power associated with them, usually given by an integer or a fraction. Remarkably, van Gogh’s paintings from his own turbulent period show luminance with a scaling similar to that of the mathematical theory of turbulence.

In fluid turbulence, there is a famous scaling law known as Kolmogorov scaling, from Soviet physicist Andrei Kolmogorov’s theory from the 1940s. When a fluid hits turbulent flow, large eddies of size R break down to smaller ones, and power is transferred from large to small scales according to a scaling law. This can be approximately seen in Jupiter’s famous red spot, a self-sustaining turbulent flow that has been going on for as long as we have been watching it, some 300 plus years. Aragón and collaborators found that van Gogh’s luminance scales in the same way as the relative probability distribution of fluid velocities at different scales R in a turbulent flow.

Van Gogh’s creations during his most turbulent period mirrored nature’s turbulent flows, as if his mind somehow tapped into a universal archetype where luminous becomes numinous — and the painter’s brush and nature’s brush become one and the same.”


Quantum physics reveals the unity of the universe

Article by

Quantum physics revives the ancient idea of universal oneness that Christianity unjustly excluded from our culture

#77 Regenerative Medicine

Podcast with

Exploring the frontiers of alternative medicine and healing modalities with renowned Cerebral Spiral Fluid expert.

Pixels, Patterns & Perspectives

Video with

Physicist and Author Sky Nelson-Isaacs urges us to see the world differently and consider how pixels and patterns converge to evoke a new perspective.

Time to Support Indigenous Science

Article by

Faced with the profound challenges of a rapidly changing environment, society needs other ways of knowing to illuminate a different way forward

Resonantly Perfect Solar System Found

Article by

Researchers have located "the perfect solar system", forged without the violent collisions that made our own a hotchpotch of different-sized planets

Buddhism and Quantum Mechanics

Article by

Excerpt of an article by 'Art of Life' star

Universal pattern of brain wave frequencies unraveled

Article by

Across mammalian species, brain waves are slower in deep cortical layers

Tesla’s “Free Energy” & Vedic Philosophy

Article by

The Properties of Space Science works best when in harmony with nature

Support SAND with a Donation

Science and Nonduality is a nonprofit organization. Your donation goes towards the development of our vision and the growth of our community.
Thank you for your support!