Friday, September 6, 2013

Basketball, Trees, Etc.

I have become a fan of the Science Channel’s Through the Wormhole. (Thank you, James, for introducing me to this). It is narrated by Morgan Freeman. I don’t always understand ALL of what they’re talking about, but usually enough to fascinate me.  

Today while I was watching an episode dealing with evolution, I was especially interested in the theories of Adrian Bejean, a professor of mechanical engineering at Duke University. The theory he developed/discovered (?) is the constructal law, and it connects basketball, trees, nature, and even us humans. Fascinated yet? 

Consider the flow of the two teams on a basketball court. The ball flows from any point on the court to the basket in a “live flow system.” Players on the offense are trying to open up the channels, while the players on defense are trying to close down these channels. Over time the better players get the ball more often, making channels bigger and busier, while less active channels stay smaller. Eventually a pattern emerges resembling the shape of a branching tree. (Ah, trees! I see material for another poem here.) 

Look around; this pattern is everywhere in the universe--from the branches of the tree, to the veins on a leaf, to the lightning bolt, to the arteries and veins in our body. Bejean’s trying to understand what causes this phenomenon. He thinks it has to do with how things flow from one point to another.

Consider the tree. Water flows up from the ground, while mechanical forces like the wind are transmitted back to the ground. Or think about our bodies—the oxygen in our lungs, the blood in our veins, the electricity in our neurons—all have that same tree-like pattern. Bejean believes this pattern naturally creates stronger, fitter organisms because this pattern helps improve flow.

I am writing this within a couple of miles from where the very first basketball game was played and two days before twelve new members will be enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame. I wonder if James Naismith ever thought of basketball as a metaphor for life?


  1. And rivers.
    And, in math, decision trees.
    And consider how ideas branch out, like these, from one source - or is that source also the branch of a tree?

    Linda O.

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