This Simple Structure Unites All Human Languages

Take a deep breath.

As you breathe in, your lungs fill with air. The air is carried through every part of your lungs by tubes. These tubes are organized in a particular way. They branch off, one into the left lung, one into the right. The tubes fill our lungs by branching, branching, and branching again, into tinier and tinier tubes. Each branching point is similar to the previous one. Your breath, your very life, depends on this structure. It is a structure organized by the principle of self-similarity.

Self-similarity is everywhere in nature. Look at a fern: Each fern leaf is composed of smaller replicas of itself, which are composed of yet smaller replicas. Or think of vast deltas, where huge rivers branch out into smaller and smaller streams and rivulets until they vanish into the earth or oceans. Each branching of a river is similar to a previous branching that created that river.

If you make up a sentence of any complexity, and search for that exact sentence on the Internet, it’s almost never there.

The Internet has, without anyone overseeing it, evolved into a self-similar pattern, with huge hubs connecting to smaller ones, these themselves connecting, in just the same way, to smaller hubs all the way down to phones and laptops.

Self-similarity is everywhere because it is efficient. If a tube, developing into a lung, or frond into a fern, does the same thing each time it grows, then the genes don’t

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