How paint dries, the way flags flutter, how Nature discovered origami

From Harvard Magazine:

Lakshmi “Just because something is familiar doesn’t mean you understand it. That is the common fallacy that all adults make—and no child ever does,” says Lakshminarayanan Mahadevan, England de Valpine professor of applied mathematics. Mahadevan enjoys explaining mathematically the phenomena of everyday life: practicing the old-fashioned method of scientific inquiry called natural philosophy, where one wonders about everything.

Mahadevan, who grew up in India, tells a traditional story about Krishna where mud becomes metaphor. “In Hindu mythology, Krishna is divine,” he begins. “However, because there was a prophecy that he would overthrow an evil king, his origins when he was a baby were hidden from almost everybody. So when Krishna was born, his mother surreptitiously sent him away to be brought up by a foster mother who didn’t know who he was. As in all mythologies, there were premonitions [of greatness], but growing up with his foster mother, he would go out like all children and play in the mud. One day he started to eat the mud, putting it in his mouth. And his [foster] mother, from afar, said, ‘Don’t do it.’” Krishna kept eating the mud. “Again [she] said, ‘Don’t do it,’ and yet he continued. So she came up to him, and when she opened his mouth to take out the mud, she looked—and she saw the universe.

“Without ever claiming all the grandeur that the story actually suggests,” says Mahadevan, “you just have to look and you will find interesting things everywhere.”

More here.