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A Koch curve has an infinitely repeating self-similarity when it is magnified.
Standard (trivial) self-similarity.[1]

In mathematics, a self-similar object is exactly or approximately similar to a part of itself (i.e. the whole has the same shape as one or more of the parts). Many objects in the real world, such as coastlines, are statistically self-similar: parts of them show the same statistical properties at many scales.[2] Self-similarity is a typical property of fractals. Scale invariance is an exact form of self-similarity where at any magnification there is a smaller piece of the object that is similar to the whole. For instance, a side of the Koch snowflake is both symmetrical and scale-invariant; it can be continually magnified 3x without changing shape. The non-trivial similarity evident in fractals is distinguished by their fine structure, or detail on arbitrarily small scales. As a counterexample, whereas any portion of a straight line may resemble the whole, further detail is not revealed.


A self-affine fractal with Hausdorff dimension=1.8272.

In mathematics, self-affinity refers to a fractal whose pieces are scaled by different amounts in the x- and y-directions. This means that to appreciate the self similarity of these fractal objects, they have to be rescaled using an anisotropic affine transformation.


A compact topological space X is self-similar if there exists a finite set S indexing a set of non-surjective homeomorphisms for which

If , we call X self-similar if it is the only non-empty subset of Y such that the equation above holds for . We call

a self-similar structure. The homeomorphisms may be iterated, resulting in an iterated function system. The composition of functions creates the algebraic structure of a monoid. When the set S has only two elements, the monoid is known as the dyadic monoid. The dyadic monoid can be visualized as an infinite binary tree; more generally, if the set S has p elements, then the monoid may be represented as a p-adic tree.

The automorphisms of the dyadic monoid is the modular group; the automorphisms can be pictured as hyperbolic rotations of the binary tree.

A more general notion than self-similarity is Self-affinity.


Self-similarity in the Mandelbrot set shown by zooming in on the Feigenbaum point at (−1.401155189..., 0)
An image of a fern which exhibits affine self-similarity

The Mandelbrot set is also self-similar around Misiurewicz points.

Self-similarity has important consequences for the design of computer networks, as typical network traffic has self-similar properties. For example, in teletraffic engineering, packet switched data traffic patterns seem to be statistically self-similar.[3] This property means that simple models using a Poisson distribution are inaccurate, and networks designed without taking self-similarity into account are likely to function in unexpected ways.

Similarly, stock market movements are described as displaying self-affinity, i.e. they appear self-similar when transformed via an appropriate affine transformation for the level of detail being shown.[4] Andrew Lo describes stock market log return self-similarity in econometrics.[5]

Finite subdivision rules are a powerful technique for building self-similar sets, including the Cantor set and the Sierpinski triangle.

A triangle subdivided repeatedly using barycentric subdivision. The complement of the large circles is becoming a Sierpinski carpet

In nature[edit]

Close-up of a Romanesco broccoli.
Further information: patterns in nature

Self-similarity can be found in nature, as well. To the right is a mathematically generated, perfectly self-similar image of a fern, which bears a marked resemblance to natural ferns. Other plants, such as Romanesco broccoli, exhibit strong self-similarity.

In music[edit]

  • Strict canons display various types and amounts of self-similarity, as do sections of fugues.
  • A Shepard tone is self-similar in the frequency or wavelength domains.
  • The Danish composer Per Nørgård has made use of a self-similar integer sequence named the 'infinity series' in much of his music.
  • In the research field of music information retrieval, self-similarity commonly refers to the fact that music often consists of parts that are repeated in time.[6] In other words, music is self-similar under translation, rather than (or in addition to) under scaling.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mandelbrot, Benoit B. (1982). The Fractal Geometry of Nature, p.44. ISBN 978-0716711865.
  2. ^ Mandelbrot, Benoit B. (5 May 1967). "How long is the coast of Britain? Statistical self-similarity and fractional dimension". New Series. 156 (3775). Science: 636–638. doi:10.1126/science.156.3775.636. Retrieved 11 January 2016.  PDF
  3. ^ Leland et al. "On the self-similar nature of Ethernet traffic", IEEE/ACM Transactions on Networking, Volume 2, Issue 1 (February 1994)
  4. ^ Benoit Mandelbrot (February 1999). "How Fractals Can Explain What's Wrong with Wall Street". Scientific American. 
  5. ^ Campbell, Lo and MacKinlay (1991) "Econometrics of Financial Markets ", Princeton University Press! ISBN 978-0691043012
  6. ^ J. Foote (1999), "Visualizing music and audio using self-similarity". '99 Proceedings of the seventh ACM international conference on Multimedia (Part 1), Pages 77-80, New York, NY, USA

External links[edit]