Nathan ,

Well , may be You are right . I got this idea from achitecture doctoral thesis which tries to model same architecture of some city street with based on square counting and different parameters like topography.
I gave same reaction with yours when I read this thesis.
Perlin noise awarded by academy to mimic same natural noise on natural things like mud , dirt etc.
I think Ken Perlin did a similar dimension research and also distribution research on nature.
But as I said before , Perlin noise can fall in to Brain research also. So it makes everything more complex.
I am remembering a photoshop plug in , extracts full image from extremelly dark image. I found the real power of digital there. It was about the eye sensor cells and their working mechanism.

May be this helps. You can contact with Ken Perlin .

http://cs.nyu.edu/~perlin/

Please share whatever you learned.

Umut