MathMagic: Numbers in Nature


Nature is often remarkedly structured and precise. Mathematics has been used since the ancient times to describe the earth and the universe. Especially the greek were masters in handeling numbers and using the power of mathematical formulars to explain natural processes like acceleration of objects and many more.

Not only physics, but also patterns of living beings follow visible regularites. Often nature makes use of the so-called Fibonacci series: 1 1 2 3 5 8 13… It follows a trivial logic in which the sum of the later two numbers gives rise to the next number in the sequence. For example the number of possible spirals, compromised of hexagons, making up an ananas are 3,5,8.

The familiy of honeybees also follow the famous fibonacci scheme. Female bees (workers and the queen) have always two parents whereas male bees (drones) are born from an unfertilized egg. Looking back on the ancestors of a drone, then it can be appriciated that is has one parent, two grandparents, three great-grandpartents, five great-great grandparents and so forth. The female ancestors also follow Fibonacci’s law (two parents, three grandparents, five great-grandpartents…). By the way if you divide the ancestors of female by the ancestors of a male, you will get closer to the number 1.618 with each generation. Another very prevalent mathematical wonder, the golden ratio.

The occurrence of the Fibonacci numbers and the golden ratio in natural objects could also be merely a coincidence and relate back to superstition like the myth of the 27 club. However, the vast occurrence of a mathematical nature points towards a universal usage of certain numbers and proportions. The list of example is going on and on.

But the burning question that arises is like Albert Einstein asked:

How is it possible that mathematics, a product of human thought that is independent of experience, fits so excellently the objects of reality?

There are several thoughts open for discussion. A rather unlikely one in the light of evolution is that god is a mathematician himself and created the world that way. More likely and conform with modern ideas, would be the possibility that humans did not invent mathematics as it was already present in nature and we rather discovered it. But why did nature come up with exactly these numbers? Probably following these numbers might be advantageous to an organism. Four-leaf flowers are extremely rare. Rather flowers with 3, 5,8, 13, 21 petals are common. Reflecting that the petal arrangement is crucial and availability of space might be important to the flower.
The mystery, how the same set of numbers turns out to be beneficial in so many different organisms and settings, remains. But none-the-less, the playfull occurrence and interconnection of famous numbers is fascinating and inspiring for other areas like painting and photography!

The mathemagician Arthur Benjamin shows in a TEDxBeaconStreet talk the magic of the Fibonacci numbers and how math can be inspiring too:

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About Lisa Landskron

Being a scientist in the field of molecular biology & leading the TEDxVienna Blogger team, Lisa loves to do biochemical as well as digital experiments to create and spread ideas.

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