Mathematics and Science–how Poetic!

Discovery of beauty in surprising places.

Believe it or not, just seeing and saying the word mathematics makes me feel good.

My love for math led me to complete a B.Sc. program in Engineering Mathematics, and yet my most enjoyable hobbies were creative: drawing, writing and photography. So for much of my life, I was pulled in opposite directions by two forces I thought were unrelated to each other.

And yet, from time to time, I’d find connections between math and the creative arts.

Math, Music and Art

I noticed that it is common to find people that are strong in both math and music. And I was delighted to discover that renowned poet and author Lewis Carroll, author of the Alice in Wonderland books, was also math professor Charles Dodgson, author of Symbolic Logic.

Dodgson was not a traditional mathematician. Rather, he applied mathematical and logical solutions to problems that interested him.

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Then I discovered those who enjoyed math not just for its applications and theories, but also for its sheer beauty, and wrote of it in poetic and visually artistic ways.

Feeling lonely for math one day, and browsing in the math section of the public library, I ran across a 1914 book by Theodore Andrea Cook, The Curves of Life. This book introduced me to the fascinating subject of spiral formations in nature. In his book he explains how he came to write about this subject…

…my main object is not mathematics, but the growth of natural objects and the beauty (either in Nature or in art) which is inherent in vitality.

Theodore Andrea Cook, in The Curves of Life

Combining science and arts, how delightful! It awoke a voracious appetite for more of the same, and back to the math section I returned, where I found Ian Stewart’s Nature’s Numbers: The Unreal Reality of Mathematics. This distinguished award-winning mathematician delights in seeing mathematical patterns in flora and fauna.

And in Stewart’s The Magical Maze: Seeing the World Through Mathematical Eyes, “…logic and imagination converge…a maze of ideas, a maze of logic…beauty, surprise, and power.”

Pure Gold (and a jewel of a TED Talk!)

These led to my first discovery of two related concepts that continue to captivate me. The Fibonacci sequence and the Golden Ratio were discovered by early mathematicians, Indian mathematician Virahanka, and Greek mathematicians Euclid and Pythagoras. Currently this unique ratio is known best by its appearance in some patterns in nature, including the spiral arrangement of leaves and other parts of vegetation.

Schools all over North America, including the schools that I worked in, teach the basic concepts of the Fibonacci sequence (adding the two previous numbers together to get the next number: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21…), the Golden Ratio, and the Golden Spiral (a golden spiral gets wider by a factor of 1.618 for every quarter turn it makes) to children as young as elementary age, who–I can confirm–love learning about its applications in nature.

There is a unique ratio that can be used to describe the proportions of everything from nature’s smallest building blocks, such as atoms, to the most advanced patterns in the universe, like the unimaginably large celestial bodies. Nature relies on this innate proportion to maintain balance, but the financial markets also seem to conform to this “golden ratio.”

Do yourself a favor and check out this 6 minute TED Talk by Arthur Benjamin, as he explains the Golden Spiral in his talk “The Magic of Fibonacci Numbers.”

The merging of these usually separate concepts, logic and art, continues to fascinate me. And learning more and more about them is one of my not-so-guilty pleasures!

If this intrigues you enough to click on some links, I have been successful in my mission to pique your curiosity, and add some beauty and joy to your life.

More poetic math and science to come!

[My sincere appreciation goes to Wikimedia Commons for images]


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