Isn’t this beautiful?
How could you fail to be seduced by the astonishing geometry of this flower?
We see this everywhere in the world – how patterns seem to display an remarkable mathematical order.
Interestingly, the same day I took this photograph (which I immediately titled “the geometry of flowers”) I read a fascinating article about mathematics teaching, entitled “The limits of a rational mind in an irrational world – the language of mathematics as a potentially destructive discourse in sustainable ecology.” by Steve Arnold of Auckland University of Technology. Here are a couple of paragraphs which caught my eye –
Galileo famously said, “The laws of Nature are written in the language of mathematics.” However we realise that this profound statement was while very true, it is not strictly true. There are times when the mathematical understanding of the world breaks down. Now in a time of ecological distress, we need technologies and tools that can match more perfectly our world. In reality, Mathematics is a highly nuanced poetry that describes the human condition, it mirrors the workings of the human brain (as mathematics is exclusively a product of human thought). Mathematics tells us our own story, it tells us how the human brain works, and as we strive to make meaning of the world, we do so using the tools available to us; number is one of the ways that we language our experience.
Within mathematics there continues to this day an expectation that the simple relationships described in mathematics should be able to neatly describe our complex world. However the real world is not simple, tidy and neat. The real world is full of messiness, unpredictability, human emotion and error. Mathematics describes a predictable world, where error can be eliminated, and it is desirable to simplify and exterminate unwanted complications. Where the two differ, surprisingly it is the human experience in the real world that defers to the all-powerful notions of mathematics.
And, in conclusion, he makes the excellent point that mathematics is just one way to make sense of the world, and it’s a way that we ourselves have made up.
We put so much faith in numbers, that sometimes we place the power of the digit over the judgement of our experience. This idea of positivism has found a secure home in the teaching of mathematics in schools. We are controlled by numbers, from the early stages of test results, to class position and IQ, to more recently BMI scores, glasses prescriptions, salaries and postcodes. We sometimes forget that numbers are a way to tell the human story. We forget we make them up, not the other way round.
So, yes, this is a beautiful geometric flower and how often can we use mathematics to model the beauty of the natural world? But, surely, we need to always remember that the mathematical story of the world is not a perfect explanation. And that we should not allow anyone to reduce Life to numbers.