Sunday, April 19, 2015


1. Are you one of those people who thinks there's something "magical" about the Fibonacci sequence, also known as the Golden Ratio, or Phi? Then maybe you shouldn't read this essay by philosophical party-pooper Donald E. Simanek, which reads, in part:

A search of the internet, or your local library, will convince you that the Fibonacci series has attracted a lunatic fringe of Fibonacci fanatics who look for mysticism in numbers and in nature. You will find fantastic claims:
  • The "golden rectangle" is the "most beautiful" rectangle, and was deliberately used by artists in arranging picture elements within their paintings. (You'd think that they'd always use golden rectangle frames, but they didn't.)
  • The patterns based on the Fibonacci numbers, the golden ratio and the golden rectangle are those most pleasing to human perception.
  • Mozart used φ in composing music. (He liked number games, but there's no good evidence that he ever deliberately used φ in a musical composition.)
  • The Fibonacci sequence is seen in nature, in the arrangement of leaves on a stem of plants, in the pattern of sunflower seeds, spirals of snail's shells, in the number of petals of flowers, in the periods of planets of the solar system, and even in stock market cycles. So pervasive is the sequence in nature (according to these folks) that one begins to suspect that the series has the remarkable ability to be "fit" to most anything!
  • Nature's processes are "governed" by the golden ratio. Some sources even say that nature's processes are "explained" by this ratio.
Of course much of this is patently nonsense. Mathematics doesn't "explain" anything in nature, but mathematical models are very powerful for describing patterns and laws found in nature. I think it's safe to say that the Fibonacci sequence, golden mean, and golden rectangle have never, not even once, directly led to the discovery of a fundamental law of nature. When we see a neat numeric or geometric pattern in nature, we realize we must dig deeper to find the underlying reason why these patterns arise.
I'm not totally convinced that he's 100 percent on point with the rest of his take-down, but I'll admit he's made me a bit more skeptical about the kind of "numbers magic" and abuse and misuse of advanced scientific concepts by various philosophical flim-flam artists in the New Age movement. Maybe you'll get something out of it, too. Go ahead and dive in!

2. Sandow Birk is an artist who has undertaken "a project to hand-transcribe the entire Qur'an according to historic Islamic traditions and to illuminate the text with relevant scenes from contemporary American life. Nine years in the making, the project was inspired by a decade of extended travel in Islamic regions of the world." The image at the top of this page is the first page of that project. You can read (and see) the rest of it here at the artist's website.

3. For the fourth time, today's DDD Suggested Reading List includes four selections from the Open University and BBC Radio 4's introductory level general philosophy course entitled The History of Ideas. I hope you're enjoying these videos as much as I did when first seeing them!


"The Big Bang"

"Hindu Creation Stories"

"Thomas Aquinas and the First Mover Argument"

"William Paley and the Divine Watchmaker"

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