What if Math Is a Fundamental Part of Nature, Not Something Humans Came Up With?


Nature is an unstoppable drive, and a lovely one at that. Everywhere you look, the pure world is laced with gorgeous patterns that may be described with arithmetic. From bees to blood vessels, ferns to fangs, math can clarify how such magnificence emerges.


Math is commonly described this fashion, as a language or a software that people created to explain the world round them, with precision.

But there’s one other college of thought which suggests math is definitely what the world is made of; that nature follows the identical easy guidelines, time and time once more, as a result of arithmetic underpins the basic legal guidelines of the bodily world.

This would imply math existed in nature lengthy earlier than people invented it, based on thinker Sam Baron of the Australian Catholic University.

“If arithmetic explains so many issues we see round us, then it’s unlikely that arithmetic is one thing we have created,” Baron writes.

Instead, if we expect of math as an integral part of nature that provides construction to the bodily world, as Baron and others counsel, it’d immediate us to rethink our place in it relatively than reveling in our personal creativity.

(Westend61/Getty Images)

A world made of math

This pondering dates again to Greek thinker Pythagoras (round 575-475 BCE), who was the primary to establish arithmetic as one of two languages that may clarify the structure of nature; the opposite being music. He thought all issues have been made of numbers; that the Universe was ‘made’ of arithmetic, as Baron places it. 

More than two millennia later, scientists are nonetheless going to nice lengths to uncover the place and the way mathematical patterns emerge in nature, to reply some huge questions – like why cauliflowers look oddly good.


“We spent many hours frantically dismantling [cauliflower] florets, counting them, measuring angles between them,” writes University of Nottingham mathematician Etienne Farcot, who studied cauliflower progress in an effort to grasp these “mysterious cabbages.”

Fractals are beautiful, self-repeating patterns which, apart from some cauliflowers, are additionally present in fern fronds, branching blood vessels, and the rings of Saturn. Fractals are geometrical shapes made up of smaller and smaller copies of themselves, creating a mesmerizing ‘self-similarity’ that’s infinitely deep.

1920px Mandel zoom 00 mandelbrot setMandelbrot set (black) in a constantly coloured setting. (Wolfgang Beyer/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Although solely mathematical or computer-generated fractals are actually good fractals, nature comes fairly shut.

“These repeating patterns are in every single place in nature,” says mathematician Thomas Britz of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. “In snowflakes, river networks, flowers, timber, lightning strikes – even in our blood vessels.”

FernFronds(VerboseDreamer/Wikimedia Commons)

Part of the appeal of fractals is that they assist to clarify how complexity is born out of simplicity. As Benoît Mandelbröt, the Polish-born mathematician who coined the time period fractal, stated in 2010: “Bottomless wonders spring from easy guidelines that are repeated with out finish.”

Branching river programs additionally carve near-perfect fractal patterns within the panorama.

So persistent are these patterns that in a single occasion, archaeologists appeared for lacking fractals to infer historic Egyptians may need modified river channels when constructing pyramids close by.

FractalLikeRiversLake Erepecu and Trombetas River in Brazil. (NASA Earth Observatory)

Insects seem to observe mathematical ideas, too.

Whether they realize it or not, bees construct hexagonal honeycomb in a means that produces probably the most space for storing utilizing the least supplies – a principle often called the ‘honeycomb conjecture’ which was lastly demonstrated by American mathematician Thomas Hales in 1999.

Some species of cicadas even have a life cycle geared in the direction of prime numbers. Swarms of two North American species emerge from their subterranean burrows each 13 or 17 years, a trick which scientists suppose helps cicadas keep away from predators with extra common rhythms.

(Meggyn Pomerleau/Unsplash)

Let’s not neglect nature’s ‘favourite’ numbers, Fibonacci numbers, the place every quantity within the sequence is the sum of the earlier two. Fibonacci numbers are seen in sunflower seeds, pine cones and pineapples.

Spiral galaxies and nautilus shells additionally mimic so-called golden spirals by rising in a logarithmic ratio with each quarter flip.

But although mathematical patterns are in every single place to be seen in nature, latest discoveries counsel the connection between math and nature runs deeper nonetheless, in methods we’re solely simply starting to understand.

Spiral shell(James L. Amos/Getty Images)

Earlier this yr, researchers found what they described as a beforehand unknown regulation of nature: a progress sample which describes how pointed shapes kind many times in nature – from shark tooth and spider fangs to hen beaks and dinosaur horns.

“The range of animals, and even crops, that observe this rule is staggering,” evolutionary biologist Alistair Evans from Monash University in Australia stated on the time they found the mathematical components, dubbed the ‘energy cascade’. 


“We discovered it virtually in every single place we appeared throughout the kingdoms of life – in dwelling animals, and people extinct for thousands and thousands of years.”

Back in 2015, scientists have been additionally delighted to seek out a traditional components for Pi – the ever-constant ratio between a circle’s circumference and its diameter – lurking in hydrogen atoms.

In a roundabout means, that discovery leads us again to the concept that arithmetic supplies a structural framework for the bodily world. It’s an attention-grabbing thought to entertain – as long as your head would not explode.