Numbers: The Simplicity of Complexity

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Andreea Zaharia talks about the beauty of the patterns that shape our lives…

Numbers have been shaping our universe from the beginning of its existence, from its primordial frame to the far more complicated canvas that was stretched over millions of years by the ongoing evolution of mankind and the expansion of the universe.

Image Courtesy of Holly Lawson
Image Courtesy of Holly Lawson

We come across numbers in every aspect of our lives – the buildings you see when you walk down the street, the meal you’re cooking and the thoughts you’re thinking.
Everything can be measured because there is always a pattern. The universe itself is made of patterns that we like to call numbers. Einstein’s well-known equation e=mc² tells us how numbers lay at the very heart of space and time.

The patterns are everywhere – for example the number 3, which is considered sacred in some cultures, is found in religion, song writing, traffic lights and so on. It is the central point of many religions: the Holy Trinity formed of Father, Son and Holy Ghost. We see this number in our everyday life – the 3 meals of the day, the kids learning their ABCs and the “ready, set, go”. Not to mention the song “Row, row, row your boat”. It is also found in Fibonacci’s sequence and in the triangles that are a fundamental part of mathematics, architecture and even art.

Fibonacci’s sequence applies to everything we find in nature. Every number in the sequence is the sum of its two predecessors, except for the first two numbers, 1 and 1. So it goes like this: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13…. If we use squares of the sizes in the sequence and connect their opposite corners by drawing circular arcs, we can even use numbers to create the representation of the so-called “golden spiral”, that, amazingly, looks like the shell of a snail. The sequence has applications in computer science (the Fibonacci search technique) and mathematics, but the patterns are also found in nature; the petals of a flower, the branches of a tree and the structure of a pine cone.

Music is another art from which is more based on numbers than you would think. Pythagoras, the great mathematician, had discovered the 2:1 ratio, and from that, he developed the musical scale of today. He is also the inventor of one of the fundamental theorems that lay at the heart of mathematics, x²+y²=z², which describes the relation between the sides of a right triangle. Fibonacci also gave a contribution to music; the piano. For example, if you take the major C scale, you will notice 8 white keys (numbers of notes in an octave, also a number from the sequence). The chromatic scale has 5 black keys in it (number found in the sequence), 2 and a separate group of 3 (also numbers from the sequence).

The recipe for that delicious cake you’re eating has numbers in it (how many eggs, ounces of flour, pints of milk). When you drive, you shift from the 3rd gear to the 4th. The music you’re listening to is just the interpretation of a frequency, of a few 1s and 0s. The beauty lies in its simplicity. There is an infinity of numbers, and an infinity of infinities. Everything around us is made of numbers. You are made of numbers, and so am I. Enjoy that feeling.

By Andreea Zaharia

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Currently the Winchester Editor of Wessex Scene, Kalisto is a fine arts student, keen writer and emerging artist with a mighty love of coffee...

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