How Plants Count

The language of the universe starts “1, 1, 2.” /

“Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.” – Luke 12:27

Many different people have said it in many different ways: Math is the language of the universe. Depending on one’s view of mathematics, that’s either a profoundly inspiring or downright terrifying statement. If fourth period Algebra 2 class is the language of the universe, we may be perfectly fine being illiterate.

But if the sentiment is correct, what does that language sound like? Is it melodic and lilting, like Tolkien’s Elvish? Or more guttural and forceful, like Worf’s Klingon? And what does it look like? Is it flowing and artistic like Kanji or blockish and industrial like Cyrillic?

There are lots of different ways to answer those questions. Here’s one of them:

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144 …

This list is the somewhat famous and definitely mysterious Fibonacci Series. If mathematics is indeed the language of the universe, this sequence of numbers can be thought of as a primary reader akin to the Dick and Jane books of old.

The pattern

If you don’t already know the pattern behind the Fibonacci numbers, look at the series above again and see if you can determine what ought to be the next number in the sequence. We’ll wait for you. What comes after 144?

Well? Did you get 233?

Fibonacci numbers are determined by adding the previous two numbers in the sequence. So the next number is found by adding 89 + 144.

Pretty mundane, right? Just a simple, recursive addition problem—what could possibly be the big deal?

The big deal is something not even Fibonacci himself could have predicted. ...

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Also in this Issue

Issue 48 / May 12, 2016
  1. Editor's Note from May 12, 2016

    Issue 48: A spiraling world of numbers, a revealing stone, and our distinct differences. /

  2. Two Towns’ Eureka Moments

    How a fishing village and an old lumber station are revealing mysteries about the galaxy and ancient Jewish worship. /

  3. A Peculiar People

    We’re made different from each other to be different together. /

  4. The Bat

    “The bat is dun, with wrinkled wings” /

  5. Wonder on the Web

    Issue 48: Links to amazing stuff.

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