More Math...

Since our last PRISM (Programming, Robotics, Imagination, Science & Math) meeting I have been reading and watching anything PRISM related that I can find. Last night I watched a NOVA episode on PBS about math and told the students this morning that my mind was officially blown! You can see the episode here and I highly recommend it: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/physics/great-math-mystery.html

I often ask the community a "question of the week" in Monday's Morning Meeting as a way of opening a discussion with students and faculty. Today I designed my question around the topic of the NOVA episode, which asked, "Is math invented by humans, or is it the language of the universe." During one of the more mind blowing sections of the video a physicist suggests that we are continuing to discover the math behind so many natural phenomena. In my understanding of his argument, he revealed how the math that is used to make up the virtual world of video games is starting to blend with the math that defines our own natural world. He says this a great deal more eloquently than I have and with better graphics!

When I was studying postmodernism in graduate school I was convinced that math was clearly invented by humans, and that everything built on top of our mathematical concepts--things like truth and logic--were by default, human inventions. Last night's NOVA episode swung things back in the other direction for me and I started to wonder if math was the language of the universe. Did you know, for instance, that the number of petals on different types of daisies corresponds to the numbers of the Fibonacci Sequence? 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55,89... They also explained how the number for Pi shows up throughout the natural world. So, are we imposing Pi and the Fibonacci Sequence on the universe or are we discovering mathematical concepts that are quite natural and putting names to them? What do you think?