God’s language

Geometry in nature fascinates me.
Geometry in nature fascinates me.

The universe cannot be read until we have learned the language and become familiar with the characters in which it is written. It is written in mathematical language, and the letters are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures, without which means it is humanly impossible to comprehend a single word. Galileo Galilei

I have just watched the fascinating documentary The Code where the British matematician Marcus du Sautoy was looking for a code making the world we see. He started his journey in Tennessee where they are invaded by cicadas every 13 years. These insects are the most harmless you can imagine, and their only defenses are their enormous population and the number 13. There’s nothing random about this strategy. There are two other cicadas in other areas of the USA with a 13 year life cycle, while there are twelve that emerge every 17 years. There is a reason you won’t find a 12, 14, 15, 16 or 18 year life cycle. The two aforementioned cycles give these insects the maximum benefit. Imagine a cicada having an enemy that shows up every six years, and the number 13 makes a lot of sense.

Sautoy also talked about the hexagonal shapes of beehives. It turns out that this particular shape isn’t just strong; it is also the most economic in terms of utilizing the space and using the least amount of wax. Triangles and squares offer some of the same advantages, but they require more wax. Bees don’t have a consciousness, but they have always done what scientists are only now able to understand. All bees anywhere in the world follow the mathematical code. Isn’t that amazing?

Sautoy referred to nature as lazy, which means that it chooses the easiest, most effective form, but easy and efficient isn’t necessarily the same. Lazy doesn’t have to be effective, and sometimes it could pay off to take a detour. I would imagine that engineers see this point. Short cuts are intended to save time and effort, but it isn’t always the best solution. A soap bubble for example is a sphere because that is the shape with the least surface area, which makes this the most effective shape. Any other  shape would have been inferior. Nature probably chooses the same shape because it is the most effective, not because it’s exclusively convenient. If we merge bubbles they will share some surface area and get rid of what they don’t need. This changes the geometry.

We have been designed to live in communities and answers are often to be found in the collective. Marcus du Sautoy demonstrated this with an alluring experiment. He put 4510 jellybeans in a big jar and asked 160 people to guess the amount. The answers ranged from 400 to 30 000, but the average was 4515. Everyone answered incorrectly, while all came astoundingly close. It suggests that the individual guesses, while there is something else guiding the collective in the right direction. We see something similar in the balance between the sexes. There is a relative stability between the number of men and women, but if too many of the same gender are killed in a war, or if too many select the same gender when they have babies, the system could get an imbalance it would take several generations to correct.

A scientist that excludes the possibility of an intelligent designer will naturally say that everything we see is a result of coincidence, but I keep the door open for a different solution. I don’t think God is concerned with every little detail, but I think coincidence will lead to a lazy nature with too many bad solutions, while efficiency suggests design.

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