Wednesday, May 17, 2006

5. The Secret Life of Numbers

Starting with a Fine Art BA hons degree didn't give me a great respect for numbers. In fact, I pretty well grew up with hostility to maths or anything restrictive and numbers based. After several years of computer related design I have a strange, brewing love affair with numbers. I'll never be able to remember a phone number but the more I learn about numbers and how they relate to the natural world the more I'm fascinated.

The finer points of commercial graphic and information design have necessarily given me a more acute sense of the importance of grids, measurements and rules. Understanding how to divide space in the picture plain or page layout using image and type has given me a greater understanding of the application of things like the 'Golden Section' and of formal graphic composition.

The underlying rules that determine seemingly random phenomena. The Fibonacci Series is a great eaxample of mathematics being used to map natural things like pineapples and pine cones.

By extension, the design processes of natural objects like shells really fascinate me too. This is discussed at great length in Richard Dawkins' Climbing Mount Improbable. There are sequences of mathematical rules that govern the spirals of all shells. These rules are encoded in the molusc's genes. All deliciously interesting stuff to me...(!)

The mathematician S. Wolfram wrote a huge work about complexity growing out of simple units. (Hopefully the Intelligent Design agitators should take note).

"Stephen Wolfram in cellular Automata states - "This seashell may hold the secret of stock market behaviour, computers that think and the future of science."

There is also some bizarre and interesting thinking around Phi and 'irrational numbers'...

"A peaceful heartbeat is said to beat in a Phi rhythm. A normal human heart beats in a Phi rhythm, with the T point of a normal electrocardiagram (ECG or EKG) falling at the phi point of the heart's rhythmic cycle."

I like to think that my own heart has an irrational beat (I have a slight heart murmer). Perhaps that murmer means that I can escape some rigorous mathematical norm. My beat perhaps can only be expressed with irrational numbers.

We constantly strive to increase our command of the world about us. Mathematics and Physics are a way of defining the 'truth' of the natural world. From my perspective it seems like a strange, runic language trying to gain mastery of the known world. Systems of finite definition, the names yielding the power of the named.

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