what? why?


he Golden Mean; the Golden Section; the Golden Ratio. These are all popular names for a mathematical concept which expresses the relationship of two parts of a whole with each other and with the whole. The number represented by the Greek letter Phi is irrational. Phi is calculated as 1 plus the square root of 5, divided by 2. The Golden Ratio between x and y is that x is to y as y is to x+y. (This paragraph is of course grossly superficial, but it will suffice for an introductory page.)

detail of sunflower headThat all comes off as terribly dry and abstract. The wonder of this number is that artists, mathematicians, architects and scientists have found it uniquely applicable to the physical world. It establishes a singularly pleasing visual balance. It describes the efficient packing of seeds and the arrangement of petals on some flowers. It describes the development of some mollusk shells, and population growth in some species.

The Golden Mean is a mathematical construct. I am anything but a mathematician. How can this be reconciled?

I am writing this in the early spring of 2002. Everything in the world feels oppressively irrational. I find genuine pleasure in the concept of the Golden Mean: it is irrational and yet it has been used to model some of the most beautiful of man's works. It is irrational, but it describes some of nature's most exquisite, complex and orderly systems.

I expressed concern about making anything worthy to Jared Tarbell, who replied reassuringly "it's just a number". Well, not exactly. As my brother Phil (who is a mathematician) explained, the Golden Ratio is perhaps the most perfectly irrational number. For what it's worth.

sunflower before openingSo it works for me. It is my metaphor for where I am at the moment. Life is irrational and yet beautiful; complex yet apparently orderly. And some of the works of man can take my breath away.

Welcome to a personal site inspired by a number.
The Golden Mean.
Don't be in a hurry here.

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