Tag Archives: Nature

How to play mathematics

BOOK REVIEW

The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace, Author: Margaret Wertheim.
Physics on the Fringe, Author: Margaret Wertheim.
African Fractals: Modern Computing and Indigenous Design, Author: Ron Eglash.

(glasbergen.com)By Margaret Wertheim – The world is full of mundane, meek, unconscious things materially embodying fiendishly complex pieces of mathematics. How can we make sense of this? I’d like to propose that sea slugs and electrons, and many other modest natural systems, are engaged in what we might call the performance of mathematics.

Rather than thinking about maths, they are doing it.

In the fibers of their beings and the ongoing continuity of their growth and existence they enact mathematical relationships and become mathematicians-by-practice. By looking at nature this way, we are led into a consideration of mathematics itself not through the lens of its representational power but instead as a kind of transaction.

Rather than being a remote abstraction, mathematics can be conceived of as something more like music or dancing; an activity that takes place not so much in the writing down as in the playing out.

Since at least the time of Pythagoras and Plato, there’s been a great deal of discussion in Western philosophy about how we can understand the fact that many physical systems have mathematical representations: the segmented arrangements in sunflowers, pine cones and pineapples (Fibonacci numbers); the curve of nautilus shells, elephant tusks and rams horns (logarithmic spiral); music (harmonic ratios and Fourier transforms); atoms, stars and galaxies, which all now have powerful mathematical descriptors; even the cosmos as a whole, now represented by the equations of general relativity.

The physicist Eugene Wigner has termed this startling fact ‘the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics’.

Why does the real world actualize maths at all? And so much of it?

Even arcane parts of mathematics, such as abstract algebras and obscure bits of topology often turn out to be manifest somewhere in nature. more> https://goo.gl/ifKV2Z

Once the wild is gone

BOOK REVIEW

The Long Follow, Author: David Quammen.
Conservation Refugees, Author: Mark Dowie.
Last Child in the Woods, Author: Richard Louv.
Rambunctious Garden, Author: Emma Marris.

By Bill Adams – The economic machine that consumes biodiverse habitat has its foundation in the world economy.

As that economy grows, demands made on the biosphere increase. Particularly in the rapidly industrializing countries of Asia, the standard economic growth model is having some success in helping people to escape poverty, and others to become rich.

Global consumption of raw material and energy (and production of wastes) has risen inexorably.

Poor countries pursue the model of the rich, and poor people, understandably, dream of becoming wealthy. The problem is that biodiversity shrinks before the combined onslaught of people and wealth. more> http://tinyurl.com/pj6kg8b

Only connect

By David P Barash – Dichotomous thinking is basic to Western thought, deriving, perhaps, from the Greek Platonic constructs of ideal versus real and intellect versus emotion.

These dualities were a powerful influence on the Judeo-Christian world view: God vs creation, spirit vs flesh, sin vs redemption and — most important for our purposes — humanity vs nature.

Although most spiritual traditions have some sort of ethical responsibility to the natural world built into them, the unfortunate reality is that, for the Abrahamic religions in particular (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), separateness — of soul from body, individuals from each other, heaven from hell, human beings from the rest of the natural world, and so forth — is the primary operating assumption. more> http://tinyurl.com/k76c82j

Possible creatures

By Andreas Wagner – For Plato [2, 3], the perceptible material world is like a faint shadow of a higher reality. What really matters is the realm of abstract concepts.

To a Platonist, the essence of soccer balls, golf balls and tennis balls is their ball-like shape. It is this pure, abstract and unchanging essence that is real, not the physical balls, whose existence is as fleeting and impermanent as a shadow.

A systematist’s task might be daunting, but it becomes manageable if each species is distinguished by its own Platonic essence. For example, a legless body and flexible jaws might be part of a snake’s essence, different from that of other reptiles. The task is to find a species’ essence. more> http://tinyurl.com/l74m8k4