I’ve always been obsessed with asking questions. As a kid my mother promised that she would always answer all my questions, a promise I’m sure she regretted. So much so that one Christmas she bought me encyclopedia called Tell Me the Answers. Basically, because she could get the book to answer for her. I was a strange child too, because I refused to read any fantasy books. In our reading scheme in school we had the book, The Princess and the Giant. I refused to read this as there were no giants. So the encyclopedia was a way of getting me to read.
I was so much of a geek that my favourite programmes were Johnny Ball’s Think of a Number and Tomorrow’s World. Now that is seriously sad. One of my most cherished childhood memories was my Uncle baby sitting and making copper sulphate crystals with my new chemistry set. My younger sister ate my chemistry set soon afterwards and had to go to A&E. A serious crime in my eyes at least.
All this sort of thing has influenced how I see the world around me and how I interact with my kids. If we watch a nature programme like Africa, they are saying, ‘Ahhh don’t those baby ostriches look cute’. I say, ‘Obviously there must be some survival advantage for those fluffy feathers’. The cuteness is lost on me entirely. The other advice I could give is never go to the Zoo with me. Everyone else is saying how cute the chimps are and I’m banging on about the evolution of opposable thumbs.
Last year I went camping with my son and we went for a nature walk. One game we play is to pick flowers and count their petals and then the leaves underneath. If you could the petals and divide them by the number of leaves underneath you nearly always get the same result. It’s 8/5 or 5/3 or 13/8 all equalling around 1.6. This is called the Golden Ratio. We find it everywhere in nature, we even took a ruler out with us to measure the distance of twigs branching out. Guess what the ratio is 1.6. Perhaps the most annoying thing I have ever done with this was a few months ago. My wife brought home some sunflowers from Morrisons. Everyone said how beautiful they were, I wasn’t that bothered the aesthetics. What I was bothered about was the fact that if you look at a sunflower you can see a spiral shape in the Golden Ratio. My wife has no interest in science so said, ‘Oh God not that stupid number thing again.’
But what has worried me about my science obsession happened last year. We were camping and it rained all day, so we decided to go to the pool near the campsite. This pool had a wave machine and the lifeguard announced, the waves are now on. All the kids rushed to the side of the pool where the waves were the highest. My son said these waves are rubbish they aren’t curing like the beach. The next time they switched the waves on we went to the shallow end where they were curing. ‘Look at the shape of that curling wave I said. what does it look like?’ My son being on the ball replied, ‘It’s that same spiral again’. I then took it too far by saying that in high school you use a wave machine to study light waves and even light has that same ratio. I realised I took it too far when I saw a woman next to me shaking her head in despair. I get very excited about things like this.
The truth is that billions of things in our universe share this same ratio, storm systems, the DNA helix, everything to the spirals of our own galaxy all of it is in that same ratio. If you look at the bones in your hand they are in this ratio as are the bones in your arm, everything, everything that is beautiful that is. The great architecture of cathedrals or the beauty of paintings. Everything beautiful is in this ratio. Even twitter and other websites are set to this ratio because it easy for us to use.
People often think that science takes away mystery and spoils things. Not so. The more we know about our universe the more beautiful it becomes. In my biology degree one of my specializations was reproductive physiology, now there’s a good chat up line. When my son was born the fact that I knew about self assembly and embryology enhanced the wonder of his birth, it is no way took anything away. The Oxford biologist Ard Louis shows in his work on self assembly how life assembles itself like a child in the womb. Far from being a random process underlying life are these maths formulas that cause us to be. Like the Psalm says, ‘You knit me together in my mother’s womb’.
Underlying all nature are simple maths equations that we are naturally drawn towards. Everything from our galaxy to a flower to a beautiful face, we are naturally drawn towards. Why? There are just two answers:
1: That’s just the way it is, the question why is an invalid question.
2: There is some kind of intelligence behind these maths equations and beauty is a form of communication.
My natural curiosity is always suspicious of stop answers like answer 1. An answer that stops us thinking about the problem any further. Answer 1 in saying that the why question is invalid is simply telling me not to think about something, to shut down that natural curiosity. I don’t like that. I am drawn to the second answer because it seems to make more logical sense.
Years ago I read the book, Planet of the Apes. In the book the scientist decided that when they met the alien race they would only be able to show their intelligence through maths. They would show that they were an intelligent species by drawing a pythagorean triangle. All other communication is dependant on language and if you landed on an alien planet you would share no common language. The only universal language is that of maths. So it would make sense for an intelligence far greater than our own to communicate with us through maths.
We are drawn to beauty because it is through beauty laid down in every aspect of our universe we see the Word of God.