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John Keats’ famous line “beauty is truth, truth beauty” is as fitting to the majesty of nature as it

is in the realm of mathematics and science. Scientists believe in and rely on elegance, and unless

a theory that describes some fundamental physical laws of nature is expressible in mathematical

formula and is beautiful to look at, meaning that the formula must be concise, exquisite and

appealing, they keep on trying to find an attractive one. Einstein’s Theories of Relativity both the

Special theory and the General Theory are succinct and elegant, but they are so vast and far-

reaching that the whole cosmology and astrophysics are being built on the very foundation of his

theories. The field equations of General Relativity are simple to look at, but they can be very

complicated when applied to solving various mysteries of the predictions of the Theory. James

Clerk Maxwell enunciated just a set of four partial differential equations to describe the

properties of electricity and magnetism. In fact, deep mysteries of nature reveal themselves in a

simple and precise manner and follow mathematical formulations. This is itself a mystery!

Mysteries always evoke curiosity in mankind and propel them into undertaking investigations to

unfold them. This is human nature, and these instructions are embedded in our genes. The

purpose of science teaching to students should be primarily to inspire awe and curiosity. Einstein

said, “The fairest thing we can is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion, which stands at

the cradle of true art and science. He who knows it not and can no longer wonder, no longer feel

amazement is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle.”

Mathematics is the language of the universe. Every natural pattern of growth or movement

conforms inevitably to one or more geometric shapes. From the molecules of our DNA to the

galaxy that spirals within, life and its forms emerge out of geometric codes. Every student should

be taught mathematics by inspiring wonder and reverence. Today, I shall deliberate specifically

on pi and phi. Pi is the ratio between circumference and diameter of a circle. The value is 22

divided by 7 or 3.1…. It’s a rational number because it can be expressed as the ratio of two

numbers 22 and 7. Any shape based on circles will use pi, eg, circumference, area of circles, half

circles and so on. Pi is used in measuring surface area and volume of cylinders, spheres,

hemispheres, cones, truncated cones, donut shapes and the like. Pi can be expressed in another

way. While, angle is generally measured in degrees, the other common measurement for angles

is radians. For this measurement, consider the unit circle or a circle of radius 1, whose center is

the vertex of the angle in question. Then the angle cuts off an arc of the circle, and the length of

that arc is the radian measure of the angle. It is easy to convert between degree measurement and

radian measurement. The circumference of the entire circle is 2 multiplied by pi and radius. So it

follows that 360° equals 2 radians or pi radians equals 180 degree. In calculating probabilities

of some events, it turns out that pi comes into play unexpectedly. Let me give an example. If you

divide by a ruler, say, one sheet of A4 size paper into 10 equal rows and place the sheet on a

table, and then drop a needle, whose length is equal to the width of a row, from above, the

chance or probability that the needle intersects any of the lines is 2 divided by pi.

The most fascinating number is phi. Phi is an irrational number that approximates to

1.6180339887. It can also be expressed as the mathematical constant φ. Phi has many

pseudonyms throughout history. It has been known as the golden section, golden mean, golden

number, golden ratio, golden cut, the divine proportion and so on. Let us suppose AB is a

straight line and is cut at C unequally such that AC > BC and the ratio between AB and AC is

equal to that between AC and BC, then it is cut in extreme and mean ratio or golden ratio or phi.

Many natural phenomena exhibit a pattern that is characteristic of this ratio. The golden ratio is

being followed in art and architectural design. Examples may be cited. The ratio of two

dimensions (length 105 ½ inch x width 65 ¾ inch) of Salvador Dali’s famous painting

‘Sacrament of last Supper’ follows golden ratio phi.

A closer look at the petals of red roses reveals that one petal is not separated from the next one

completely, but partly covers the next one to an extent that is in the ratio of phi is to 1. The

magnificent spiral shells of mollusks and even the breeding of rabbits follow golden ratio.

Mollusks or seashells are of different varieties including clams and snails. One fascinating

variety is chambered nautilus whose shell is subdivided into as many as 30 chambers. As the

shell grows, its body moves forward into the new larger chamber and produces a wall to seal off

the older chambers. Nautilus shell grows larger on each spiral by phi. A cross-section of the shell

of the Nautilus will show the cycles of its growth as a series of chambers arranged in a precise

golden mean spiral. Guggenheim Museum of New York was constructed after the architectural

design of chambered nautilus. While maintaining silence, Lord Buddha used to give or show his

disciples as his blessings a flower to symbolize symmetry, harmony, love and fragility of life.

Lord Shiva holds a nautilus in one of his hands as a symbol of one of the instruments initiating

creation.

A number of budding life-forms show a phi pattern of their shape. Cut open an apple crosswise,

and in its center you will find seeds forming a perfect pentagram. The ratio of the longer side of

the five isosceles triangles to its shorter base is phi. Peel back the topmost leaves of a cabbage,

and you’ll find five leaves revealing pentagonal geometry. Cut the same cabbage crosswise, and

you’ll see a series of golden spirals contained within the growth pattern. If you draw a rectangle

with the longer and the shorter sides in the ratio of phi is to 1 and cut it in such a manner that you

make a square with sides equal to 1, the remaining rectangle is also in the ratio of phi is to 1. The

breeding of rabbits, honeybees and some other species in a colony follows the Fibonacci

numbers 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34 and so on. In fact the series show the gradual growth of

population. If we take the ratio of two successive numbers or divide each by the number before

it, we will find the following series of numbers.

1

/1 = 1, 2/1 = 2, 3/2 = 1·5, 5/3 = 1·666..., 8/5 = 1·6, 13/8 = 1·625, 21/13 = 1·61538... The ratio

seems to be settling down to a particular value, which is exactly the golden ratio.

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