My coffee shop friend, Dr. Pavlides, shared another quote with me the other day. I think I’m paraphrasing it, but as I remember it he said, “Nature doesn’t know mathematics; but nature demonstrates mathematics.” I new immediately what he was saying, but the concept was not to leave me and has been rattling around in my head for several days. It’s not a thought that is easily forgotten.
I have been amazed for years at the way in which the world, even the universe, is ordered. There is a magnificent systemic pattern at work which is beyond my imagination. Just on a simple level, we know that on a specific day of any year the Sun will be at its most direct positioning to the Earth. Scientists can even tell us the specific hour, minute and second when it will be most profound at any location on the planet. There is a rhythm to the movement of the various entities that comprise our solar system, and that rhythm is so precise that it can be measured, even years in advance.
We know that daffodils and crocuses will begin to sprout from the ground at a particular time in the year. Similarly, leaves will begin to turn colors in a predictable pattern. The tulips planted in a particular place will be red. Others will be yellow. You can count on that. Tomatoes will be cherry tomatoes or huge beefsteak tomatoes consistently. You can plan on it.
Tides will be at their lowest point in Newport, RI, at a specific time, including the hour and minute, and they will be at their highest point at a similarly precise time in the day.
4 Fri (The 4th of July, 2014)12:49 High Tide3.1 Height1:26 Second High Tide3.3 Height6:20 Low Tide0.5 Height6:55 Second Low Tide0.8 Height
5:15 Sun rises8:23 Sun SetsIt will be a half moon*”
That blows my mind. And we have been there many times at the predicted times to find them accurate to the minute. There is, indeed, a mathematical purity to the elements of nature, particularly as they pertain to such things as astronomy.
This precision carries over to many other aspects of “nature” as we experience them in our lifetimes. I am awed by a good physician who knows exactly where a particular organ or vein, or artery is located in a body he has never seen before. How? Human bodies (for the most part) are created with a precision that is predictable. A ligament crosses to a specific point in order to accomplish a specific function. The patella is located in a specific place, in a particular position, in order to assure effective motion of the knee joint. It is not a coincidence…it is part of the specificity of existence.
I suppose some people will want to take this to a theological point, and I would not blame them for it. But, for the purpose of this blog posting I simply point it out as being demonstration of the quote with which we began: “Nature doesn’t know mathematics; but nature demonstrates mathematics.” However you choose to define the word “nature” is fine with me. I am just referring to an observable phenomenon. Mathematics is a human invention with the intention of defining truths that are evident to those who pay attention. It is not mathematics that determines these phenomena…but mathematics simply helps explain them.
I have to quit talking with Dr. Lefteri Pavlides…he keeps me awake at night!
Photo Credit: Moon Phases by Kelsey Conner
*(See more at: http://ri.usharbors.com/monthly-tides/Rhode%20Island/Newport/2014-07#sthash.qkZxcFp3.dpuf)