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Reading 17 "Nature's Numbers" by Ian Stewart

KEY WORDS


order, universals, accidentals


"We live in a universe of patterns," writes Stewart. This universe of patterns, explains Stewart over the course of the reading, is not in place to simply be admired, but to give "vital clues to the rules that govern natural processes." Everything in nature is ordered in some cohesive pattern or arrangement. Some patterns observed in nature are universals that actually mean something of significance. Stewart exemplifies Kepler's discovery of a "very strange pattern relating the orbital period of a planet--the time it takes to go around the Sun--to its distance from the Sun." He also points to the fact that numerological observations of universal patterns were key in Isaac Newton's theory of gravitation. Numerological pattern study doesn't always result in the discovery of scientifically-significant universals, however. "The difficulty lies in distinguishing significant numerical patterns from accidental ones," writes Stewart on page 4. He points to some of Kepler's other pattern studies that resulted in the discovery of accidental patterns which scientifically mean nothing, such as his devising of a "simple and tidy theory for the existence of precisely six planets in our solar system," which was later discovered to be completley untrue.


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS


1. How can the observation of patterns in nature--from the most obvious to those existing in the microscopic world--inform architecture in its modern-day quest to design efficiently and environmentally-friendly?


2. "Mathematics is to nature as Sherlock Holmes is to evidence," writes Stewart on page 2. Would it also make sense to say that "Nature is to architecture as mathematics is to nature?" according to Stewart's theories?