I just finished reading ‘A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines’ by Janna Levin and beginning to question myself whether math does exist in nature or it is purely human made. If the latter, I would give them excellent credit for their contribution to society. Without math, how do you measure time and distance? In engineering, math is greatly applied. Take Fourier Transform application in digital image processing for example. The reason I pursue my career in engineering is due to my personal interest in applying math to reality. To me, math makes everything justifiable. However, my sister criticises that math is too abstract where its rule are made by human and obeyed by human. In math, you believe that 1 + 1 is equal to 2 because teachers taught us so. Math is not as scientific as many people say.
So, what do you think?
Although I partly agree with her argument and I am also lacking of scientific evidences, my faith on math as part of the nature remains strong. I always believe that human adopts math from nature and translates it into a universal language such as numbers that we see everyday in money, time or number of petals in a flower. If my statement is not convincing enough, let’s take a look at the following beehive built by Tetragonula carbonaria.
We usually see beehive in egg shape. But this Australian stingless bees construct in Archimedean spiral. It remains a mystery why they build in this pattern. If I may hypothesise, the architecture might improve the queen fertility, but for a moment, let’s ignore the purpose of the design and get back to our former discussion. In order to create an ideal Archimedean spiral, you need to halve fairly each radiant of the circle. So how does the bees achieve this? Somehow, I believe measuring is part of their instinct. There is math in their own language.
If the spiral beehive is too complex, let’s see another example: A circle made by a fish. In order to attract female fish, a male Japanese Puffer Fish forms sand into a circle. While, we normally require radius to plot a perfect circle, this fish is able to construct a symmetrical circle without using compass. Same question ensues: Is it an animal instinct to measure?
If you are bored with the geometry application in animal, we have African Wild Dogs as another example. Lycaon pictus or an African Wild Dogs use sneezing to initiate hunt. While many people are interested with their democracy behaviour, I am interested in how they count the sneeze. Is it an animal instinct to count?
My sister’s statement that math is just an man-made rule is true. Numbers, equations, and logics are human creation just like grammar, spelling and pronounciation in a language. And just like math, it is an animal instinct to use their language for communication. Take a pack of wolves for example.