You and the Unknown Phi

Geometry is an amazing part of math knowledge. When I was in school and someone would say, “Why should I learn this, I’ll never use it,” it astonished me.  All around us are amazing geometries that are not only meaningful, but give life structure. and beauty.

Phi is a number–.1.6180339. It’s called the Golden Ratio. Like Pi, it continues forever. There is a way it was derived, and if you are super geeky, you will recognize this definition from Wikipedia: “In mathematics and the arts, two quantities are in the golden ratio if the ratio of the sum of the quantities to the larger quantity is equal to the ratio of the larger quantity to the smaller one.” (I just heard half my daily readers leaving.)

The Golden Ratio as a graph

There is something even more interesting about Phi. The number can be scaled into a grid. And the grid gains meaning in nature–it can be found in the way rose petals shape the bud, the pattern of sunflower seeds in the center of the flower, and the way branches are spaced along the trunk of a tree.

Even if you’ve never heard of Phi, you are walking around with it. The length of your hands and lower arms follow Phi, and so do your facial features. Leonardo Da Vinci figured out many of the applications.

Here’s a quick way to check: your foot is the length of your lower arm. If you are flexible enough, place your heel on the inside of your elbow. Your toes will reach to your wrist.

Why we think Paula Zahn is attractive--it's all about the math.

Shells that spiral follow the path of Phi. The eye, fin and tail of a dolphin align with the ratio. A line drawn between the pupils and down to the corners of the mouth follow the Phi proportion. We consider a person attractive if the lines form a square. Your two front teeth form a rectangle in the Phi proportions in height and width.

You can see more examples and you can download a grid and use it to check it for yourself. And I promise not to tell anyone you are using geometry and loving it.

Quinn McDonald suffers from some forms of math fear, but loves geometry. She is a writer and creativity coach.

17 thoughts on “You and the Unknown Phi

  1. When I read a challenge – if you’re flexible enough – I just have to do it. I’m in my 60s and I can! Very pleased with myself!!
    I loved math at school – algebra and geometry in particular. I’d be working something out and getting messier and messier as I approached a solution. There’s a system in everything – even chaos aparently but I’m not sure I want to analyse it too closely – I like a bit of magic.

  2. I love the notion of the Golden Rule and how you can find it everywhere. While I am not particularly math geeky, I do appreciate it. As a matter of fact, I was going to discuss this very thing at a beginner journal class I am teaching next week.

      • Um, this one I knew already. Coincidence. And from my perspective, Joan Baez is John’s cousin! However, speaking of math and singers, Kate Bush recorded a song titled “Pi”, in which she sings the digits of pi. No, really. Even _I_ think this is a bit odd; pi isn’t even calculated to rhyme, for crying out loud.

        (Numbers in base ten are sadly wanting in the rhyming department, but in hexadecimal you’ve also got A B C D E and F to work with)

  3. Well, count me among the geeky folks. As I was reading this I was thinking “Fibronacci sequence.” My first degree was a BS in Natural Resource Science, and every time my classmates would complain about having to take a writing class I’d get frustrated. They could do all the research they wanted but if they couldn’t communicate it, what’s the point? (And I used to do my Calculus homework to relax. Everything is so clear-cut in math.) My second degree is an English major with a creative writing focus and an art minor. And in the darkroom when people would complain about all the math… well, you can see that I’m a proponent of exercising both parts of the brain. 🙂

    (Also, I’ve been trying to draw a moon snail shell…looks like it’s time to employ some math assistance!!)

    • Unless we fully use both sides of the brain, we are missing out on a lot of good neuron connections. I was a science major and I’ve never regretted it. I love the way you do Calculus to relax!

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