If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Beautiful Numbers

I hated maths at school. I think my brain wasn't ready for it, but the sheer abstractness of it put me off. I was bright enough to survive it, but I didn't love it. Now, of course, I think it is brilliant. I can't fill the car or bike without spending the next ten miles working out in my head the mpg figure from the miles recorded and litres put in. My mathematical understanding is at a very basic level, of course - arithmetic, algebra, 2D geometry, a bit of statistics, a bit of calculus - but I suspect it is better than most, and these days I find the subject both intriguing and compelling. (If it tickles you too, have a look at a book called Nature's Numbers by Ian Stewart, where he delves into the maths behind all kinds of natural phenomena from dripping taps to the arrangement of cells in a sunflower head. Amazing book.)

I was therefore mildly thrilled to find this clip over at Rosie's place. It's a series of 15 unconnected pendulums (OK, Latin scholars, pendula) with monotonically-increasing lengths. (I looked this up and the explanation was way beyond my comprehension, but I suspect if the lengths were metal bars instead of pendula, there would be a musical relationship between them. Maths and music are intertwined. But that's a guess.)

"The period of one complete cycle of the dance is 60 seconds. The length of the longest pendulum has been adjusted so that it executes 51 oscillations in this 60 second period. The length of each successive shorter pendulum is carefully adjusted so that it executes one additional oscillation in this period. Thus, the 15th pendulum (shortest) undergoes 65 oscillations."

Set them going, and watch the patterns. Absolutely beautiful.


  1. Oh that *is* lovely! I speak, though, as someone who can become mesmerised by the indicator lights of a line of cars in front of me, all on a lightly different period, coming into and out of phase :-)

  2. That is very cool. I've not read Stewart's book (it's now on my Christmas list)but I have done some reading on maths and nature and it really is fascinating stuff - even if I don't always understand the calculus. :)
    Thanks for sharing that clip.

  3. Patently - me too, especially those maintenance vehicles with independent flashing yellow lights, where it can be several minutes before they come back into phase. Golly, how sad.

    Canajun - you will love the Stewart book, truly. Mine was bought for me out of the blue by a physicist/climate scientist friend, and I have read it several times. I now feel I understand, oh, 5% of it. But I am great with Fibonacci numbers :)

  4. You can't beat frequency in certain matters.


Comment is free, according to C P Scott, so go for it. Word verification is turned off for the time being. Play nicely.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...