Nature can be predicted, but not understood in terms of algorithms.
In order to have a comprehensive understanding of nature we must rely on insights from other disciplines to add meaning to the values algorithms predict.
Algorithms exist that can predict patterns in nature. One example is the Fibonacci number sequence, which is often referred to as Nature’s numbering system
. To find the next number (N) in a Fibonacci sequence one uses the algorithm N-2 + N-1=N, with the ‘seeds’—or first two numbers of the sequence—being 1 and 1 unless otherwise noted.
This number sequence can be applied to predict nature such as leaf nodes of plants, seeds of a flower, scales of a pineapple, and spirals in shell.
However, by predicting this pattern, we do not gain a full understanding of the nature of the plant. We are merely able to quantify without explaining why this pattern occurs or how these numbers play a part in the life of a plant.
“Phyllotaxis is the study of the ordered position of leaves on a stem” (Parveen, 2002). When studying phyllotaxis Fibonacci qualities are seen in the pattern that leaves spiral around the stem of a plant. These qualities are also seen in the number of leaves or petals the plant produces.
For example, the seed arrangement of sunflowers have a Golden Spiral. This means that the double set of spirals visible in the seed head, correlates to two adjacent Fibonacci numbers, that when added together total the next Fibonacci number in sequence and the total number of seeds in that seed head!
As the flower and seed head increase in size, the number of seeds in the seed head also increases at the rate of Fibonacci numbers. What the algorithm fails to explain about the nature is the significance of the Fibonacci sequence being seen in nature. By leaf nodes spiraling around the stem in the pattern, it “permits optimum exposure to sunlight” (Parveen, 2002). The increased number of seeds provides a “biological advantage because it maximizes the number of seeds that can be packed in a seed head” (Parveen, 2002). These biological advantages have allowed the genes of these plants to survive climate change, predators, and scarcity to persist to this very day.
We must rely on insights from other disciplines, such as ecology and biology, to form a more comprehensive understanding of nature. These disciplines are able to provide reasons as to the function of the patterns identified in the algorithm. Thus the algorithm is a tool for understanding nature, but cannot be utilized to solely explain the phenomenon.
Parveen, N. (2002). Fibonacci in Nature. UGA.