Fibonacci Numbers in Nature

The sequence, in which each number is the sum of the two preceding numbers is known as the Fibonacci series: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987, 1597, 2584, 4181, ...  (each number is the sum of the previous two).

The ratio of successive pairs tends to the so-called golden section

(GS)= 1.618033989 . . . . . whose reciprocal is 0.618033989 . . . . . so that we have 1/GS =GS-1.

The Fibonacci sequence, generated by the rule f(1) = f(2) = 1 , f(n+1) = f(n) + f(n-1),
is well known in many different areas of mathematics and science. However, it is quite amazing that the Fibonacci number patterns occur so frequently in nature ( flowers, shells, plants, leaves, to name a few) that this phenomenon appears to be one of the principal "laws of nature".

"The Fibonacci numbers are Nature's numbering system. They appear everywhere in Nature, from the leaf arrangement in plants, to the pattern of the florets of a flower, the bracts of a pinecone, or the scales of a pineapple. The Fibonacci numbers are therefore applicable to the growth of every living thing, including a single cell, a grain of wheat, a hive of bees, and even all of mankind. "



Fibonacci was known in his time and is still recognized today as the "greatest European mathematician of the middle ages." He was born in the 1170's and died in the 1240's and there is now a statue commemorating him located at the Leaning Tower end of the cemetery next to the Cathedral in Pisa. Fibonacci's name is also perpetuated in two streetsthe quayside Lungarno Fibonacci in Pisa and the Via Fibonacci in Florence.

His full name was Leonardo of Pisa, or Leonardo Pisano in Italian since he was born in Pisa. He called himself Fibonacci which was short for Filius Bonacci, standing for "son of Bonacci", which was his father's name. Leonardo's father( Guglielmo Bonacci) was a kind of customs officer in the North African town of Bugia, now called Bougie. So Fibonacci grew up with a North African education under the Moors and later travelled extensively around the Mediterranean coast. He then met with many merchants and learned of their systems of doing arithmetic. He soon realized the many advantages of the "Hindu-Arabic" system over all the others. He was one of the first people to introduce the Hindu-Arabic number system into Europe-the system we now use today- based of ten digits with its decimal point and a symbol for zero: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9. and 0

His book on how to do arithmetic in the decimal system, called Liber abbaci (meaning Book of the Abacus or Book of calculating) completed in 1202 persuaded many of the European mathematicians of his day to use his "new" system. The book goes into detail (in Latin) with the rules we all now learn in elementary school for adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing numbers altogether with many problems to illustrate the methods in detail.


Fibonacci and Nature

Plants do not know about this sequence - they just grow in the most efficient ways. Many plants show the Fibonacci numbers in the arrangement of the leaves around the stem. Some pine cones and fir cones also show the numbers, as do daisies and sunflowers. Sunflowers can contain the number 89, or even 144. Many other plants, such as succulents, also show the numbers. Some coniferous trees show these numbers in the bumps on their trunks. And palm trees show the numbers in the rings on their trunks.

Why do these arrangements occur? In the case of leaf arrangement, or phyllotaxis, some of the cases may be related to maximizing the space for each leaf, or the average amount of light falling on each one. Even a tiny advantage would come to dominate, over many generations. In the case of close-packed leaves in cabbages and succulents the correct arrangement may be crucial for availability of space.

So nature isn't trying to use the Fibonacci numbers: they are appearing as a by-product of a deeper physical process. That is why the spirals are imperfect. 
The plant is responding to physical constraints, not to a mathematical rule.

The basic idea is that the position of each new growth is about 222.5 degrees away from the previous one, because it provides, on average, the maximum space for all the shoots. This angle is called the golden angle, and it divides the complete 360 degree circle in the golden section, 0.618033989 . . . .

If we call the golden section GS, then we have

1 / GS = GS / (1 - GS) = 1.618033989 . . . .

If we call the golden angle GA, then we have

360 / GA = GA / (360 - GA) = 1 / GS.

Below there are some examples of the Fibonacci sequence in nature.

Petals on flowers: Probably most of us have never taken the time to examine very carefully the number or arrangement of petals on a flower. If we were to do so, we would find that the number of petals on a flower, that still has all of its petals intact and has not lost any, for many flowers is a Fibonacci number.

Some species are very precise about the number of petals they have - e.g. buttercups, but others have petals that are very near those above, with the average being a Fibonacci number.

Human Hand: Every human has two hands, each one of these has five fingers, each finger has three parts which are separated by two knuckles. All of these numbers fit into the sequence. However keep in mind, this could simply be coincidence.

Human Face: Knowledge of the golden section, ratio and rectangle goes back to the Greeks, who based their most famous work of art on them: the Parthenon is full of golden rectangles. The Greek followers of the mathematician and mystic Pythagoras even thought of the golden ratio as divine.

 fibon2Later, Leonardo da Vinci painted Mona Lisa's face to fit perfectly into a golden rectangle, and structured the rest of the painting around similar rectangles.

Mozart divided a striking number of his sonatas into two parts whose lengths reflect the golden ratio, though there is much debate about whether he was conscious of this. In more modern times, Hungarian composer Bela Bartok and French architect Le Corbusier purposefully incorporated the golden ratio into their work.

Even today, the golden ratio is in human-made objects all around us. Look at almost any Christian cross; the ratio of the vertical part to the horizontal is the golden ratio. To find a golden rectangle, you need to look no further than the credit cards in your wallet.

Despite these numerous appearances in works of art throughout the ages, there is an ongoing debate among psychologists about whether people really do perceive the golden shapes, particularly the golden rectangle, as more beautiful than other shapes. In a 1995 article in the journal Perception, professor Christopher Green, 
of York University in Toronto, discusses several experiments over the years that have shown no measurable preference for the golden rectangle, but notes that several others have provided evidence suggesting such a preference exists.

Regardless of the science, the golden ratio retains a mystique, partly because excellent approximations of it turn up in many unexpected places in nature. The spiral inside a nautilus shell is remarkably close to the golden section, and the ratio of the lengths of the thorax and abdomen in most bees is nearly the golden ratio. Even a cross section of the most common form of human DNA fits nicely into a golden decagon. The golden ratio and its relatives also appear in many unexpected contexts in mathematics, and they continue to spark interest in the mathematical community.


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