Observe: math and more

Forget the idea that math people aren't friendly people.

I was in the company of an entire room full of math people tonight at a lecture, and while I couldn't understand the mathy conversations I heard while mingling in the crowd, everyone was all smiles, laughter, and friendliness, even the woman sitting next to me who said, "What did he say?!" every time the crowd laughed at the speaker's jokes.

Some goodies awaited us a the lecture, including a pinecone.

My daughter and I have gone to history and literature lectures together, but this was our first venture into the math world. You know what was the first difference I noticed between the mathy world and the wordy world? The math people serve food.

Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised, but I am, at how much fun we had. Fun with math! Who would've figured that. (Get it?...figured, math.)

On our way to the math event. Rain, again.

The topic of the math lecture was the Golden Ratio and the Fibonacci Sequence (and the myths and facts about them). Fibonacci is what caught my eye and gave me the courage to attend a math event. I knew about the sequence and understood the math.
1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21...
In the pattern, you add two consecutive numbers 
to the get next number in the sequence.

And I knew about spirals in nature that follow this pattern, but I never could really SEE them. 

Sketching notes in my nature journal last spring.
I was trying to see the spirals I knew where there.

I've attempted to draw pinecones many times, only to get lost. I knew spirals were there to be found, but my brain didn't recognize them. 

When I saw pinecones on each person's chair when I entered the math lecture-hall tonight, my heart sang. I was hopeful by the end of the night, I would see spirals. And, I did.

My daughter and I counted the spirals going one way on the pinecone and found eight. We counted the spirals going the other way and found 13. Eight and 13 are numbers in the Fibonacci Sequence. Whoohoo!

And there is more
As delighted as I was, the pinecone wasn't the highlight of the lecture's lessons for me. The speaker talked about the importance of observing and looking (sound familiar, CM fans?), but went on to say we also need to look for explanations, and to not assume other people's explanations are right. We need to think for ourselves.

I didn't think about observation like that before, but I'm seeing that one step of observation is to say, "I see," and another step is to say, "I see why." 

This is a huge challenge. A huge delight, too. For me, this is a new way of thinking about Charlotte's idea of observation.

Now that I think about it, perhaps this second step is what makes math people happy. They are in the habit of observing and then observing more.


  1. I really like your blog! Is it okay if I link to it from my own? Thanks!

  2. Gillian, I would be honored to be on your list. I visited your blog and felt right at home. :)

  3. :) wow. that sounds like an awesome lecture.