The Golden Ratio

Alright, it’s time for another Science Sunday. I mean Saturday. Did I say Sunday? Oops. Well the topic this week is the Golden Ratio. Sounds boring and mathematical. It is. But the Golden Ratio has implications at the smallest levels of the universe and (you guessed it!) the largest levels—assuming the universe is the scary, boring bureaucracy scientists imagine it to be.

In math-y terms, the ratio is (a+b)/a = a/b; otherwise known by the Greek letter φ. That ratio, like most of mathematics is virtually nonsensical. Suffice to say, the Golden Ratio in nature creates really cool spirals that look like nautilus shells and actually have a name: The Fibonacci Spiral. The history of the ratio stretches back through Da Vinci, Euclid, Plato, and some Greek dude named Phidias who in fact “discovered” this ratio and claimed it as his own. For this, he will forever be remembered as the guy who told people why a seashell looked the way it did. Congrats.

Phidias wasn’t even famous enough to get his own portrait. Note: Phidias sculpted the statue of Zeus, considered to be one of the seven ancient wonders of the world.

The Golden Ratio in fact has a history much longer than Phidias could ever imagine. Millions of epochs ago (6000 years ago Christian) the universe was still hot enough to turn a tiny atom of Hydrogen into Helium and eventually into every element known. She was young and still filling out physically. A bit of self-discovery had to go on.

At one end of her lie black holes and at the other giant pulsing stars that lit the dark universe like annoying spotlights outside of nondescript laundry mats in my town. You would think a movie premiere was happening, but I guess it was just someone with access to a high-beam light. That’s what these pulsing stars were doing: not pointing out anything in particular, just providing the young universe with a nightlight. Cool. I mean hot. Like do not touch or even look at hot.

Anyway, hot balls of gas eventually started to socialize and coagulate around each other in amorphous blobs all over the growing universe like hairy moles. The young universe, being the effervescent pre-pubescent explorer she is, decides to stir her finger around in one such ball. It turns out to be the first galaxy, spinning into place like water down a drain running toward its center. Long spiral arms rotate out at (you guessed it again!) a ratio equal to the Golden Ratio. (At least in my version of events. Some galaxies actually look like a logarithmic spiral and even though there is such a thing as the Golden Spiral, not all galaxies necessarily spin in this manner.)

Finally, the young universe—older now, more sure of her own parts—dips her finger into a galaxy that will become our own. The Milky Way galaxy. On the outer bands is our small, hot chemical wasteland of a planet. Earth. On earth’s surface, hurricanes rotate with the Golden Ratio in mind, Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) spins in the cells like little Fibonacci brainwaves, and for some reason Lithuania puts a Golden Spiral on one of their coins. The young universe moves on, having made its mark, to the Cowlick galaxy next door.


So the ratio exists everywhere and we’re lucky it does. It may be the mathematical key to life on earth. Sadly, now the universe is in her early teenage years, obsessively marking each galaxy with the same ratio like a girl home from school, washing her hands over and over and watching the water spiral down in Golden perfection.

–It’s a Beautiful Day Late


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