I look at the pattern on the top of a pine cone and am fascinated by its rhythmically increasing woody scales. I notice the fiddleheads of the ferns and their identical unfurling symmetry. A few steps away I take a closer look at the sweet woodruff and it's whorled leaves clasping the stem, perfectly and evenly spaced.
Standing there in the not-yet-shaded area of my garden I remember undergraduate years and all the mathematics requirements. It was a challenge to make sense of problems that involved angles, gradients, percentages and tangential increases; physics was my nemesis. I remember one particularly erratic trigonometry professor who had thick wire rimmed glasses, full beard, and (to complete the look of insanity) long bushy black hair. He told us one day in class that he couldn’t look anywhere without numbers and angles and formulas clouding his vision. I wondered back then if this irregular-kind-of-guy saw his mathematics as a god.
|NYU, Courant Institue fo Mathematics, K.L. Ho|
Returning to the present, I look again at the top of the pine cone held in my hand. I never expected to find arithmetic in my garden. I think I now understand more fully the unstable professor’s insight of God in mathematical formulas, in the amazing grace of rhythm and symmetry and incremental patterns of growth.