The Beauty of Mathematics and the Predator/Prey Relationship

I’m preparing to teach my students the Genesis creation myths and so I’m reviewing the delightful, scientifically-rich, and theologically-expansive book Seven Glorious Days: A Scientist Retells the Genesis Creation Stories by Karl W. Gilberson.  In the chapter entitled: “Day 2: A Universe of Horseshoe Nails” he writes:

“Unfortunately, few of us have any idea what it might mean to describe mathematics as beautiful and even less an idea about the mystery raised by its existence…replace the beautiful music [in an analogy previously used in the chapter] coming from the abyss with the mathematical equations that physicists have discovered at the foundations of reality.  On the surface, nature is, to be sure, noisy in the sense of being cluttered, busy, and seemingly without patterns.  Even beautiful scenery – picture a mountain lake with snowcapped mountains in the background – rarely seems organized.

But as we apply our scientific knowledge to the cluttered world we experience and drill down to the bedrock of our understanding – eliminate the noise – we find something quite wondrous.  At the end of the great hallway that takes us from the social sciences to the natural sciences, through biology and chemistry and ultimately to physics, we find ourselves at last in the presence of a most beautiful and unexplained symphony of mathematics.  Across the dark abyss, explaining the world around us while remaining unexplained itself.  It is part of the Logos of creation.” (p.54-55)

I thought of this profound insight this morning when reading the Washington Post and this short article entitled: “Scientists May Have Just Stumbled Upon a Mathematical Secret to How Nature Works”  It’s worth reading to understand how the unexpected consistency of the numbers of predator and prey in a wide variety of ecosystems might be explained by a single mathematical equation.

And the pattern in these changes is governed by — you guessed it — that same mathematical function.

The recurrence of this function in many levels of the natural world indicates “that there might some kind of process that exists at multiple levels of organization,” Hatton says. “The cell, the tissue, the body, the community: Those are all levels of organization in ecology-speak. I think that this suggests that there could be processes that sort of recur, recapitulate, across different levels.”

In the meantime, for researchers who like a good puzzle, the paper provides another mystery to chew on — one that, once unlocked, could reveal many secrets about how the natural world works.

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