Non-Prophets 10.22 »« “AS” strikes again

Proof of God by arbitrary mathematical pattern?

Recently I’ve been looking into the fibonacci sequence, I’m not a theist and I personally believe that religion is the biggest bain on society however

(…Why does there always have to be a “however” here?…)

I think it is odd how often this sequence pops up throughout nature etc.
I am quite cynical but like to think I’m open minded and I think although I couldn’t believe in any god that already exists but the fibonacci sequence does seem to hint maybe at some possibility of something.

I was wondering if you could let me know some arguments you have thought of to explain the fibonacci’s sequence throughout nature to give me something to think about.

Response below the fold.

That’s a really weird question, actually.  The Fibonacci sequence is a pattern that appears in a lot of things simply because of the way numbers work.  The way you asked the question implies that you think there could be some supernatural explanation for it, but I can’t even begin to understand what you think the supernatural entity could be, why it would pick a particular pattern of numbers, or how it would go about “injecting” the pattern into nature.  Like I said, it’s just… a very weird question.

Let me approach the matter from a different angle.  Here’s another pattern that shows up very often in nature: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, etc.  You know what that is, right?  It’s xi = xi-1*2.  Now, obviously this pattern would show up frequently; it’s the pattern of unbounded exponential growth.  So if you have a single cell at time t=0 that divides into two cells, at time t=1 you have two cells, at t=2 you have four cells, and so on.

The Fibonacci sequence is actually very similar to this.  To see why this is, imagine that instead of new cells beginning to divide immediately on birth, each cell requires two time cycles to “mature” before it can begin splitting.  Now when we start with one baby cell, we see the following pattern:

  • At t=0, one cell.
  • At t=1, still one cell (as it has not matured enough yet to start reproducing).
  • At t=2, we have one mature cell which makes a new baby cell, so two in total.
  • At t=3, we have one mature cell, one cell that is one cycle old, and a third cell that is created by the mature cell.
  • At t=4, we now have two mature cells: the original one, and the first child.  So two new cells are born, for a total of five.
  • At t=5 we have three mature cells and two immature, so we get three new ones, making eight.

If you work out the math for yourself, you can see that it goes 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, etc.  This is exactly based on the Fibonacci formula, where xt = xt-1 + xt-2.

It doesn’t just happen with asexual reproduction either.  Consider a male and female baby rabbit, where a pair of babies requires two months to grow up, and thereafter they will have a litter of two more babies each month (which we will fancifully assume would also be male and female).  The Fibonacci numbers describe how many pairs of rabbits will be present each month.

Obviously your mileage may vary.  If you have more prolific bunnies which make four babies instead of two per month, you get a pattern of 1, 1, 3, 5, 11, 21, 43, etc.  But that, too, is a Fibonacci-like sequence that grows even faster. What they have in common is that they all describe a certain pattern of exponential growth.

What you’ll find is that theists take interesting but naturally-occurring patterns of reality and, rather than try to understand and explain them as I just did, they’ll just take the lazy shortcut and say “God did it.”  But again, that’s kind of a ridiculous explanation to invoke.  Does God have nothing better to do than to micromanage the rabbit population and create mysterious, unexplainable numbers of babies one at a time each month?  Does a holy spirit, perhaps, somehow regulate how many bunnies there are at any given time?

Obviously not.  The more reasonable approach when confronted with an interesting pattern you don’t understand is to investigate the reasons, or just say you don’t know.

Comments

  1. jacobfromlost says

    This e-mailer seems to have probabilities confused.

    Finding the fibonacci sequence in nature often isn’t any more odd than finding the number ONE in nature often. Does that mean there is ONE god and his name is Allah?

    When you put special significance on something, then see it “in the world” because you’ve put special significance on it and are therefore prone to seeing it, then wonder why you found this thing that has special significance (that you GAVE it from the beginning!)…

    well, it’s because you’re looking in a mirror again and wondering how it is possible that every time you look in the mirror, you see yourself. How improbable is that? Someone must have designed the mirror that way, so that every time I look into it, I see myself! It’s downright spooky!

    Confirmation bias in action. (You will see the number 22 soon. It is very significant, and you will see it everywhere. On clocks, dates, receipts from McDonalds, UPC bar codes, EVERYWHERE. It is my little hint to you that I am in charge of the universe! Can you explain how I made 22 appear everywhere around you? No! Therefore I am god! Or, at least, someone is.)

    Please.

  2. The Lorax says

    Anyone who thinks a number or pattern being repeated often in nature has some divine significance has obviously never read “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.”

    Read it. You will see 42 everywhere. It will not be divine. It’s because YOU’RE LOOKING FOR IT!

    I’m surprised these people aren’t pointing at actual universal constants, like the gravitational constant or the rate of expansion of the universe or the speed of light in a vacuum. You’d think those would be more “divine” since they’re universal… even though they’re observed and derived…

  3. says

    This is something that comes up often in these discussion. There’s some pattern, how could that happen without some designer/directore/creator?

    Ignoring for a moment the problems of pattern recognition and confirmation bias, we should still expect to find real patterns in nature. This does not imply any kind of intelligent cause, for the following reasons:

    1) Regardless of its origin, given that the universe exists, it must be something, i.e. it is one thing and not another.

    2) Whatever it is, determines how it behaves. It doesn’t matter how it behaves, just that it does.

    3) The way it behaves will produce patterns. The patterns may be simple or complex, but they will be there.

    4) Since we have evolved in this universe under constant threat of extinction, we will have developed to recognize such patterns, as a matter of survival.

    5) Since we are self-aware and thoughtful creatures, we will ask ourselves how these patterns came about.

    Ergo, provided that a universe containing intelligent creatures exists, those creatures will be having this exact discussion.
    Since no creator is required, we can’t draw any conclusion about the likelihood of such a creator existing, simply from the fact that there are patterns in the world. The exact pattern is irrelevant. It tells us nothing, one way or the other.

    Feel free to critique this argument. I don’t think it’s really as strong as it could be.

  4. Ryan says

    Great post. I played around the Fibonacci sequence a while back for the same reason; that theists get confused when they see a pattern and call it evidence for one out of an infinite of possible hypothesis.

    The Fibonacci sequence turns up in deeper places than in age-structured population growth, for example in the development of some structures in organisms, such as spirals. But as you correctly stated, the Fib sequence is just a special type of exponential growth, and its not particularly hard to work out how and why growth follows this pattern, given a bare minimum of mathematical and biological education. The most “difficult” examples, ones that seemingly cannot be explained away by scientists, generally can, only in slightly more difficult terms. Maybe it’s a favourite arguments among apologists because most people aren’t particularly interested in the Sciences or Mathematics.

    Just another example of theists playing of incredulity and ignorance, I guess :/

  5. jacobfromlost says

    “Feel free to critique this argument. I don’t think it’s really as strong as it could be.”

    I’m not seeing anything to critique. If the universe exists, then it is what it is and it’s not what it is not. And if it IS anything, then what it is IS its patterns. The patterns must be what they are, and not be what they are not, if the universe exists.

    If the universe doesn’t exist, we’re all in a lot of trouble.

  6. says

    Apologists seems to habitually forget the propose-a-causal-link-and-then-demonstrate-it part.

    Otherwise, they just have an Argument from Woah!, or the subtly similar Argument from Dude!

  7. barbrykost says

    Never before have I understood what the Fibinacci was, or why it mattered that there was such a sequence. Now, I see. It’s like the scales fell from my eyes.
    Do I have to worship You now?

  8. says

    I seem to recall from recreational reading in mathematics that the apparent double spiral pattern of seeds on a sunflower, which appears as a fibonacci quantity of left-pointing spirals and another fibonacci quantity of right-pointing spirals, is actually produced by seeds growing at 137.5-degree intervals around a generative spiral (which is not apparent to the eye). This evolved because it is a very efficient packing method, fitting the most seeds in the smallest space. The fibonacci numbers are merely a by-product.
    It is kind of fascinating; what it isn’t is magic.

  9. DagoRed says

    There is nothing at all amazing about finding this kind of mathematics in nature. Anytime regularity exists, there necessarily will be some kind of mathematics to define that regularity. Doesn’t it ever occur to these people with this kind of awe for the regularity of nature is precisely why humans depend upon mathematical models in virtually every field of science to describe reality?

    I think this is more a combination of an argument from ignorance with the peter principle — In a world with an ever increasing level of complexity to it, humans define “miraculous” as anything that they are too incompetent to explain.

  10. John K. says

    This may be an unpopular opinion, but mathematics alone cannot really be a path to truth.

    Math is just exploring the results of carefully chosen axioms, carefully avoiding contradictions. It is entirely mental. Math is incredibly useful for creating very precise and large scale models, in turn creating powerful theories that can be tested, but there is no guarantee that something mathematically sound will be a part of the universe or how the universe turns out to work. There is no way to “math” god into existence.

    Besides, why try to invoke god in the Fibonacci sequence that can be applied to a leaf but not to the consistent effects of gravity? How about the mathematical way we understand electric/magnetic fields?

    Don’t mistake a feeling of awe for evidence of divinity.

  11. MadMax says

    Physics proposes that the universe is the solution to a stochastic differential equation. If Physics is a good approximation to reality, (and anyone who doubts that statement is a loon) then what would one expect to find strewn throughout nature, other than solutions to differential equations.

    Exponentials, oscillators, fractals; the symmetries that are ubiquitous: they’re everywhere, at every scale, because they are the basic solutions to simple differential equations. To say that these patterns are in some way divine because they show up everywhere is a complete non sequitur; what would be miraculous is if they didn’t.

  12. Aaron says

    The first thing that occurs to me whenever I see/hear the “patterns equals deity” argument is:

    If patterns are evidence of a deity… why do you then proceed to tell me that seeming deviations from a pattern (e.g. “miracles”) are also evidence of a deity?

    It’s simply another case of using a scattershot approach to argue that all observations are supposedly evidence of deities. It is not evidence of a deity but rather a failure to consider a null hypothesis.

  13. Felipe says

    This seems like the kind of magical thinking that goes into sciency-sounding New Age beliefs, where any possibility of transforming something natural into a mystery is taken (I’m thinking about things like The Secret or What the Fuck do we know).

  14. Bruce says

    I think it is odd how often this sequence pops up throughout nature etc.

    It might not seem so odd if you consider how often it doesn’t appear in nature.

    If you calculate the occurrences of the Fibonnaci sequence in nature as a percentage of how often it doesn’t occur in nature, you’ll get a percentage approximately equal to 0.

    We forget to take into account the things we haven’t observed simply because we haven’t looked yet.

  15. Aquinas says

    Question is why is the world rational? Either the world is soaked in rationality which we read from or you end up with universal scepticism.

  16. colubridae says

    Maths is the study of rule-based systems.

    Physics is the branch of mathematics which studies the rule-based system known as the universe.

    That’s my way of viewing it.

  17. jacobfromlost says

    “Won’t see a 22 THIS month, since the reRapture is on the 21st. Ha!”

    I’ve already seen it.

    50 spiritual dollars to anyone who can spot it:

    /watch?v=5tv_P-oJRy8

    It’s not only a sign from god, but of the zombie apocalypse!

  18. Jen Peeples says

    “If patterns are evidence of a deity… why do you then proceed to tell me that seeming deviations from a pattern (e.g. “miracles”) are also evidence of a deity?”

    Similar “logic” has been used in Satanic panics as well.

    1st Person: “How odd that we haven’t found any evidence of a Satanic cult. No dead bodies, or even so much as a sacrificed chicken.”

    2nd Person: “I know, Satan is really sneaky. Only a demonic presence could so thoroughly conceal the evidence.”

  19. curtcameron says

    If someone proposed to me that a mathematical fact seemed to imply a God, I’d take this approach.

    I’d start by pointing out that most theists would claim that God can do anything that’s logically possible. Could he make a square circle? That’s meaningless, a logical mess, so no, God couldn’t do that. Same thing about making heavy rocks and microwaving hot burritos.

    Next step: could God make it such that two plus two is anything but four? I think most would follow along and agree that the realm of logical possibility requires that 2 + 2 equals 4, and this isn’t subject to the whim of God.

    Next: OK, given that, could God make it so that five times seven is three thousand? No, mathematics goes by fixed rules. These same rules get extended and eventually you end up with cool numbers like pi and e and phi, and the Mandelbrot Set, etc. etc.

    Those exist just because of the rules of math/logic, so God couldn’t be responsible for the value of phi anymore than he’s responsible for two plus two being four.

  20. jacobfromlost says

    There’s a weird clip on youtube of a very old Oprah episode regarding Satanism (this was apparently those several years in the ’80s when it was all the rage to have Satanism as a topic on daytime talk shows).

    Some random guy stands up in the audience and starts talking about how he had been involved in Satanism, participated in a ritual killing, barely escaped the clutches of his Satanist group, etc, and when he was pressed on the details, he couldn’t remember anything (at least nothing that wasn’t vague and unverifiable, yet highly sensational). When he was finally asked if HE directly participated in the killing, he said no (since he would have basically been admitting to murder on national television).

    When asked for names of the other killers, he was “afraid they would kill him” if he told.

    So one HUGE sensational claim…and no evidence at ALL for it, except for the nonevidence evidence of “I can’t tell you the names of those involved because they or their other Satanist partners would kill me!”

    Of course, the fear didn’t stop him from jumping up in his seat, nearly grabbing Oprah’s microphone, and giving a scary story more suited to a campfire. (Why, exactly, wouldn’t they seek him out and kill him for giving his vague story? They’re evil, murdering Satanists, right? They know who he is, right? What’s stopping them? They’re already anonymously killing people, according to this weirdo.)

    What was really sad was that Oprah played along, dancing the line between A) sort of making sense and B) sensationalizing the guy’s story for ratings.

  21. Ashley Moore says

    Have you ever noticed that mountains are fat at the bottom and thin at the top? This pattern occurs all through nature: sand dunes, piles of gravel and even piles of broken bricks are fat at the bottom and thin at the top. If you pour a bag of flour onto the floor, it will be fat at the bottom, thin at the top.

    Therefore, God exists.

  22. Kazim says

    This theory, which belongs to me, is as follows… (more throat clearing) This is how it goes… (clears throat) The next thing that I am about to say is my theory. (clears throat) Ready? The Theory, by A. Elk (Miss). My theory is along the following lines… All brontosauruses are thin at one end; much, much thicker in the middle and then thin again at the far end. That is the theory that I have and which is mine and what it is, too.”

  23. Corvus illustris says

    Never mind the physical constants that one could in principle measure: yagotta wonder why these guys don’t generate woo about the purely mathematical constants that just keep turning up in places they seemingly shouldn’t, like e and pi. Second-order constant-coefficent difference equations like the one that gives the Fibonacci sequence arise in simple combinatorial problems, and can be solved explicitly using high-school math; but why should the square root of pi turn up when you repeatedly flip a coin (even if it’s unfair)? Why do the Bernoulli numbers turn up where you weren’t expecting them? It doesn’t seem that confirmation bias explains results like these away, thus making goddidit a more attractive explanation–for people who think that’s an explanation.

    May the FSM inspire them to have a little sophistication in their mathematical mysticism.

  24. MAtheist says

    I was counting the other day and suddenly noticed that the numbers were sequential! This could not be a coincidence, the sheer probability that every additional number is EXACTLY ONE higher than the number before it is next to impossible. This could not have happened by chance, so there must be some divine explanation!

  25. says

    It’s even better. Notice how not only is each number one higher than the one that came before, it’s also one less than the one that comes after.

    One or the other might have been a coincidence, but both at the same time? No way.

  26. MAtheist says

    Wow, I had not noticed that. The only way it could be one in both directions is if The One had made it that way. Behold the power and wisdom of The One! What better way to show His Oneness!

  27. jacobfromlost says

    “Behold the power and wisdom of The One! What better way to show His Oneness!”

    I just noticed that “Neo” is an anagram for “one”! And “Neo” also means “new”! It’s almost like someone wrote it that way on purpose!

    Therefore Keanu Reeves is the One, New Second Coming…or something…

    Whatever it means, I’m sure we are probably supposed to spiritually sense some arbitrary societal rules and try to impose them on everyone for some reason.

    I’m already sensing the first rules… Neo is saying that people like me are better than everyone else, and we should pass laws to reinforce this. What a coincidence that Neo loves people like me, and hates everyone else. Oh well. We can’t question the will of Neo.

  28. says

    Revelations 22:13
    “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

    This clearly refers to this backwards and forwards progression. Also, it explains why there’s no highest or lowest number. Only god can be the beginning and the end.

    How much more proof do you need?!

  29. UpAgainstTheRopes says

    (…Why does there always have to be a “however” here?…)

    When I heard the first half of the first tenant of Islam I nearly converted:

    There is no god (Yes!)
    BUT (wait, no stop you already had me…) Allah (fail.)

    They always gotta throw a big “BUT” in there.

    To sum up this argument, math has real world applications therefore maybe god?

  30. Mastodon says

    I am pretty disappointed at the responses to this. I like the atheist experience because it’s one of the only places in my life where I can actually for for good skeptical, rational conversation, and I feel that this is anything but.
    The actual quote was “the fibonacci sequence does seem to hint maybe at some possibility of something”. No where does the emailer say this is evidence of anything super natural let alone a proof of a god as the title of this thread would imply. So from “hint maybe at some possibility of something” many of you have assumed with no evidence that this guy thinks that this mathematical phenomenon is supernatural. This is kind of assumption is not good skeptical thinking.
    I’d also like to point out the irony of so many of the posts saying that seeing the pattern so often is confirmation bias. To me it looks as if they are the ones who are the victims of confirmation bias in that they are seeing a theist where this isn’t one.

    Rustle wrote:
    “The more reasonable approach when confronted with an interesting pattern you don’t understand is to investigate the reasons, or just say you don’t know”

    This was what the person was trying to do as indicated by their closing with:
    “I was wondering if you could let me know some arguments you have thought of to explain the fibonacci’s sequence throughout nature”

  31. Athywren says

    I don’t want to seem unskeptical, but surely someone asking if patterns, “hint maybe at some possibility of something,” is not likely to be asking if they hint at a lack of supernatural entities with intelligence and a fondness for simple, yet elegant, mathematical patterns.

    I do see your point… I just fail to see what mundane explanation would be implied by such a question.
    "Oh great master, why is it that we all must die?"
    "My dear student, it is because our genes, in their basic, finite naturalness, contain telomeres which decay over time, limiting our lives in accordance with the realistic and mundane law of entropy. Oh, and sometimes it's because we don't always look where we're going when we cross roads."

    Besides, with more context to the quote (hee, I could be an apologist “you’re taking it out of contex!!”) the statement is;
    "I am quite cynical but like to think I’m open minded and I think although I think although I couldn’t believe in any god that already exists but the fibonacci sequence does seem to hint maybe at some possibility of something."
    The statement being made here is, at least by my perception, that while all gods currently worshiped are clearly nonsensical fictions (my words, but they seem to fit the tone) patterns such as the fibbonaci sequence are suggestive of something god-like. True, there is some hedging going on, but hedge or no hedge, the supernatural question is there.

    Now that I really think about it, I’m finding it quite hard to see why the reactions are disappointing. Someone contacts the Atheist Experience, says they’re ‘not a theist but…’ before referencing a widely used apologist argument and pulling the textual equivalent of a thoughful expression. It’s one thing to be careful before making assumptions, but it’s another thing to suggest that there’s no evidence of supernatural thinking.

  32. says

    Athywren:

    but hedge or no hedge, the supernatural question is there.

    Especially since this question is being posed to a prominent atheist, not a mathematician or other scientist.

    Even if the person held no misconceptions on this point, it’s still a common enough argument that it’s worth dealing with.

    And regarding this from Mastodon:

    “I was wondering if you could let me know some arguments you have thought of to explain the fibonacci’s sequence throughout nature”

    Perhaps you missed the part where Russel DID give such a possible explanation. Indeed, many of us also pointed out clear, rational arguments.
    It’s true that we were also having a bit of fun, but the arguments are there.

  33. Athywren says

    A quick skeptical sidenote. The importance of reading comments fully before attempting to respond to them is almost inexpressible… but not quite, hence my ability to express it in this comment.
    I just skimmed through LykeX’s comment:

    Athywren: [.....] Perhaps you missed the part where Russel DID give such a possible explanation.

    (So that’s the tag that does those quote blocks? Awesome.)
    Hackles rose along with ire and an ‘orly?!’ sprang from my lips.
    Hurr, I’m a moron. Point being, fully reading comments is important. In this case it saved me from making a fool of myself in an angry reply to LykeX, even though I’ve now advertised my original foolish reaction, and it would have saved Mastodon from missing the evidence of supernatural thinking, and accusing people of lacking skepticism.

  34. Aquinas says

    The question is why is the world rational? Why does math work so well with helping us understand the world? You wouldn’t understand anything about science unless the worldwas rational and math was useful.

  35. says

    The question is why is the world rational?

    What else would it be? After all, “rational” really just means “fits the world”. The world is rational by definition. If the world worked in a different way, we would think in a different way… and we’d call that way “rational”.

    Why does math work so well with helping us understand the world?

    Because that’s what we invented it for. Math fits the world because math was developed by human minds. Human minds are adapted to fit the world they live in. Math fits the world because we fit the world.

    As it happens, forms of mathematics that doesn’t fit the world have also been invented and they work just as well. There’s nothing special about our kind of math.

  36. Aquinas says

    Would we think a different way? We could indirectly conceive of a world where we would find no patterns and our reasoning does not find theories or laws.

    Are you saying our minds just impose theories on the world? We are just fitting the world into a box? Or do we read the actual patterns from what we observe of the world?

    There is applied math and just working out math. But you’re statement begs the question. If we can reason math that has no application for the world, then the math patterns we see in nature, are we just imposing that on the world with our minds and it has no objective reality?

    How are our minds adapted know the objective world? A lot of philosophers would disagree here.

  37. says

    Are you saying our minds just impose theories on the world? We are just fitting the world into a box? Or do we read the actual patterns from what we observe of the world?

    The latter. I think it might help if I spell it out, so here we go:

    First, read through my argument here
    Now, if a world exists, it will follow some rule or other. It will produce patterns of some kind.

    The survival of any living beings in that world will depend on their adaptation to those patterns. Those that don’t adapt will not survive. Natural selection in action. Therefore, by the time we get sentient beings, like ourselves, they will have adapted quite well to the rules governing this universe, whatever they may be.

    Given that these beings are sentient, they will attempt to come to an intellectual understanding of the world. In this process, they will develop systems that fit the world. Systems like mathematics.

    The type of mathematics that they first develop will therefore fit the world.

    Later, they will discover that they can also produce different systems that do not fit the world and that these systems can be just as internally consistent. This is the type I referred to earlier.

    If the world was different, then we would be different and the math we developed would be different. It’s really not that strange.

    If we can reason math that has no application for the world, then the math patterns we see in nature, are we just imposing that on the world with our minds and it has no objective reality?

    I don’t see how you could in any way get from A to B. I can make two statements:
    1. I have five fingers on my hand
    2. I have sixteen fingers on my hand

    One of them fits the world, the other doesn’t. The fact that a sentence can be both false and grammatically correct says nothing about the external world at all. Similarly, we can produce systems of mathematics which are internally consistent, but do not fit reality.
    How you get from that to “no objective reality”, I have no idea.

  38. Cascadia says

    hard to argue there. set yourself up. sorry.

    You missed your own point. Had you fully read Mastadon’s comments, you’d have realized your own foolishness and seen that Mastadon doesn’t appear to have missed the evidence of magical thinking at all, just pointed out that everyone else seems to be reading it into the initial question, including Russell’s initial ad hominem dismissal of the base motivation for the query.

    I had a similar reaction to these exchanges, I think, as Mastadon. Most of the responses, including that in the original blog post, are incredibly dismissive of the person who took the time to ask the question and who chose, presumably because they are interested in addressing the supernatural aspects of philosophical thought, to ask it *here*.

    The emailer opens stating zhe is not a theist and strongly opposed to the ideas presented by Religions – particularly the ideas of an interventionist god. However, the author is saying, in essence, that they feel/understand feeling awe at pattern, its frequent appearance in our observable lives and its impression on our aesthetic senses, but feels personally incapable of discussing this at a deeper level without treading into the realm of theism.

    Like any good sceptic, the original author recognized their insufficiency and is seeking to correct that, in a forum compatible with the style of thought they, as a non-theist, wish to explore.

    The only thing anyone really seems to have noticed, with the help of the well-poisoning editor’s note, is the “however” *following* the emailer’s statement of antitheism, though it’s really just an admission of the ignorance/curiosity that lead them to ask the question in the first place.

    It appears to me in no way to be the statement of allegiance to cosmic woo nearly everyone seems to have taken it to be. But the dismissive treatment of it as such is sort of a turn of for deeper discussion. As you might notice, above, when you start out calling someone a moron, or dismiss them as weird for even asking the question, the conversation that follows is rarely constructive unless you explore what’s behind the judgment.

    Rather than go into the explanation of why the Fibbonacci sequence appears with such frequency or the links to the ideas of aesthetics and the golden ratio, which is a good first step in the conversation as to why pattern may create awe but not indicate anything outside of nature, the *first* thing done in the post is dismiss the question as “just weird” by equating it with ideas the emailer themself specifically dismissed: ie. an interventionist, anthropic deity injecting random numbers into things on its personal whims.

    and as s/he recognizes this particular area or the internal feeling of wonder at the sequence, and is asking for a wider way of thinking about it, as Mastadon quoted and Russell and many commenters seem to have *missed*.

  39. says

    As you might notice, above, when you start out calling someone a moron…

    Who did that? I seem to have missed it.

    …or dismiss them as weird for even asking the question…

    This may be a technicality, but Russell didn’t call the asker weird, only the question.

    …the *first* thing done in the post is dismiss the question as “just weird”…

    Yep. One sentence, immediately followed by “the explanation of why the Fibbonacci sequence appears with such frequency”, that you asked for.

    s/he recognizes this particular area or the internal feeling of wonder at the sequence, and is asking for a wider way of thinking about it

    Which we have supplied. Again, I’d like to point out that while there has certainly been some merriment in this thread, there are also several posts that deal with the question in a serious manner, explaining exactly why simple patterns are a bad argument for gods, organizing intelligences, a cosmic purpose or what have you.

    Now, I’ll cop to a hasty assumption. I’m not sure exactly what the asker had in mind when asking. Perhaps it was an entirely honest question, simply brought on by curiosity. However…

    I’m not a theist and I personally believe that religion is the biggest bain on society…

    …I think although I couldn’t believe in any god that already exists but the fibonacci sequence does seem to hint maybe at some possibility of something.

    I’ve heard stuff like that from people, who then immediately go on to talk about the cosmic mind, gaia, the inner life of quantum events or whatever. Hell, I was one of those people!

    Note how it’s not “I don’t believe any gods”, it’s “I couldn’t believe in any god that already exists“. The person in question may have rejected mainstream religion, but it’s not clear that they’re rejected supernatural thoughts, in general.

    I wonder, Russell, have you sent the person a mail with the url for this page? It might be useful to get some response and clarification from him/her directly.

  40. Cascadia says

    mmm. Sorry. My handle on Tag usage seems off on this forum. Been up for 26hrs, and I do see a few errors in the prev. post, so please bear with me.. maybe i’ll get it this time.

    As you might notice, above, when you start out calling someone a moron…
    Who did that? I seem to have missed it.

    The commenter above notes that she bristled before reading and understanding comments in full, and calls herself a moron. I’d meant to quote part of that in there, but failed. Anyway..

    …the *first* thing done in the post is dismiss the question as “just weird”…

    Yep. One sentence, immediately followed by “the explanation of why the Fibbonacci sequence appears with such frequency”, that you asked for.

    Not one sentence. There’s the blog title itself, an editors comment inserted into the body of the initial letter, and then a full paragraph stating, primarily, that Russell thinks the question is “weird.” That’s language that’s weighted beyond just stating you don’t get the point of the question asked, whether he’s actually called the asker weird on a personal level or not, it’s not a great way to open a respectful dialog amongst peers.

    I’m not saying there weren’t well written and reasoned comments and explanations. And while there are a number of good explanations, there’s a condescending tone where you see the assumption of magical thinking projected on the original author. Now, I don’t know if the original author is reading this. If the purpose of comments section is to join in merriment by making fun of someone that’s emailed the author of the blog you read, fine. But if they or similar minded parties are using this for discussion, it seems a great deal more than just merriment when it comes at the expense of genuine interest by a curious party. Which, again, I’m not saying it’s done. The point is that by not understanding the motivation behind the question, and by choosing to call it weird and make assumptions as to what the “something there” means to the querent rather than asking for clarification. I’m really not trying to take issue with Russell’s post so much as the general tone of condescension or “merriment” in many of the subsequent comments. The issue to me, and I think that Mastadon was trying to point out, is that people have made a *lot* of assumptions without paying attention the actual question. It’s ironic that Russell ends with..
    The more reasonable approach when confronted with an interesting pattern you don’t understand is to investigate the reasons, or just say you don’t know.

    .. yet misses the fact the writer *stated* that they were doing *just that.*

    I don’t mean to imply anyone’s been nasty or even especially rude. It’s just that the post itself and the quality of content that followed were not really up to what I expected in reading this blog. There have been some great explanations, too, or at least in part. But it sort of feels like rather than taking a moment to understand the problems of the question born of insufficient understanding on the part of the person asking or the confusion of the person being asked, people have defaulted to the mildly dismissive stance of “we’re dealing with a potential woowoo” instead of giving them the benefit of a doubt and taking the question at something closer to face value.

    Sort of like when theists take the acknowledgement of uncertainty in science as their chance to cram god in that gap, it almost seems as if people have done that here where there was acknowledgement that the writer’s personal understanding of the world didn’t cover the math. I’m not even arguing that they’re not thinking of a cosmic consciousness when they said “something there,” just that the assumption seems unnecessary in discussing the question. To then approach the question from that assumption seems rather to swing the whole thing out of context.

    Your first comment was a great rundown of the actual issues at play behind the question, and the first really thoughtful reply that didn’t giving into at least mild belittling of deistic thought, fun as that can sometimes be. The thread seems to start out a bit dismissive, then there’s as much flawed logic and opportunistic sniping as there is useful information in the comments. It’s the webs, comments are comments, but I also think the response in the post opened that path up a bit.

    Sometimes it helps to remember that in the realms of philosophy, which the discussion of atheism very much *is*, we’re dealing with vast differences in upbringing, prior knowledge, and *especially* common vocabulary.

    I was raised agnostic, declared myself athiest by 11 when I figured out there was a word that actually meant you disagreed with the freaky things other kids thought and latchkey freedom meant I could say it. God never came up at home. So I read god into interpretations of language and nature a lot less than most people do, yet there’s so much influence of religion over our language and history, and especially the vocabulary available when it comes to discussing philosophical topics, that it’s really easy to fall into those traps without realizing it, or even get into foggy territory while trying very carefully to avoid religious language. Yet to have religious weirdness assumed about you is really off putting, even if you’re actually in agreement on the weirdness of religion. And you don’t have to address the assumed weirdness to discuss the core of the question. It just serves to shut down dialog.

    Side: I grew up loving the Narnia books, and watched all the pbs shows when I was young, too. I was a pretty well-educated and outspoken athiest throughout high school. It was a *huge* shock to me at 24 when the Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe came out of Hollywood and everyone was saying it was *Christian*. I knew about Lewis’ religious works, but I’d never ever made the connection it seemed like everyone else knew was *obviously* there. Maybe in part because I’d consumed a ton of other mythologies growing up (seriously, what 6-year-old is going to pick stories of Jesus over stories of Greek Gods or Aesop’s Fables or Dinosaur books, given the option? Bible stories are crap.) I wonder if anyone else is routinely clueless to christian themes as I am.

  41. Kazim says

    LykeX: “I wonder, Russell, have you sent the person a mail with the url for this page? It might be useful to get some response and clarification from him/her directly.”

    Haven’t sent a link, but this is the entire rest of our exchange.

    Original writer:

    Thanks for getting back to me so promptly, you’ve certainly cleared that up with embarrassing ease.

    Next time I’ll do a bit more thinking before I email in :P.

    Me:

    Glad I could help!

    Of course now I’ve got something else I find weird: This obsessive “tone trolling” by Cascadia, and the insistence that arguing with the person’s clearly stated premise somehow constitutes an ad hominem. That’s pretty weird.

  42. Athywren says

    Suddenly I understand why Jesus spoke in parables instead of using self-references. (No, I’m not comparing myself to Jesus.) My two uses of the idea of foolishness were aimed squarely at myself, so don’t act as if I was calling Mastodon a fool, I was not. I did not intend to, nor did I even accidentally use that or any related term in reference to anyone except myself. This would have been clear had you fully read the comment. I did use it right here in reference to you, but then deleted it as I didn’t want to give you any ammunition to dismiss my entire comment as an ad hominem.

    I did fully read Mastodon’s comment and, sure, the evidence of supernatural thinking was even quoted… and labelled as not evidence of supernatural thinking, because when you’re asking about natural patterns, ““hint maybe at some possibility of something,” is exactly the language you use, and an atheist community is exactly the group you ask about it, rather than, say, a mathematician, biologist or physicist.

    As a quick side note, an ad hominem is a personal attack which is deployed *instead* of a response. Russell’s scathing assault was… actually not particularly scathing, was directed at the question, not the person, and was therefore neither attack nor personal, and was followed by a response.

    It is fine and respectable to ask questions rather than making assumptions, but when the question is based on faulty logic – complex and ooh, therefore “not a theist but…some possibility of something” – that is something that is worth pointing out, even if it does seem dismissive to do so. The idea that patterns have much at all to do with supernatural aspects of philosophy is frankly a little ridiculous. If there is something supernatural responsible for existence, then why would it choose to make a universe with patterns over one without? If the universe is a purely natural, why would natural forces not cause patterns to exist? The total absense of patterns in nature might convince me of the supernatural, but how else would consistent natural forces show themselves in the universe than through repetitive and relatively simple patterns?
    The question itself was loaded toward the supernatural, asking for arguments against the fibonacci sequence’s supernatural nature, rather than asking a more neutral question – “I’ve discovered the fibonacci sequence and found it interesting, are there any theories on how it came about?” Granted, there are many reasons in a religion-soaked culture for the original question to be asked rather than a more neutral question, but neutrality is important when investigating scientific questions. Imagine if Newton had wondered if there was some way in which god wasn’t responsible for apples falling rather than simply asking what *was* responsible. I understand that the emailer is likely not a scientist, but approaching questions in this way helps you reach accurate answers more often than not.

    Whether the emailer is or is not a theist isn’t really relevant to the question any more than it matters whether Kirk Cameron ever was a ‘devout atheist’ or not. Being a theist doesn’t make you irrational, nor does being an atheist make you rational. The relevence lies entirely in the question – KC’s arguments are still weak, and this question was still suggesting the supernatural.

    I don’t actually appreciate being put into the position of directly putting someone down in order to counter your point, but while I agree that good skeptics seek outside opinions, I disagree that a good skeptic assumes supernatural possibilities, even tentatively, until natural explanations have been thoroughly shown to be inadequate, and especially that they choose to ask for external opinions that are compatible with a style of thought they wish to explore. A good skeptic follows the evidence and avoids impressing their own wishes upon a topic. No, this is not a no true scotsman argument, it’s not possible to be a good skeptic without using good skepticism in the same way it’s not possible to be a true Scotsman without being Scottish or a true Christian without believing in Christ.

    I like how you’re attempting the poison the well by pointing out that Russel did the same thing. The thing is, the “I’m not an [x], but…” opening statement is pretty much a guarantee that the message is an argument in favour of [x]. That said, it seems to me that every single person commenting in here, except for yourself and Mastodon, has noticed the “I couldn’t believe in any god that already exists but the fibonacci sequence does seem to hint maybe at some possibility of something,” along with the rest of the quoted email.

    To the best of my knowledge, nobody has claimed that the email is a declaration of allegiance to cosmic woo. That said, I last commented 3 days ago and haven’t read through since, so I may have missed later comments or forgotten earlier ones. Of course it doesn’t need to be such a declaration to be a demonstration of poor logic. If pointing that out is dismissive and a turn off for deeper discussion, well that’s a shame, but people should be prepared for people to disagree with them, even bluntly. I just read through the thread btw, I counted 3 and two half dismissive comments (the two halves were slightly dismissive but with valid points) the rest were constructive or replies to other comments (which are not mutually exclusive.)

    Again, the only person I called a moron was myself, and it was a comment made as a self-depricating joke at my intial reaction to LykeX’s comment. I know that I am not a moron, and I promise it will not cause tensions between me and myself and that any further conversations I have with myself will be constructive. As long as I promise to talk to myself respectfully from now on, I shall reciprocate.

    First off, it is a weird question. Consider the following question: “I dropped my paintbrush while painting earlier, and the resulting splashes resemble a sunburst. I’ve never believed in Ra or Svarog before, but this is certainly suggestive of something.” Is that in any way a normal question? It’s a non-sequitur, there is no relation between an accidental sunburst splash and sungods.
    Secondly, as far as I can see, Russell did not flatly dismiss the question as “just weird.” He said that it seemed a weird question, then proceeded to explain why it seemed weird, then finished saying “like I said, it’s just… a very weird question,” which, while it does contain the words ‘just’ and ‘weird’ is not at all the same as dismissing the question as “just weird.”
    Third, the emailer did not specifically dismiss an interventionist, anthropic deity injecting random numbers on it’s personal whims. “I think although I couldn’t believe in any god that already exists but the fibonacci sequence does seem to hint maybe at some possibility of something.” This is not a statement which dismisses anything except the gods already believed by humans, there is therefore no limiting of the attributes of the “something” whose possibility is supposedly hinted at by the fibonacci sequence. Also, the numbers aren’t random.

    I think there might be a line missing from your last paragraph somewhere? Maybe I’m just tired by now and the scanning issues are entirely me.
    Aside from the five people, two of whom had valid points buried in the mockery, who were dismissive, it seems to me that everyone else did a decent job of explaining why patterns aren’t really useful as proofs of god, and Russell even explained, briefly, why the question was a weird one to begin with, which may be helpful next time the emailer finds themself pondering on the more impressive aspects of the universe by making them more conscious of the links between the phenomena they see and any explanations which they feel are suggested.

    Apologies for the wall o’ text.

  43. Fabio says

    Wow. I’m amazed. I’m a mathematics student, and I have to say I had never found or thought about an explanation for the occurrence of the Fibonacci sequence as simple and precise as yours. I want to thank you for this little piece of mathematical insight.

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