Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Golden ratio explained evolutionarily?

Sometimes it's not obvious at first sight whether someone with a new idea is a crank or a visionary. So it is with me and Adrian Bejan, who is professor of mechanical engineering at Duke. I came across him in Science Daily. Behan has an idea he calls constructal theory. (His website; Wikipedia; I wonder if Behan wrote the wiki article.)

As I understand it after maybe half an hour of looking into it, constructal theory says lots of stuff can be thought of in terms of flow of something through a system. He says it is a general law of such systems that they evolve to make the flow easier and larger. He says this explains rivers, the increasing size and speed of athletes, human cognition, the history of human travel, and the golden ratio (allegedly the design basis of the great pyramid of Gaza). Read the PDF at the link for explanations of how this works.)

In the case of the golden ratio, he says the human brain, like that of other animals, has evolved to scan horizontally more efficiently than vertically (since we are more likely to be attacked by predators from the front, back or side than jumped on from a cliff). And he says the golden ratio (for a height of 1, a width of 1.618) is the easiest for people to scan, so we find it most pleasing. In terms of constructal theory, the golden ratio provides the fastest cognition flow in the brain.

In general, I'm sympathetic to arguments involving evolutionary influences on cognition and brain structure, but this just sounds crazy. Of course, virtual particles also sound crazy to me, but people who do physics for a living assure me they are real. So for now I'll put it in the section of my brain where I keep things I don't know whether to believe, so I can call it up if I run across something relevant to it.

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