Going down the rabbit hole

Going down the rabbit hole

Fibonacci’s Numbers are amazing, creative, fascinating and worth every second of this blog post.

That’s Jonathan, and his empty coffee cup!

This week we didn’t have coffee with our school liaison, Jonathan Templin, because:

a.) He doesn’t drink coffee and;

b.)  He recently launched Mathspace Canada (so he’s based in Canada, and  that’s a long way to go when you’re not even going to have coffee!)

Jonathan  and his wife, Elisha, set up Mathspace in Canada at the start of this  year. Both former math teachers, they’re now affectionately known as  ‘Team Templin’ by everyone here at Mathspace. We hope you enjoy this  great exploration of Fibonacci’s numbers as much as we did.

Coffee of choice?

My favorite coffee would have to be… no coffee!

I  have never liked coffee, despite five years of university and another  five years immersed in the coffee culture of Melbourne, Australia.

Favorite mathematical field of study?

There  is so much to choose from, but I think the Fibonacci numbers would have  to be near the top of my list. They are a sequence of numbers  popularized by the Italian mathematician Leonardo of Pisa, aka  Fibonacci, around 800 years ago.

Can you show us the Fibonacci numbers?

The  Fibonacci numbers are 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34… Sometimes, you’ll  see a 0 as the first number in the sequence, before the two 1s. Can you  spot the pattern?

Is a Fibonacci Number considered as bad as a Lie-onacci Number? And why don’t we encourage Truth-onacci Numbers?

Big sigh for the Dad joke above.

Sorry! That’s the teacher in me trying to encourage my students to discover math on their own.

Can you explain the pattern?

The  pattern here is that, once you start with the first two numbers in the  sequence, the next number is found by adding the two previous ones. That  is, 1+1=2,1+2=3, 2+3=5 and so on. If you know two consecutive Fibonacci  numbers, you can always figure out the next one.

Why are you so interested in this?

Ever  since I was young, I loved patterns. I liked things that had a set  structure and rule, and if there was chaos, I wanted to bring order to  it. I loved following the instructions in a pack of Lego to create the  latest underwater castle or Lego Mindstorms robot. This has followed me  to my adult life, where I actually enjoy putting together Ikea  furniture. The feeling of satisfaction I get from following finding  order (a new coffee table) from chaos (boxes full of particle board,  screws and nails) cannot be understated.

I find following a pattern to be very meditative, and discovering a new pattern to be a joyous experience.

If there is a seemingly random collection of data, I will look for the underlying pattern. For those of you that read my colleague Mansour’s musings on entropy, I will say that I would be the person to sit down with his second diagram of dots and try to find the formula.

The  Fibonacci numbers at first look like a random jumble of numbers, but  they follow a clear and simple pattern that can understood by anyone who  understands how to add two numbers together. However, in all their  elegant simplicity, the Fibonacci numbers can be used to provide  structure to a wide variety of things, in mathematics and in nature.  Once again, order from chaos.

Can you tell us about the history of the Fibonacci numbers?

While  the Fibonacci numbers have been named after an Italian mathematician,  it is worth noting that it seems likely that Leonardo would have seen  the numbers in his travels in Africa or India, as there is evidence that  mathematicians there had known of the sequence hundreds of years  before.

In European circles, the Fibonacci numbers were introduced through Fibonacci’s book Liber Abaci. Interestingly enough, the example used to demonstrate the sequence involved breeding rabbits.

Are they meant to be… rabbits?!

Initially, there was one pair of rabbits. In the simplified scenario  that Fibonacci explained, a pair of rabbits cannot reproduce at first,  but each subsequent year will give birth to a new pair of rabbits. In  year one, there is one pair of juvenile rabbits. In year 2, that pair of  rabbits is now mature, but there is still only one pair. In year 3, the  original rabbits are still mature, and they have now birthed a new pair  of juvenile rabbits, so there are two pairs of rabbits now. In year 4,  our original pair gives birth again, but their first offspring has not  bred, so there are now 3 pairs of rabbits.

One  beautiful relationship that has been found is the relationship between  the Fibonacci numbers and phi , the golden ratio, one of the world’s  most mystical numbers.

For  those who are not familiar with it, phi is approximately equal to  1.618. If you divide any pair of consecutive Fibonacci numbers by one  another, the result of that division, or the ratio, will approach phi as  you choose larger and larger Fibonacci numbers. For example, 3 and 5  are consecutive Fibonacci numbers, and their ratio is 5/3=1.6666…  Additionally, 4181 and 6765 are also consecutive Fibonacci numbers, and  their ratio is 6765/4181=1.61803…, which is an accurate representation  of phi to 7 decimal places.

Earlier  on, I mentioned that the Fibonacci numbers are found by adding the two  previous numbers in the sequence, but what if you want to calculate the  100th Fibonacci number, or the 1000th? It would be a pain to have to  manually calculate the first 99 or 999 numbers to get the next one.  Thankfully, there is a formula to calculate the n^th Fibonacci number.  The interesting thing is that this formula is closely is also closely  related to the number phi.

Wait, this is better than just adding consecutive numbers together?

How do you think it will be useful in the future?

I have absolutely no idea! And to me that is one of the most beautiful things about mathematics. Sometimes, we do not study something because we expect it to be useful, but rather just because we want to. As a teacher, I loved answering the question:

When am I ever going to use this?

But sometimes I want to shout:

Probably never, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t amazing and creative and fascinating in its own right!

Sometimes  I do math for the sake of doing math, and I’m proud of that. Some of  the applications of the Fibonacci numbers were discovered hundreds of  years after the numbers became popular. There is no way that Fibonacci  or the early Indian mathematicians who popularized the numbers could  ever have seen what they would become, but that didn’t stop them from  investigating an interesting pattern, and it shouldn’t stop us from  exploring the wonders of mathematics either.

Anything else interesting to add?

You  can make your own “Fibonacci-like” sequence by choosing any two  starting numbers, and following the Fibonacci rules to generate the rest  of the sequence. For example, the sequence starting with the numbers 2  and 1 becomes 2,1,3,4,7,11… and has its own special name, the Lucas  Numbers. Create your own Fibonacci-like sequence and see what properties  it has. You never know what you might find!

The Fibonacci numbers can be used to create an approximation of the Golden Rectangle and the Golden Spiral