The natural world can appear beautifully spontaneous and unpredictable, but there's often method to the madness. The Golden Ratio (sometimes called the divine proportion) is one such method. It not only makes things pleasing to the eye but can be found in almost every aspect of the natural world.
But what is it? Well, it's best explained using "Fibonacci numbers" - a specific numerical sequence where the previous two numbers are added to get the next. For example: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, etc. The relationship between these numbers forms the golden ratio, which can be found in the arrangement of a flower's petals, the swirl of a pine cone and the seeds of a sunflower. Another way to describe it (as outlined on the National Geographic's website) is as follows:
“Two numbers are in the golden ratio if the ratio of the sum of the numbers (a b) divided by the larger number (a) is equal to the ratio of the larger number divided by the smaller number (a/b)” ... Everyone still with us?
Complex mathematics aside, the ratio is fairly easy to spot. It even crops up in our architecture. The Pantheon in Rome is a popular example. But it’s not clear if the Pantheon's construction team used the ratio on purpose, leaving many to think they were subconsciously drawn to its beauty.
On the flip side, there are those who think it’s… well… bullsh*t. Sure, there are lots of flowers that adhere to the golden ratio, but there are a few that don’t. And perhaps when we see it in buildings, we’re only selecting the parts that form the ratio - turning it into something special when it’s just chance.
...But, it's also been found in the pyramids and banana peels, and Leonardo da Vinci’s work, and ancient Greek buildings, and even website layouts. So, regardless of whether you think the golden ratio is a natural phenomenon or not, we clearly think it’s the bee’s knees.
Image by Laura Gilchrist