I mentioned last week that I featured a nautilus design in a stained glass panel I made for my granddaughter because of the shell’s meaning to me.
A [chambered] nautilus is a cephalopod of the genus Nautilus that has a spiral, chambered shell with pearly septa. Now doesn’t that sound totally inspiring? I mean… pearly septa! It just doesn’t get any better than that.
Okay… at my level of understanding: it’s a mollusk with a spiral shaped shell that consists of individually partitioned chambers. As the nautilus grows, it continues to enlarge its shell and create more partitions as it goes. Each chamber contains a gas that helps give the animal buoyancy.
When the nautilus inhales the gas from its chambers, its voice sounds really high, like Mickey Mouse’s. Nautiluses love to do this at parties, as it usually gets a pretty good laugh.
Okay, I made that last part up. Just the Mickey Mouse part. They really do have gas. And they don’t even eat beans.
But they are whizzes at math. See, the nautilus shell, with it’s spiral shape, is an example of the “golden ratio,” a mathematical ratio based on the number Phi. Phi (with upper case “p,” Greek letter Φ) represents the number 1.618… It’s reciprocal, phi (with lower case “p”, Greek letter φ), equals 0.618…
Since math is all Greek to me anyway, I can’t really grasp the concept of Phi, but the ratio it represents can be seen in relationships all throughout the universe, in:
proportions of the human body, proportions of some animals, DNA, plants, music, art, geometry, the solar system, movements in the stock market, the designs of the Egyptian pyramids, raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens (just testing to see if you’re paying attention)… and as noted, in the shape of the spiral of the nautilus shell.
Some may argue that the application of the golden ratio, in many instances, is based on arbitrary points of proportion that happen to match the equation. Kind of the idea that when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If you set about looking for a particular pattern or ratio, you can find ways to fabricate – er, I mean discover – its appearance in almost anything.
So that’s the “golden spiral.” But, not to be outdone by the Greeks, the French (specifically French mathematician Rene Descartes) came up with the “marvelous spiral.” Something about logarithms and more math stuff.
As with the Golden ratio, the logarithmic (“marvelous”) spiral occurs in many forms in nature. Examples:
the shells of mollusks (i.e. the chambered nautilus shell); the approach of a hawk to its prey; the approach of an insect to a light source; the arms of spiral galaxies; the bands of tropical cyclones; patterns in sunflower heads; the nerves of the cornea…
I guess you could say it’s everywhere you look! (See what I did there? Cornea… everywhere you look… pretty funny, huh?)
So what is the significance of all of this?
To me it indicates that there is a strong interrelationship between virtually everything in nature (and the aesthetics of some things manmade); that there are forces bigger than we can imagine at work in the universe; and that on some level there is a grand design to everything.
A golden, marvelous design.
Note: This is a revision of a post I published on another blog I had going in a previous lifetime. Any plagiarism of myself has been done with my full knowledge and permission (to myself). I think.
N is for Nautilus.