Our Head of Maths, Mr Chaudhary, gave us a vastly wide-ranging and heartfelt exposition of the centrality of the ratio φ (“phi”) in the universe and the human body, and what that centrality meant.
He showed that the ratio (see above, equivalent to 1:1.618…, which is, uniquely, the same as 0.618…:1) lies behind the Fibonacci sequence, which we see in so many growth patterns in animals and plants, as well as in the relationship between a myriad of measurements of the human body. It’s also one of the commonest principles in the way we perceive beauty: painters place horizons at it.
Mr Chaudhary argued that the odds of this one ratio being at the centre of so much were virtually nil, and so it is convincing evidence of divine design behind creation. He showed us verses from the Quran which point out that God has designed the universe in a way whereby we can detect, even deduce, his hand.
Universal Laws and the Golden Ratio
15 Uncanny examples in nature
Disputed observations (Wikipedia)
At a packed meeting in the Library this year’s winners gave presentations on their essays.
Stuart Innes (‘Have attitudes towards mental health really changed?’) gave a clear historical summary of how societies have responded to and attempted to treat mental illness, framed within a powerful argument for a mixture of approaches. He was insistent that a reductively “scientific”, drug-based, approach was not the answer, but that counselling and therapy had central roles: humans have evolved with the ability to share with others their feelings and thoughts, and we should use this as a strength.
Rachel Maton (‘Why did 16th– and 17th-century Europe experience widespread witchcraft hysteria, and a subsequent peak in witch-hunts and trials?’) discussed in detail the many different theories which have been proposed to explain why numbers of trials increased in an age of supposed rationalism. These ranged from scapegoating and feminism to the invention of the printing press. She concluded with a balanced evaluation, arguing that it was due to a number of factors coming together; she also downplayed the contribution of the feminist argument (that the suppression of witches was allied to an expression of male power): even in England a good quarter of all those condemned were male, and in Russia and Estonia the vast majority were men.
Xiaoxuan Liu (‘Einstein’s special theory of relativity: a general explanation for its formation’) gave a humorous and in-depth explanation of Einstein’s theory, using an alternative method for deriving E=mc^2 than the one she had used in her original essay. She argued that while many people find the dramatic effects of relativity (e.g. time dilation, changes in mass) the most appealing aspects, she preferred the raw beauty of its mathematics.
All three speakers were extremely impressive – they were clear, authoritative and engaging; all were, in short, easy to listen to, despite the (each for different reasons) challenging nature of what they were talking about. They could also deal with questions with confidence and charm.
After a splendid formal dinner Tim Morrison (OC and former Howard Essay Winner, now Head of Classics at Oundle School) introduced most of us to Thales, the first Greek philosopher, and as such the first recorded person in Western Europe to question for himself accepted explanations for how the world worked. Despite being perfectly able to use his intelligence to make money (one year he predicted a bumper olive crop and bought up all the presses), he thought it more interesting and important to study the heavens and think for himself about the world – just the sort of inspirational figure needed by this year’s LVI as they embark on their own Howard & Mitchell essays.
Kathryn McDermott from the Open University’s Department of Physical Sciences gave us a brilliant and whistle-stop tour of meteors, meteoroids and meteorites, of the basic categories, where they come from, what their composition is, and how they are used to research the geology of the solar system and the possibiliies of extra-terrestrial life. We then had a chance to touch and pick up some samples, often very heavy because of their iron content, and could see formations like the fusion crust (see photo), formed by melting as the rock fell through our atmosphere. There was even a small piece from Mars!
Dr Roger Noble from the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics came and spoke to us about the biggest possible questions: cosmology, the big bang, relativity, how we learnt that the universe is expanding, whether it will continue to do so or start imploding under its own gravity, and how we have tried to confirm our hunch that the cosmological constant (lambda (Λ)) is exactly 1 – the value required to make the universe continue to expand, but only just. Dr Noble’s talk was really clear, carefully paced, and eye-opening.
Mrs Pewsey treated the iiiiv WP to a demonstration of how to make a cloud in a bottle, and how to identify the different types. We also learned about the temporarily-Essex Man Luke Howard, and how he devised from Latin the names we still use to describe clouds. We were all exhorted to join the Cloud Appreciation Society.
At the end we witnessed the current closeness of Jupiter and Venus.