The Mathematics of Attraction

Nov 26, 2020

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Shane prefers “the pie I be holdin’ is a beauty.” Anyway. We assume our own tastes and preferences determine who and what makes us go weak at the knees, but there’s a fascinating science behind it too.

Early in their studies, artists, architects, photographers and designers learn about the golden ratio, also known as the golden section, golden mean, or divine proportion.

In mathematical terms, it is one plus the square root of five, divided by two. Or 1.61803398875 if you prefer.

The ancient Greeks first observed that this ratio provides the most balanced and aesthetically pleasing proportions for the sides of a rectangle. They reckoned it could form the basis of great architectural and artistic composition.

The idea gained traction during the Renaissance, culminating in the publication of De divina proportione in 1509 by the Italian mathematician Luca Pacioli. Leonardo da Vinci provided illustrations for the book, including his famous ‘Vitruvian Man’, which equates the ideal proportions of man with the golden ratio.

The ratio appears everywhere in nature – in flower petals and the arrangement of leaves on plants, the structure of snail shells, the form of hurricanes, and even at the atomic scale in crystals of cobalt niobate. This has led some philosophers to believe it is a universal law of composition and aesthetics.

Whichever way you view it, the golden ratio is now a widely accepted aesthetic principle. Scientists have observed that people (George Clooney, Mrs Blackwell) reflecting this principle are coveted much more highly than those of us who look like a 4-year-old’s drawing of Mr Potato Head. The same goes for products incorporating the golden ratio in their design (Aston Martin cars and, yes, Pashley bicycles).

So, you may not be aware of it, but forces greater than your own opinion might be at play when you’re attracted to someone or something.

Now then, if I place this Britannia exactly 1.618 metres from the front entrance…

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