“History repeats her tale unconsciously, and goes off into a mystic rhyme”
James Burn, In the Christian Remembrancer, October of 1845
“The enormous usefulness of mathematics in the natural sciences is something bordering on the mysterious and .. there is no rational explanation for it”
Eugene Wigner, In The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences, 1960
A trout jumping in a riffle, releasing a whiff of trout and algal aroma and a wolf lurking in the forest, generating a sense of foreboding.
Ancient bacteria processing methane in a backyard in Berkeley and the meanders of the East River, below Gothic, CO.
A bee, navigating fields of flowers, domesticated and wild, moving in a straight line each time a flower comes up empty of nectar, but turning when discovering golden nectar.
While the details of the rich tapestry of life are unique in time and place, from fear cascading through ecosystems and causing fundamental changes in biomass productivity and community composition, to conserved metabolic processes carried in genes around the world, to bees optimizing how they collect and spend energy, biology harbors resonant themes, with complexity yielding to order.
Mark Twain is often posthumously quoted, but we have James Burn, an influential 19th century publisher of children’s tales, to thank for first describing the rhyming nature of human history. Just as great artists create works, rooted in the details of a human life, that speak to people everywhere, so too do great scientists pull back the curtains of complexity to reveal recurring patterns and theories. We may not fully understand the powers of nature that generate these recurring patterns, but whether expressed as a theory, or a mathematical equation, we can still be grateful. They give us the power to simplify an otherwise overwhelmingly complex world.
The research RMBL scientists conduct on the valleys and mountains around Gothic changes how we see the world. It gives us a look into recurring patterns and provide conceptual tools to think about very different ecosystems and processes. The sheer volume of scientists trained through RMBL has created scientists across the globe who provide environmental leadership in academia, governments, and non-profits.
As an example of how RMBL’s impact reaches well beyond Gothic, this week we profile Dr. Rebecca Irwin, touching on her work at RMBL as well as her leadership of the Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center Consortium through North Carolina State University. The center delivers science and synthesis for climate adaptation, helping communities effectively navigate a changing world.
As fall turns to winter, share our joy in the beauty and richness of whatever ecosystem you find yourself in, from the cornfields of Kansas to the tundra of the North Slope of Alaska, to the aspen groves of the Colorado Rockies. But also join us in our appreciation of the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics and the power of place to inform how we understand and manage the world!
To reach more about resonant themes across math, art, and music, check out the Pulitzer prize-winning book, Godel, Escher, Bach, by Douglas Hofstadter.