02.09.13

For all of the appearances of the golden ratio, there many be even more erroneous sightings of it. The spiral of the nautilus’ shell is often said to fit precisely within a golden rectangle regardless of its size. But that is untrue. Each nautilus shell does maintain the same proportions throughout the animal’s life (that is, it’s a logarithmic spiral), but that proportion is generally not the golden ratio. Many have also claimed that the golden ratio is found in the proportions of various parts of the human body, the shape of the Gutenberg Bible, the Mona Lisa, and the Parthenon. None of these assertions have stood up to skeptical scrutiny, yet these myths stick with us. The mathematician Keith Devlin once gave a talk about the golden ratio, discussing numerous misunderstandings and debunking them, but when a radio station re-broadcast a portion of his lecture, it crucially omitted the fact that the examples were all false. Why does this myth persist? What makes it so resilient and appealing?

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