All that math in Fox's Touch? A mathematician says it doesn't add up

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Dec 16, 2012

Featuring a gifted, autistic child piecing together connections that no one else can see, Fox's new Kiefer Sutherland vehicle Touch is built around numbers—but, according to a mathematician, they don't add up.

Dr. Keith Devlin, a mathematician at Stanford University, has watched the first episode and says some of the basic concepts featured in the series are just not being used correctly.

"The first number we encounter, by way of [Sutherland's character's son] Jake's disembodied voice (he does not speak, so we only hear him as a thought-track) is the golden ratio, approximately 1.618. Thematically, that's good, since that number does occur a lot in nature, often by way of its closely associated Fibonacci sequence," he wrote in a piece for The Huffington Post. "Which makes it all the more perplexing that, midway through the first episode, we have Danny Glover's character repeating a series of oft-recycled falsehoods about the Fibonacci sequence. He begins by saying that it was discovered by the twelfth-century mathematician Fibonacci, which is not true. Fibonacci (who was in fact a thirteenth-century mathematician, and who was not given that nickname until the 19th century) simply included in a book he wrote, an ancient arithmetic problem that yields those numbers when you solve it ... Though there are many fascinating examples of the occurrence of the Fibonacci sequence in the natural world, the three that Glover cites are all wrong: that the sequence can be found in the curve of a wave, in the spiral of a shell, and in the segments of a pineapple."

Luckily, Devlin says the gaffes don't really take away from the series, since it's more about heart than numbers.

"Touch stretches the power of mathematics to understand and to accurately predict beyond the physical world, to the lives of individual people, and math doesn't do that. But that's how big-theme fiction works, by taking sweeping ideas and shrinking them down to a personal level," he said. "Whether the series creators and writers set out to create, by way of Jake, a metaphor for the role of mathematics in the modern (and to some extent the ancient) world of human connectivity, I have no idea. At some level, they must have. Regardless of their intent, however, if the first episode is anything to go by, they have done so superbly."

(via The Huffington Post)