The Excitement of Perfection

Like the late Steve Jobs, I still get excited by numbers as well as operating system logos. 

Not the kind of numbers that politicians bandy about – whether Hollande against all odds is going to squeak past Sarkozy in the run-off in the French elections or the irony of the six million inhabitants of Israel which another despot wants to annihilate. No. Newton believed in the perfection of seven, which is why we still parrot in classrooms ‘Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain’ when trying to remember which colour follows which in the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Personally, I tend to remember wavelengths in a vacuum, but kinder readers will put this down to my training rather than any particularly obnoxious personality defect. 


Nine – or rather nine million, is the amount in pounds which has just bought St Cuthbert’s Gospel of John for the British Library. In phenomenal condition, the book, written in Latin, was held for many years, first at Lindisfarne where he was entombed then later at Durham Cathedral, where, four hundred years after it was written, contemporaries of Thomas Becket were allowed, if they were sufficiently generous, to wear it for a while in a bag around their necks, hoping, presumably, that some holiness might rub off on them.

Looking at the front cover, the remarkably well-preserved goatskin has a plant motif with obvious Pythagorean overtones together with what at first sight looks like a Fibonacci – like structure represented by the stems. The book’s pages have dimensions of 138 by 92mm which when divided give us a pleasing value of 1.50 exactly, but some way away from the ubiquitous Golden Ratio of 1.618, Kepler’s “precious jewel”, which Fibonacci popularised but was probably known to Euclid seventeen hundred years previously. 

The magic number, representing aesthetical perfection, has been exploited by designers in all fields. Most notably here. The spectacular beauty of this design when decrypted is almost breathtaking – at least to me. 

As is the fact that the Gospel writes the name of G_d in its  rabbinically correct format. How very exciting…


in principio erat verbum  (In the beginning was the Word,) et verbum erat apud d__m ( and the word was with G_d) et d__s erat verbum (and the Word was G_d)

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One thought on “The Excitement of Perfection

  1. How did I miss this post? While I can't honestly say I go into ravings of rapturous delight at the thought of Fibonacci and his curves, I can admit to being esthetically pleased with the results… and would be even if I didn't know about Mr. Fib. I see this as something akin to aerodynamics – I MOST definitely do not need to know anything about the numbers, algorithms, or formulas behind my plane getting off the ground and staying in the air. So I don't need to know anything about “elegant” ratios. No. I. Don't. It all still works even in the face of my profound (and willful) ignorance. Thank G-d.

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