On a Hot Tau

Tau is a commonly used symbol in the land of campus Greeks. After all, it is the 19th letter of the Greek alphabet – yet it is also the last letter of the Phoenician and Old Hebrew alphabets.

Tau has a variety of meaning depending on the subject matter:

  • A protein associated with Alzheimer’s (biology)
  • A dose interval regarding externally administered substances (pharmacology)
  • A measurement of the amount of sunlight unable to penetrate the atmosphere (astronomy)
  • A variety of physics topics related to time, plus the symbol for torque
  • A symbol for life and resurrection (ancient culture)
  • A numerical symbol for 300 (Greek)

In mathematics, Tau represents “an irrational constant when the ration of the sum of the quantities to the larger quantity is equal to the ratio of the larger quantity to the smaller one.” We humans have applied this golden ratio of 1.6180339887 … to architecture, painting, finance, and even music – yet we also associate Tau with meaningful people as Plato, Euclid, Fibonacci, and Kepler. Although the Greek letter Theta represents this ratio today, at one time Tau was the symbol.

I recall a day I stood in front of a group of teachers and said, “Mathematics is not a subject of content, it is a language – a communication tool for explaining content.” Although I received both resistance and the deer in the headlights look, mathematics stands with other primary communication tools for content as written, spoken, visual, and musical. Those who saw last week’s video about Fibonacci in nature may recall the mathematical link to visual designs in nature.

I continually stand in awe at the wonderful creation of our world. Being religious, specifically Christian, I see the natural world as God’s creation – one of His gifts to us. However, I do not see it in the same light as those believing in intelligent design – and not even close to the belief system of the Young Earth Creationists.

Meanwhile, thanks to Patti, enjoy this musical appreciation of the mathematical world of Tau. If you enjoy this and didn’t see the post about the Fibonacci number in nature, click here.


17 thoughts on “On a Hot Tau

  1. What was the instrument in the lower left-hand corner when the video had six instruments shown? A bowed dulcimer? Only seen the hammered variety. Interesting…..
    By the by, the now-famous study of neutrinos that appears to exceed the speed of light? The experiment was originally looking for something else – the spontaneous (and thus unexplained) oscillation of muon neutrinos into… you guessed it … tau neutrinos!
    See? You’re a brilliant physicist and didn’t even know it! 😀


    • John,
      The instrument seemed similar to a bowed dulcimer. But aren’t dulcimers pointed at one end? Whatever, I imagine it was either a close relative to or a form of. Wow … thanks for the tau neutrinos tidbit. If you sound is fixed, I but the link back to Fibonacci just for you to revisit the video. Thanks for commenting.


  2. You always give me such a wealth of information–thanks for sharing and helping me be in awe of what all there is to know. I am basically like Nonnie–the music sure is soothing!


    • Spinny,
      I find it amazing that someone thought of the idea to express it through music. Although the “composer” was given the order of the notes, the composer was free to determine the rhythms. Thus, this is also wonderful example of human creativity. Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for stopping by.


  3. Frank, I think this post was what inspired me to “follow” you – not many connect math and music and yet it can be a dramatic and transcendent approach to life as we know it, as this video shows. Thanks for posting this 🙂


    • Les,
      First of all, I look up all this stuff! 🙂 As I mentioned at the end, I saw this video at Patti’s blog (a Californian as yourself). Then I had to come up with how to incorporate this video into a post – which then lead to the discovery of the Pi post, and so on. Nonetheless, this musical piece is more interesting than pi … well, at least to me. Thanks for stopping by.


  4. “Mathematics is not a subject of content, it is a language – a communication tool for explaining content.” Eloquently stated.
    I am reminded of this quote by Fiasco- Stanislaw Lem- 1987 “The Universe is a labyrinth made of labyrinths. Each leads to another. And wherever we cannot go ourselves, we reach with mathematics.”
    Ah, the elegance of maths and its ability to explain.
    I enjoyed the music too. Now we need some visual art to round it out.


  5. Pingback: Flashbacks: On Grandness Around Us | A Frank Angle

  6. I am enchanted by the music in the end – for somehow that explains ‘Tau’ to me better than any words. Thanks for sending me back here Frank 🙂 You know, reposting all these would make a delightful holiday series if you ever decide to take another break 🙂


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