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The Fibonacci Sequence: Math For the Non-Math Brain

Updated on February 5, 2018
DzyMsLizzy profile image

Words, wordplay, reading, and writing have been favorites of Liz's since early childhood. She enjoys exploring science and science fiction.

Math is Difficult for Many

I'm treading on dangerous ground, here, being a bona fide non-math person. How dare I have the audacity to try and explain anything remotely math-related?

Well, that is exactly why I'm "going there." Because my own talents are so exclusively word-and-language driven, I have always struggled with math concepts. It is a very difficult subject for me, and I do not understand much of what is presented.

However, I feel that qualifies me to take something I finally did manage to understand, and put it into terms that are easier (for me, at least) to understand. Mind you, I'm not going to attempt any explorations or explanations of advanced mathematics; my only aim is to re-phrase the basic concept of the Fibonacci Sequence for the language and word oriented people like me.

See? Movies can be Educational!

I'd never even heard the term "Fibonacci Sequence" until I watched the movie, The Da Vinci Code. Early on in the action, while Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) has been called in to assist in trying to figure out the murder of a man found dead in The Louvre, a series of numbers is discovered. After some pondering, the Professor exclaims, "It's a Fibonacci Sequence!"

"A whaaaatt???" My brain asked. I shrugged it off at the time, and continued watching the movie, but in the years since, the term has come up a few more times, so I decided to investigate.

That Confounded Fibonacci Sequence

My husband is the math person in the family; he even wrote a math text years back. Yet even he had a tough time getting this one through my thick head. We went around and around, and when I finally understood, my reaction was, "Well, of wonder it's confusing..the words explaining the concept are wrong!"

Supposedly (although you could not prove it by me), this sequence of numbering lies at the heart of all math. I don't understand how, and I'm not going to try and explain it further than that. I'm merely going to tell you how to understand getting to each "next number" in the series.

First of all, the series, or sequence, is infinite. It can go on and on as long as you have paper to write; computer memory to compute; or sand and sticks to draw with. Once I 'got it,' I was able to see that it is simple enough for the average 2nd or 3rd grader to grasp. I guess I'm not smarter than a 3rd grader where math is concerned.

Later, I'll explain how it was that I got so tangled up in this basically simple concept.

Decoding the Sequence

Begin, working from left to right, begin with the numeral zero. Add a plus sign, and the numeral 1. This is your starting point: 0 + 1. Follow this with the answer, or sum: 0 + 1 = 1.

That's the very start of this sequence. The next number, still missing, is found by removing or ignoring the left-most numeral, in this case, the zero, and adding together the remaining two numbers:

1 + 1 = 2; drop off the left-most "1" and add: 1 + 2 = 3; drop off the "1" and add: 2 + 3 = 5.

Do it again: 3 + 5 = 8. Got it? Yep. Simple.

Continue: 5 + 8 = 13; 8 + 13 = 21; 13 + 21 = 34; 21 + 34 = 55; 34 + 55 = 89; 89 + 55 = 144; 144 + 55 = 199. and so on.

Proceed in this manner until your arm falls off.

My Tangle

Here's where I went wrong, or misunderstood the original explanation.

What was told to me was, "Add '0' to '1.' To find the next number in the sequence, add together the previous two."

HUH? What my language-oriented brain interpreted from that was, since I was not yet at the 'next number in the sequence,' and it had been explained that, 'no, you're not jumping ahead,' I could not figure out how you ever got out of the starting gate.

(Did I mention that I also take such explanations very literally?) Because if I was at the numeral '1'; resulting from adding the '0' and '1,' then the "previous two" still appeared to me to be that original '0' and '1.'

It was only after an hour of going back and forth that it was finally explained that "yes, you are at the next number's position, which is still an unknown, until you add the previous two in relation to the current position. Okay, but I was still confused.

Finally, it was explained that to begin the sequence, and get to the next number, you have to begin by adding the 1 to itself in order to find the next number, which will be 2. then, drop the original 1 and add the 2 plus 1 to get 3, and so forth.

", you don't start with the "previous two" at the very beginning! Why didn't you say so in the first place??!!"

You re-use the original sum one time to get the sequence going. NOW I get it! To continue, you use the sum of the previous two...and add it to the current sum, and so forth. etc.

I have a word brain; hubby has a math brain. We are always working at cross purposes in these kinds of situations.

That is why I decided to write this explanation once I finally understood how it is done. Writing it out serves both to cement it in my own mind, as well as provide confusion relief for anyone else struggling as I did--and still do--math is my nemesis.

Watch the Video Below

Sunflowers are not irrelevant to this article. The video has a well-explained and nicely illustrated explanation of the Fibonacci Sequence, and how it appears all over the place in nature.

The Fibonacci Sequence in Nature

© 2012 Liz Elias


Submit a Comment

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Wow, PDXBuys,

    Way back in the dark ages, when my ex and I had our very first computer (a Radio Shack "Tandy CoCo"), I thought I might have to learn BASIC.

    I did learn a little--a very little. I learned how to make a perfectly useless program that filled up the screen with a scrolling word...(whichever word you commanded), and ran it by so fast you got dizzy watching. (No, that's not where my screen name came from...LOL).

    I then found someone else's program, that I was able to enter, and its function was simply putting lists into alphabetical order.

    That was it. I very quickly found out that this was a highly math-dependent field, and I was in over my head after those two little experiments.

    From your example, some memory has come back out of that long ago fog, and I do recall that "REM" is not a command, but stands for Remark, which is simply informational only for the programmers, and which the computer ignores when running the program. I remember something about "if/then" commands and that's about it.

    Thanks so much for your intriguing comment.

  • PDXBuys profile image

    PDXBuys 5 years ago from Oregon

    When I first learned how to program a computer, a very long time ago, we learned how to write simple programs in the BASIC language to generate sequences like this. Though BASIC is more or less now a "dead" language, I always admired how it made instructions precise. It is like an abbreviated version of the English language with the ambiguity removed. Instead of terms like "the next number" or "the previous number" you refer to variables with labels like "A" or "N". The computer will always know exactly what A and N are if your program is correctly written. An ARRRY also be used. An array holds a set of numbers instead of just a single number. "F[n]" means then "n'th" number in array F. The code might look something like this:

    10 REM Fibonacci Sequence

    20 REM The array F holds the Fibonacci numbers

    30 ARRAY F

    40 LET F[0] = 0

    50 LET F[1] = 1

    60 LET N = 1

    70 REM Compute the next Fibbonacci number

    80 LET F[N+1] = F[N] + F[N-1]

    90 LET N = N + 1

    100 PRINT F[N];", ";

    110 REM Loop and keep generating numbers forever!

    120 GOTO 80

    130 END

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, one2get2no,

    Perhaps not, but to my word-oriented brain, it's ALL math. Percentages, points, trading, statistics...all math, all the way.

    Besides, trading of any kind is completely irrelevant to those of us on fixed incomes with 0% of their money to risk. And that's a percentage I do understand...

    Forex trading? You might as well be speaking Russian. I have no clue what that is. "Trading?" Trading in that context normally means stock market and related speculative ventures. Not interested.

    Thanks, though, for stopping by and offering your perspective.

  • one2get2no profile image

    Philip Cooper 5 years ago from Olney

    You don't have to be a maths person to use this set of numbers. The Fibonacci numbers are used by forex traders such as myself to predict where the prices are going. The key numbers are 61.8% which is 21/34 and 38.2% which is 13/34. The percentage is the reversal of a price from its previous direction in percentage terms.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello PDXKaraokeGuy

    I am pleased my expplanation worked ford you. I was never "tested " fxor math aptitude; I just never has any.

    Thanks for sharing you experience (and pardon ant typos--I,m answering from my Nook and I'm not used to 1-finger typing!)

  • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

    Justin W Price 5 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

    Very well explained. I'm much better in writing and art then I am at math, though my mom says I tested quite high in math as a child and was deemed to have mathematical brain. That said, I've never done well in math classes, but always do well with real numbers, like statistics and budgets and the like. I can't explain it, but I did enjoy your explanation.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 6 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi there, PDXBuys--

    LOL--I'm glad I was able to put a smile on your face. ;-)

    Thanks for the real-world insight and the book recommendation. Sunflowers are more my speed; stock trading, not so much.

  • PDXBuys profile image

    PDXBuys 6 years ago from Oregon

    I love your "X+N=WTF?" That was funny! The Fibonacci Sequence sometimes appears in nature (the seed head of a sunflower for example). I think understanding a little about the mathematics gives us a better appreciation of the complexity of the natural world. For some very in-depth reading, have a look at the book "A New Kind of Science" by Stephen Wolfram.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 6 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Kris Kampschror--

    I'm glad I was able explain this bit of arcane information in a usable fashion. Personally, I don't find it useful or relevant--it was just one of those sticking points that I had to get right or be forever stuck stressing over my original misunderstanding. ;-)

    Thanks so much for stopping by and adding your insight.

  • profile image

    Kris Kampschror 6 years ago

    Thanks for explaining a rather difficult concept to the average investor. I'm currently following a "mentor" of sorts that constantly refers to the price level in relation to the Fibonacci level to see areas of possible support and resistance. It's very helpful in explaining just why a stock encounters buying or selling pressure on any given day

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 6 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi, Simone--

    Thank you very much indeed!

  • Simone Smith profile image

    Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

    Hehee, fabulous Hub! And I love the sketch you added :D

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 6 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, one2get2no--

    Thank you very much for the nice comment. I'm glad I was able to make enough sense of it, finally, to be able to explain it to others.

    On my budget, stocks, trading currencies and so forth are so far beyond irrelevant that it's not even about a "wider insight;" it's the stuff of fiction. I'll check out your hubs to see if I can uderstand the use of this numbering system, but I don't see how it would apply in my life--the uses you mention are for the well-to-do, not those of us nearly losing our homes.

    Thaks for the vote!!

  • one2get2no profile image

    Philip Cooper 6 years ago from Olney

    Well you did a good job on this Dzy. Well done. I have written several hubs on how to use these numbers for trading currencies and stocks. Why not take a look and get a wider insight. Voted up!!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 6 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, peoplepower73--

    I'm glad it was understandable. I still don't understand how it can predict anything...but I'm not going to worry about it. Thanks very much for your comment.

  • peoplepower73 profile image

    Mike Russo 6 years ago from Placentia California

    Dzy, thanks for explaining and making it so easy to understand. I know the number sequence is used to predict how people are supposed to buy and sell stocks, but I don't know how it works.

    Thanks for SHARING.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 6 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, Casey Strouse--

    Thanks very much for stopping by and adding that information. I appreciate the insight. Not an area I'm likely to find myself involved with, however, as it uses... MATH! ;-)

  • Casey Strouse profile image

    Casey Strouse 6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

    Fibonacci is a good thing to know especially if you ever get into trading foreign currency or investing as it's often used to predict movement.

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 6 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hello, tillsontitan--

    I agree--I can't imagine ever having a use for this stuff, either, but my curiosity had been piqued, as it had been mentioned more than once in books I was reading, most notably, The DaVinci Code.

    I'm glad I was able to clear up the concept, and make it interesting as well. Thaks very much for the votes and the share!

  • tillsontitan profile image

    Mary Craig 6 years ago from New York

    I can't imagine ever using this not being a math person but I must say you've made it perfectly clear. You did a great job of explaining something I probably will never need but you made it interesting to read. Voted up, useful, interesting and Shared!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 6 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Hi, Millionaire Tips-

    Thanks for stopping by. I do hope that helped and is a little clearer than mud. As to why or how this is "very useful" or "important in all things," I've no clue--it remains a mystery to me. ;-)

  • Millionaire Tips profile image

    Shasta Matova 6 years ago from USA

    You know, I'm not quite sure I understood it before now either. Thanks for that. Now to figure out how to use it. I hear it is very useful and important in all things.