Why Prime numbers?

Back in the good old days when I first started programming I worked with Prime Computers. Now they were named such because you had to manually enter a prime number for a file size to prevent the system ‘randomly’ allocating space to records in clumps.

Yesterday I was reading about complex ‘rhythms in the wild’ in the excellent Shapes (Natures Patterns: a tapestry in three parts) by Phillip Ball and came across an amazing theory (found here ). Some species of cicades exhibit a 7, 13 or 17 year lifecycle. These are prime numbers and the suggestion is that this is to avoid a predator with a shorter lifecycle synchronising with that of the prey. ie if prey = 12 years and predator = 6 years, every time you pop your head out it gets bitten off by the grandson. Another suggestion is that they help prevent genetic breakdown by breeding synchronicity.

It’s a fascinating glimpse of simple ‘rules’ allowing nature to solve complex problems and in doing so create a hugely complex outcome of which we are only scratching the surface of it making any sense. More later about naturally emerging hexagons when I follow up the references.

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1 Comment

  1. Is that why they were called Prime? I never realised – when I worked at PA Consulting in the early 90s doing Communications Strategy, they were a client of the other team in the department. Always felt a little like a third-tier leftover of the computing industry, but I wasn’t that close enough to really judge.

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