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The golden section as optical limitation

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The golden section, φ = (1 +√5)/2 = 1.618. . . and its companion φ = 1/φ = φ -1 = 0.618. . ., are irrational numbers which for centuries were believed to confer aesthetic appeal. In line with the presence of golden sectioning in natural growth patterns, recent EEG recordings show an absence of coherence between brain frequencies related by the golden ratio, suggesting the potential relevance of the golden section to brain dynamics. Using Mondriantype patterns comprising a number of paired sections in a range of five section-section areal ratios (including golden-sectioned pairs), participants were asked to indicate as rapidly and accurately as possible the polarity (light or dark) of the smallest section in the patterns. They were also asked to independently assess the aesthetic appeal of the patterns. No preference was found for golden-sectioned patterns, while reaction times (RTs) tended to decrease overall with increasing ratio independently of each pattern's fractal dimensionality. (Fractal dimensionality was unrelated to ratio and measured in terms of the Minkowski-Bouligand box-counting dimension). The ease of detecting the smallest section also decreased with increasing ratio, although RTs were found to be substantially slower for golden-sectioned patterns under 8-paired sectioned conditions. This was confirmed by a significant linear relationship between RT and ratio (p >.001) only when the golden-sectioned RTs were excluded [the relationship was non-significant for the full complement of ratios (p = .217)]. Image analysis revealed an absence of spatial frequencies between 4 and 8 cycles-perdegree that was exclusive to the 8-paired (golden)-sectioned patterns. The significance of this was demonstrated in a subsequent experiment by addition of uniformly distributed random noise to the patterns. This provided a uniform spatial-frequency profile for all patterns, which did not influence the decrease in RT with increasing ratio but abolished the elevated RTs to golden-sectioned patterns. This suggests that optical limitation in the form of reduced inter-neural synchronization during spatial-frequency coding may be the foundation for the perceptual effects of golden sectioning.




Elliott, M. A., Kelly, J., Friedel, J., Brodsky, J., & Mulcahy, P. (2015). The golden section as optical limitation. PLoS ONE, 10(7).

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