Mathematical Cabbages

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Mathematical cabbages reported in ScienceNOW 16 Nov 2005 and New Scientist 19 November 2005. Skunk cabbages (not really cabbages, but members of the Arum family) generate heat with an internal furnace consisting of special starch burning cells in the central stalk of the plant. This keeps their flowers from being damaged by cold weather, and the plants can maintain a steady 24 degrees Celsius even when the outside temperature is below zero. Two Japanese researchers at Iwate University, Japan, have studied the way the plant controls its temperature by monitoring the temperature in several plants and analysing the pattern of temperature variations using a statistical method called non-linear forecasting. They concluded that the plants were using a unique mathematical algorithm to determine whether to turn the internal furnace up or down at any moment.

Editorial Comment: Anyone who has an automatically controlled central heating system knows that maintaining an even temperature is the result of clever design in the thermostat, not chance random processes. Mathematical algorithms are the product of minds, not matter. Applying them to carry out some useful function, such as temperature control, requires the application of information to matter by a creator. Therefore, it is foolish to claim this plant’s central heating system is the result of mindless chance acting on equally mindless matter. (Ref. mathematics, design, thermoregulation)

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