Oscillations have been a sizeable part of my life since High School science classes. They first appear as sound and light waves but soon you start to recognise them everywhere.

Fast forward to end of a physics degree and you can’t spend five minutes without somehow talking about oscillations. I use the term oscillation now in the broad sense to mean anything related to:

  • waveforms
    • physically including light and sound
    • in the abstract in graphs, probability etc.
  • circles and angles
  • imaginary numbers
  • a host of other concepts related to these core ideas

The Not-So-Obvious Connections

To the thirteen-year-old me, these topics would have been either inconceivable or disconnected. To the 26-year-old me, they are irreversibly coupled to my world view. They also have such wide reaching and profound effects on our world that, after spending some time thinking about this, I had to jot my ideas down.

Fundamentally, the most important aspect to me is that of wave-particle duality and the fundamental forces of our world being linked to force carrying particles. These are the mechanisms through which our world operates and without them we wouldn’t exist.

In a more tangible sense, they impact a world that can inspire joy. Through the oscillation of sound waves we ride music along a winding and often unexpected tour of our emotions; we communicate verbally and interact with other humans and animals. Using light we experience vision with colour and form. This, in turn, allows literary creations that allow us to shape our inner mental chaos into reason.

Our relationships with others are shaped by oscillating patterns that are seldom appreciated in the moment. Relationships have their ‘up and downs’, cultures create and destroy patterns around a ‘normal’ that is ever shifting with the crowd, politics doing the same with the Overton Window. Even in our economy, we can see oscillatory effects that have a real impact on the lives of humans.

In the modern, digital world, our understanding of electricity and computer science amplifies all of our existing wave-harnessing capabilities into a distributed, instant and highly-available format.

Is this all just ramblings?

Sort of. The point is: I never gave oscillations enough appreciation. I’m doing it now. Hopefully you are too.

Maths is cool

The tangible effects of waves notwithstanding, their real beauty lies in their simplicity and ubiquity across our universe. The foundation upon which all of the other connections begin to form is rooted in mathematics and the understanding of how oscillations do not just manifest themselves over time or space but in some of the most basic mathematical principles.

The point at which this began to appear to me was during the first exploration of trigonometry at what must have been around twelve or thirteen. By far the most helpful diagram for this understanding is the link between points around the circumference of a circle and the sine/consine functions.

The sine and cosine functions are plotted against points on a circular circumference, demonstrating the link between the functions and angles.

That’s pretty cool to me.