Wednesday, July 21, 2021

SearchResearch Challenge (7/21/21): How are these connected? (Islands, vertebrae, flowers)


While looking at a sunflower the other day... 

... I had an insight... and thought I'd share this with you. 

I realized that there is a deep, underlying, common property that connects the sunflower to the skeleton of a snake to the Hawaiian archipelago. In other words, there's a fascinating connection that I hadn't thought about before. 

This is a lovely observation, and it seems to be a great SearchResearch Challenge for us.  Can you figure this out? 


What's connects the archipelago of Hawai'i with the vertebrae of a snake?  What then connects that to the flowers in a sunflower?  Can you think of what these three very different things might share in common?  (And no, it's not "they're made of atoms..." or something similar. It's actually an interesting commonality.)  

Every day I'll post a hint in the comment thread of this post, giving small nudges as needed.  

I know this is fairly abstract, but I'll shed a bit more light each day until you make the connection that I made last week.  

Step back for a second and think to yourself, what's shared among these three things?  Don't worry too much about trivial connections--think about the processes involved in how they came to be.  What might that be?  

Once you have an insight about what they could possibly have in common, then you'll need to figure out how to search for confirmation.  

(Metacomment:  Why is this an interesting SearchResearch Challenge?  Because people are ALWAYS noticing connections between things.  Sometimes they're deep and interesting, sometimes they're spurious--we have to know how to tell the difference.  This is a Challenge about how to seek out and validate a suspected connection.)  

Ready?  Go.  

Search on!  


  1. It sounds very interesting. My only idea, at the moment, is maybe something related to Fibonacci. As Sunflowers follow that sequence.

    Also reading Hawai'i, the other day watching Magnum, again noticed rainbows. And searched [number of rainbows per year Hawai'i]

    Why Hawaii Is The Perfect Place For Rainbows

    1. I am so glad you mentioned the Fibonacci sequence Ramon because I was going to include this tidbit: (I tried to embed the link but it didn't work.)

      Also about sunflowers, the clue included the phrase “the flowers in a sunflower” and sunflowers are composed of many flowers. The clue also mentioned the archipelago of Hawaii which made me wonder if it is something about the geological events that formed the chain of islands. I went to the NOAA web site and noticed that the map in our clue is the one on that site.

      I am looking for some common unique attribute each of them has in its class, such as creation, evolution, or structure, that would tie the three of them together. Searching on “unique” doesn’t always work because some people think unique means different or unusual: “Hawaii is the most unique…”. I like the Spanish “no hay dos”.

      Sunflowers are only one type of flower whereas the vertebrae belongs to all snakes.

      I know I’ve jumped into this group ten years late but I am trying. I have at least browsed the majority of the challenges starting in 2010 and tried to incorporate their lessons into my armamentarium. After I worked on this challenge for a while I went to my yoga/meditation class and when I was supposed to be contemplating my oneness with the universe, I was thinking about snake vertebrae.

    2. Sorry about disturbing your yoga mind, but perhaps you'll feel better about knowing that the answer here is a deep, fundamental thought about the way the world works. (At least I think so.)

      FWIW, you're on the right track.

  2. I too saw a mathematical connection at first. One source said the Hawaiian archipelago had 127 islands and I thought Mersenne prime! Then a more credible source said 132.

    Snakes have hundreds of vertebrae and ribs and sunflowers are composed of thousands of flowers. How did that come to be? Is the archipelago still growing? Is part of it still underwater?

    The mathematics is interesting but I don’t think that’s the right path. We have to think about what Dan would notice about these three entities and I don’t think he daydreams about Fibonacci numbers and Mersenne primes, though there may be some non-mathematical analogous patterns at play.

    This challenge is waking up brain cells that have been napping since dinosaurs roamed the earth. (I’m reading Lisa Randall’s latest so have dinosaurs on my mind.)

    1. Well.. I have daydreamed about Fibonacci numbers and Mersenne primes (long story), but that's not the case here...

  3. Today's hint: Think about process. In what way are the processes of these three things similar?

  4. What about changes/evolution over deep time? For instance;

    Hawaii northwesternmost island, Kure Atoll, is the oldest at approximately 28 million years (Ma) Wikipedia

    Flowers: Flowering plants likely originated between 149 and 256 million years ago

    snakes: Britannica: Snakes are thought to have evolved from terrestrial lizards as early as the Middle Jurassic Epoch (174.1 million to 163.5 million years ago)
    Though scientists debate the details, most agree snakes arose approximately 90 to 100 million years ago
    Snakes lost their limbs over 100 million years ago, but scientists have struggled to identify the genetic changes involved. j

    1. It would have to do with the formation of the vertebrae specifically and not the snake.

    2. That would be correct. (What Mathlady says.)

  5. Process, a little vague, could be so many things – internal? external? ongoing?

    I thought of how these three would “reproduce”, but think that would not have anything to do with snake vertebrae. So I thought of how they grow and develop. We have a geologic process from a volcano, a plant from a seed, and an animal from an egg. Animal, vegetable, mineral. The plant makes more seeds and the animal makes more eggs. From one, many. I need to know more about the archipelago.

    I keep getting back to their unique attributes. Why is this about an archipelago and not an island? Why a snake and not other reptiles? Why a sunflower?

    Apparently sunflowers originated in North America about 3000 BCE and were taken to Europe about 1500 by Spanish explorers. I associate them with Tuscany but they were taken there from the Americas. I have a refrigerator magnet from Kansas with a sunflower on it. I wonder if there is a connection.

  6. 1. Golden angle, golden ratio

    2. Flow of energy

    "My favorite localization for thecorresponding hotspot is the archipelago of Hawaii."

    "The measured age of all known hotspots and of the corresponding basalt-provinces
    agrees ideally with our theoretical time of the individual episodes (quantum jumps)
    of the Cosmic Hierarchy of the Sun."

    "The antipodal geological correlation of the impact-positions of the biggest
    impact-bodies and the following formation of the volcanic hotspots on the Moon
    and on the Earth clarify many puzzles of the geophysics."

    2. Pleomerism

  7. Today's hint: Think about the process by which each of these things is made. There's something very similar between them all. What is that similarity?

  8. I believe this explains the plant and the animal segmentation
    Pourquié: The segmentation clock "The segmentation clock: a molecular oscillator controlling the periodic arrangement of vertebrae." He specifically mentions itsd the same process in flowers and mice. A full text article is at this site as well as the abstract:
    The Segmentation Clock: Converting Embryonic Time into Spatial Pattern

    In most animal species, the anteroposterior body axis is generated by the formation of repeated structures called segments. In vertebrate segmentation, a specialized mesodermal structure called the somite gives rise to skeletal muscles, vertebrae, and some dermis. Formation of the somites is a rhythmic process that involves an oscillator—the segmentation clock— driven by Wnt and Notch signaling. The clock ticks in somite precursors and halts when they reach a specific maturation stage defined as the wavefront, established by fibroblast growth factor and Wnt signaling. This process converts the temporal oscillations into the periodic spatial pattern of somite boundaries. The study of somite development provides insights into the spatiotemporal integration of signaling systems in the vertebrate embryo.

  9. RE the above. No mention is made of Hawaii though. Maybe it involves rhythmic expression of lava?

  10. Today's hint: Jon is oh-so-very close!

  11. Replies
    1. Well, congratulations - you certainly saw this challenge more clearly than I did. I was chasing unicorns and was oh-so-very far away.

    2. Part of the joy of the research process is chasing interesting leads to see where they go. Sometimes you're on the right path, other times it's just fun!

      But Jon's close... but not 100% there. Still a bit more clarification needed.

    3. I did learn many interesting things about places I've been, things I thought I knew, including some self-revelation. Next week I will remember it as fun. I was crushed to learn that apparently it was the Ice Age and not St. Patrick who drove the snakes out of Ireland.

  12. All the formations are result of "identical" sequential events which make the same result repeatedly

    The archipelago of Hawai'i is the result of tectonic plate sliding over the same hot spot making the series of volcanic eruptions which can make islands in the sun.

    Sunflower somites make the individual flowers over and over which are directed to form a whorl

    The snake vertebrae are the result of the same sequential events making somite after somite which in turn make the bones arranged on a long axis.

    Home run ?