As Thomasina struggles with her new geometry, there is a parallel mathematical development taking place in the play. Valentine is trying to use ideas from chaos theory to explain the rise and fall of the population of grouse on the Sidley Park Estate. He knows the data about grouse kills on the estate for the past two hundred years, and he would like to extrapolate from this to predict the populations in the future. Curiously, he is using the exact same technique that Thomasina had experimented with years before. Well, not quite. As Valentine explains, "Actually I'm doing it from the other end. She started with an equation and turned it into a graph. I've got a graph --- real data --- and I'm trying to find the equation which would give you the graph if you used it the way she used hers. Iterated it. It's how you look at population changes in biology. Goldfish in a pond, say. This year there are x goldfish. Next year there'll be y goldfish. Some get born, some get eaten by herons, whatever. Nature manipulates the x and turns it into y. Then y goldfish is your starting population for the following year. Just like Thomasina. Your value for y becomes your next value for x. The question is: what is being done to x? What is the manipulation? Whatever it is, it can be written down in mathematics. It's called an algorithm."
One of the simplest such algorithms used by population biologists is
the logistic equation given by Fk(x) = kx(1-x).
Here x represents
the population in question normalized so
that x lies between 0 and
1. The constant k is a parameter;
we would use one value of k
for grouse, another for rabbits, and a third for elephants. Given an
initial population x0 and a particular value of k, we can then
iterate Fk to find the populations in successive years. For
example, if k=1.5 and x0=0.2,
then we find in succession
Fig. 8. A time series indicating chaotic behavior.
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