“On the Origin of Hexagons”

A sneak peak at a script for Expository Speaking, an event in Speech and Debate

On the Origin of Hexagons

Charles Darwin: wrote Origin of Species, had the theory of evolution, studied tortoises and pigeons on the galapagos islands. Right? Everyone knows that about him. What’s less well known is that he was entirely stumped… by bees. He couldn’t understand how bees knew how to make honeycomb in the shape of hexagons, which are geometrically the best shape to store the most honey in the least amount of wasted space. Bees had somehow known that circles and squares and other basic shapes wouldn’t make the cut and gone straight to making hexagons. Darwin had written letters about this in the 1830s saying, and I’m paraphrasing here, How in the world do bees know how to do geometry? I mean, I can barely do geometry and bees are making 6 sided polygons on the fly without a math tutor? And okay, the direct quote was more like ‘how do bees instinctively make honeycomb “absolutely perfect in economising labour and wax”, but either way, there’s a reason his book wasn’t called On the Origin of Hexagons


But, maybe that’s a book someone should write. Because hexagons are actually everywhere, and they’re really underappreciated. So, now, for those who wonder what all the buzz is about, let’s find natural examples of this 6 sided 6 pointed shape, see the spiritual side of hexagons, and finally, get to the point (or maybe the 6 of them) of its practical value in today’s world. 


Hexagons, as unnatural as they seemed in geometry class, are actually found all over nature. Bees aren’t the only ones with eyes for hexagons – flies literally have hexagonal eyes. Flies  have compound eyes, which are made up of many tiny hexagonal prisms that help spot fast moving objects. But even the human eye contains dozens of cones placed together like hexagons to help with sharp vision capture. Funnily enough, hexagons are also the designs of most tortoise shells, which I’m sure Darwin appreciated when he gave up on bees to study galapagos tortoises. but that’s BEEside the point.


But BEEyond what the eye can see, hexagons are a fundamental part of nature. The 6 interior angles are all 120 degrees, which happens to be one of the most stable arrangements in chemistry. As a result, all snowflakes have hexagons as their bases, and bubbles, which are, of course, spheres, try to become hexagons by clumping together with other bubbles. Even our DNA: the chemical bonds on our helix strands form hexagons. 


And it BEEgins to seem reasonable for hexagons to take on a deeper spiritual meaning. In fact, a friend of Darwin, William Kirby, even called bees “Heaven-instructed mathematicians.” And don’t just take his word for it: religion has a history of using hexagons too. In Buddhism, it’s used to symbolize stability and a whole sense of self. And in Islam its one of it’s main forms of expression. Islamic Mosques utilize elaborate geometric architecture like circles arranged hexagonally to symbolize ideas of heaven and perfection. Christianity likewise uses it in the designs of their cathedrals and mosaics, and it’s also seen in the Star of David. The hexagon has undeniably taken shape in a spiritual context, no matter what you BEElieve in. 


With hexagons at the very foundation of chemistry and nature – and, who knows, maybe more –   it has incredible potential. As a 2D shape with stable interior angles, it’s efficient, sturdy, and flexible. The potential for hexagons goes beyond honeycomb. It has more flexibility in its base than any other shape, making it better for things like lining rockets, which need to be strong but lightweight. It’s incredibly stable, which makes it perfect for building both reliable and unique architecture, and it could completely upgrade how our infrastructure and our city grids are designed. It’s efficient in its area ratio, which makes it useful in storage and also for technology involved with chemical absorption like solar panels.  


So Darwin was stumped by the ingenuity of bees. Reasonably – because why hasn’t humanity given hexagons more credit? They are everywhere, from the very bonds of our DNA to our spiritual beliefs, and they have incredible potential to move society forward. Hexagons are a critical step in the right direction if we want to understand the natural world around us – after all, they play a huge part in it. Down to their very core, hexagons have the ability to make incredible things. It’s not rocket science – I mean, it is, and it can be. But hexagons are everywhere. You better BEElieve it. 


Entertained by what you read? This is the script of an Expository Debate Speech that reached the final rounds of NSDA Nationals for the 2021-2022 season. Speak to Mr. Vincent to get involved, or check out livestreams of other final speeches at NSDA.org.