Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Science is (or should be) beautiful

I have never heard someone say "I don't know much about science but I know what I like."
Is science art? Can scientific knowledge be beautiful? Are some theories more beautiful than others?

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar was one of the most influential astrophysicists of the twentieth century. He received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1983. Recently Physics Today devoted a whole issue to him, marking the centenary of his birth. They reprinted a 1979 article he wrote, Beauty and the quest for beauty in science. The abstract is:
Science, like the arts, admits aesthetic criteria; we seek theories that display "a proper conformity of the parts to one another and to the whole" while still showing "some strangeness in their proportion.".
[This article is also included in a book of essays entitled, Truth and Beauty: Aesthetics and Motivations in Science].

An interesting exploration of these ideas is Physics and Christian Theology: Beauty, a Common Dialect? by Tracee Hackel.

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