Study shows that the brain reacts to beautiful mathematics in the same way as great art
Formulas were also ranked by their beauty, with the greatest compared to a soliloquy by Hamlet
Thursday 13 February 2014
The brain responds to mathematical beauty in the same way that it does to music and art, according to new research conducted by a team from University College London.
After analysing the reactions of 15 mathematicians to formulae through brain imaging, researchers found that the brain reacts similarly to seeing a beautiful equation as it does to magnificent art or music.
“When one looks at a formula rated as beautiful it activates the emotional brain - the medial orbito-frontal cortex - like looking at a great painting or listening to a piece of music,” said Professor Semir Zeki, lead author of the paper.
Professor Zeki, from the Wellcome Laboratory of Neuriobiology at UCL, added: “To many of us mathematical formulae appear dry and inaccessible but to a mathematician an equation can embody the quintescence of beauty."
One mathematician reported feeling “a shiver of appreciation” when seeing a beautiful equation. Another said that viewing an equation was similar to “hearing a beautiful piece of music, or seeing a particularly appealing painting”.
As part of the study, the mathematicians also ranked 60 different formulae as either ‘beautiful’, ‘ugly’, or ‘indifferent’. According to this ranking the most beautiful formula is Euler’s identity, which was deemed so aesthetically pleasing that it was compared to one of Hamlet's soliloquies.
Euler's identity is expressed as and is notable for combining the fields of geometry and algebra by using five funadmental mathmatical constants and three of the basic arithmetic operations. The latter trio are addition, multiplication and exponation, and the former quintet are e and π (both are transcendental numbers), i (the 'imaginary number), 0 and 1.
And for non-mathematicians hoping for a more accessible example, Pythagoras' theorem was also ranked highly. This formula () is used to work out the sides of a right-angled triangle and is often expressed as the statement 'the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides'.
Perhaps it is for this reason that the philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell declared that the discipline was "capable of an artistic excellence as great as that of any music, perhaps greater":
"[Mathematics] gives in absolute perfection that combination, characteristic of great art, of godlike freedom, with the sense of inevitable destiny; because, in fact, it constructs an ideal world where everything is perfect but true," wrote Russel in his 1967 autobiography.
This study appears in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience
Life & Style blogs
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?
Black Friday: Best beauty deals
Coke milk? Coca-Cola to launch premium milk brand called Fairlife
Black Friday: best UK tech deals on iPads, Macs, PS4 and more
Black Friday: From Bicester Village to Amazon, best fashion deals
Obama: The only people with the right to object to immigration are Native Americans
Ukip says babies born to immigrants in the UK should be classed as migrants – which would include Nigel Farage’s own children
The young are the new poor: Sharp increase in number of under-25s living in poverty, while over-65s are better off than ever
Ukip mocked after mistaking Westminster Cathedral – for a mosque
Tamir Rice: 12-year-old boy playing with fake gun dies after being shot by Ohio police
David Cameron sets out immigration reforms: We should distrust Ukip and their 'snake-oil of simple solutions'
- 1 Jennifer Lawrence scores first UK top 40 single with Hunger Games track 'The Hanging Tree'
- 2 Shia LaBeouf claims he was raped during #IAMSORRY art installation performance
- 3 'You should come to my house and eat cheeses with me': 4-year-old sends adorable love letter to girl at school
- 4 Scientists predict green energy revolution after incredible new graphene discoveries
- 5 Michael Buerk wishes he killed Jimmy Savile when he had the chance - by pushing him overboard a cruise ship
iJobs Gadgets & Tech
£50k - 60k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We have an exciting Seni...
£50k - 70k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We have an exciting Seni...
£32000 - £34000 per annum + Uncapped OTE £65,000 : h2 Recruit Ltd: Looking for...
£28000 - £31000 per annum + Bonus + Progression: h2 Recruit Ltd: Are you looki...