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
Ebola outbreak: Why has a disease that's only ever killed 2,000 people captivated the darkest side of our imagination?
Top 10 countries for cosmetic surgery revealed as figures show rising demand for penis enlargements and other procedures
Ebola virus: UK health officials issue warning to doctors as experts admit the outbreak 'is not under control'
Topless sunbathing is no longer 'du jour' in France
Gamers still hear gunfire, screams and falling coins days after playing, study finds
The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
Woman and two children killed by mob in riots over 'blasphemous' Facebook post in Pakistan
A day in the life of Vladimir Putin: The dictator in his labyrinth
Putin is 'thuggish, dishonest and reckless', says British ambassador to US
Richard Dawkins tweets: 'Date rape is bad, stranger rape is worse'
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – Britain as others see us
- 1 Disney heiress Abigail disowns her share of family profits in West Bank company
- 2 The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
- 3 'Women should not laugh in public,' says Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister in morality speech
- 4 Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire
- 5 HSBC closes bank accounts belonging to Muslim clients in the UK
- < Previous
- Next >
iJobs Gadgets & Tech
£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...
£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: This is an exce...
£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A fantastic new...
£50000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A leading softw...