Letters:The reconciliation of beauty and science

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Sir: We know it's Christmas as Bryan Appleyard has come again to entertain us with his prejudices against physics. Scientific understanding stumbles forward like a blind man in strange territory, feeling the way, finding a path around obstacles, s ometimes retracing his steps. Mr Appleyard doesn't understand this; for him an idea proved wrong or incomplete is a failure, speculative theories are a fraud.

Mr Appleyard believes physicists are so often wrong they should be ignored, because he does not want to believe they are mostly right. He prefers to retreat over the centuries (not giving up his contemporary way of life) to a "flat-earth" mysticism because he feels threatened; he fears an inability to reconcile a deeper understanding of how the universe works with his perceptions of his place in that universe. So he finds comfort in an infinite, unknowable complexity which would make further attempts toadvance that understanding futile.

But, and it is his greatest loss, he seems unable to appreciate the beauty of a rose and at the same time the beauty of the principles of physics that deeply underlie its form and all the infinite variety of nature. He subtracts where he should add.

Yours faithfully, JOHN MULVEY Abingdon, Oxfordshire 22 December

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