The Beauty of Mathematics

The New York Times has a great article asking the question "What Makes an Equation Beautiful" (NB ID and password required.) The NY Times picked up on an article from Physics World where Robert P. Crease surveyed the readers of Physics World asking the question what are The Greatest Equations Ever (NB No id required for this article) and the winner is below:

The runners up are displayed on the left. The NY Times article shows why this is important in the following quote "The wonder of mathematics is that it captures precisely in a few symbols what can only be described clumsily with many words. Those symbols, strung together in meaningful order, make equations - which in turn constitute the world's most concise and reliable body of knowledge." One of the great philosophical questions is 'Why does mathematics so accurately describe the world?' I utilize the mathematics of Little's Law in performance and capacity studies and its simple explanation of complex phenomena is amazing.

Physicist and Nobel laureate Richard Feynman once remarked "you can recognize truth by its beauty and simplicity." Werner Heisenberg, one of the developers of the theory of quantum mechanics, wrote that the truth of his theory "was immediately found convincing by virtue of its completeness and abstract beauty." When thinking about the why questions of mathematics philosophically, I am forced to conclude that they are a powerful apologetic or argument for the existence of God, the creator and designer of the universe. Johannes Kepler thought of his scientific labors on planetary motion as "thinking God's thoughts after him."

One of the books that has influenced my thinking in this area is The Evidential Power of Beauty: Science and Theology Meet by Thomas Dubay. It is the source of some of the quotes above. Highly recommended. Check it out.

Graphics courtesy of the New York Times who cleaned up the tables in Physics Review. I did not shrink them because of font problems when trying to make them smaller.

Comments:

A link to the NYT article that doesn't need registration is available.

Courtesy of the New York Times Link Generator.

Posted by David Magda on tetor 24, 2004 at 07:53 PD PDT #

Here's another interesting book: It Must Be Beautiful: Great Equations of Modern Science. Edited by Graham Farmelo. Published by Granta, 2003 Here is the listing at Powells Books
I believe that in a popular lecture, Sir Arthur Eddington showed the first equation and declared that this proved the existence of a God. (He may have been joking, of course.)

Posted by Richard Friedman on tetor 25, 2004 at 08:56 PD PDT #

Fondly reminds me of the years I spent (years ago) studying this stuff . . . Thank you.

Posted by M. Mortazavi on tetor 25, 2004 at 09:02 PD PDT #

Indeed, Euler's is the greatest equation. I can remember sleepily sitting through my math class, only to be bolted awake by this revelation.

Posted by Kevin on tetor 27, 2004 at 01:40 MD PDT #

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