Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Every now and then I have an argument with a friend or acquaintance about mixing maths and art, logic and emotions, understanding versus feeling and so on. I tend to get upset when people try to separate these, especially when they do it very vocally and categorically. Every now and then people tell me things like: don't describe autumn and spring using sines and derivatives; music is for feeling, not understanding; once you understand something you're unable to see its beauty anymore; and so on. The last one is even described in a poem by an interesting guy called Blaga, who also wrote that heaven is lit by the flames of hell - which is both a nice image, a nice idea, nice philosophical reference and so on.

A few years ago, someone showed me how to awake feelings through music. He said that music is mathematics and showed me how the sequence and combination of certain notes evokes certain feelings. I didn't fully understand the mechanics of this, because I'm not very musically literate, but I certainly got the idea. The guy expertly confirmed something I was already suspecting.

There is beauty in mathematics. There is beauty in physics, biology, psychology, just as there is beauty in art, history or philosophy. There is a great deal of beauty in computing, and there is a lot of philosophy there also. There is a lot of philosophy in every science, and there is beauty in thought.

There is beauty in engineering. A skilled engineer can recognize an elegant solution to a problem when they see one, and that evokes certain positive feelings. Good engineers are creative. They just work on a different level, not with words and colors but with nuts, bolts and electrons.

Take the human body, or the body of any living thing for that matter. One can't start to really see its beauty until one dissects it, studies it under the microscope, studies its functioning in greater and greater detail, until finally realizing that what they see is an incredibly complicated and finely-tuned machine! That is true beauty, and it's no wonder that many feel that our bodies are the careful work of a highly skilled engineer. Some call the engineer God, some call it Evolution. This makes it even more beautiful. Some even say that God engineered humans by means of evolution.

It doesn't even matter, for our minds are too small to comprehend God if "God existed". This is a reason why beauty will never fade away, because the more things we learn, the more things pop up that have to be studied and learned. But not before being perceived, felt. Our minds are small and our souls are primitive. Cosmically, we are but ants. And there is infinite beauty in the Cosmos.

So even if we accepted that understanding destroys beauty, that wouldn't be a problem. But understanding does not destroy beauty. I understand rainbows quite well but still find them beautiful. Especially similar phenomena that happen at night when the moon is full. I understand why I see the moon the way I see it, but I still find it very beautiful. And this could go on for days.

So, saying that feelings are somehow superior to logic and rejecting mathematical beauty simply leads to ignorance. It reminds me of an age not-so-long gone, an age of witch hunting, astronomer bunrning and other stuff. You can't praise the moonlandings, the microprocessor, the Internet, modern medicine, and not accept mathematical beauty. It's not ethical, not correct, not just. There is so much joy in discovering, in understanding, and there is so much beauty in the world on so many levels! The only thing I find no beauty in is dogma.

1 comment:

etor said...

Indeed, a post for the soul. And as soul is also part of our rational being, beuaty is not about what we understand or no, but about what our deeper self understands and praises.

Beauty is about harmony and order, about coherence and cohesion. The secret of beauty lies in mathematics and in the marvelous way in which results of physical laws fit.

Beauty is about the elegance of the structure, the optimality of processes, geometry of the shape and simmetry of apparently chaotic elements.

Separating beauty from maths is impossible, as one lives thanks to the laws of the other.