Dr Eric Amidi Reviews

5.0 out of 5 stars

In this article, Dr. Eric Amidi reviews the Book “It Must Be Beautiful”. This book is a collection of 12 essays by prominent scientists. Even though experts in their fields, these scientists manage to tackle the role of beauty in scientific equations without resorting to rigorous details of theories. So science enthusiasts will have no problem understanding the contents of this book.

The overall theme of the book is about exploring the different ways that beauty has guided researchers toward great discoveries. Many pre-20th century scientists relied on experiments to discover hidden orders of the nature and derive formulas to explain them. But it became evident in 20th century modern science that pursuing beauty alone could lead to great discoveries. An example of that is Dirac’s Equation. The 25-year old Paul Dirac wrote the wave equation for electrons in 1928 only based on beauty and simplicity. His simple and beautiful equation not only turned out to match the experimental results, but also led to new discoveries in understanding of the electron spin and antimatter.

The questions that naturally come to mind are: why what’s beautiful turns out to be the right description as well? What is beauty? Why has beauty become a guiding principle in modern science?

Let’s explore this a bit further

Why Are We Attracted to Beauty?

Beauty seems to be a subjective quality and as it’s said in the eyes of the beholder. But there are quantitative measures for beauty. You can find the measure of beauty when you look for the answer of why we are attracted to beauty.

When you dig deeper into this question, you start to see evolutionary reasons for beauty. If you examine what we consider beautiful, you realize that there’s a strong correlation between beauty and health in humans. Most, if not all, of physical features that we consider appealing are signs of health as well. This can be an evolutionary bias that has helped humans choose healthier mates and thus survive as species.

What is Beauty?

Regardless of its evolutionary origins, the question of beauty and its quantitative measures remain. What is the measure of physical beauty? Studies show that there’s a strong correlation between beauty and symmetry. Almost everything that we consider beautiful entails symmetrical patterns.

The symmetry can be a reflective symmetry such as matching sides (left and right) or other physical or geometrical qualities such as color or scale. The great thing about symmetry is that it can be quantified and formulated.

Symmetry in mathematics is quantified extensively. In fact, application of many consequences of symmetry has been the basis of advancement in many fields in science including quantum physics and solid-state physics, which is the foundation of the electronic devices that we use on daily basis.

It was Emmy Noether who beautifully showed how symmetry is the reason behind the conservation laws in nature like conservation of energy, momentum, etc. Many discoveries in science such Gauge Theories in Particle Physics would have been virtually impossible without Noether’s theorem.

You might find it interesting that it can be shown mathematically that symmetric systems are more stable and lasting. Can you see how health, beauty, and symmetry are all correlated.

But, let’s dig even deeper…

The Origins of Symmetry

Antoine de Saint-Exupery once said:

A Designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

We often hear “less is more”, which alludes to the fact that simplicity accomplishes more. We also know intuitively that simple is beautiful. But there is a mathematical reason behind simplicity and symmetry. Simple configurations are more stable, have higher Entropy, and are more symmetric.

This leads us to answer for the other question that was posed earlier: Why is it that discoveries in modern science seem to benefit more from beauty?

Modern Science

As scientist extended their explorations, naturally focus turned from mundane macroscopic phenomena to microscopic, atomic, and subatomic level. The deeper you dig in search for fundamental principles of the nature, the fewer elements you will find. After all, you are in search of the building blocks of the nature. So ideally you are looking for few building blocks with simple rules that when applied can explain complicated phenomena.

In fact, the Holy Grail of science is to find few simple building block that can explain everything aka the Theory of Everything.

Since the modern science in effect searches for this Holy Grail based on simplicity, it’s no surprise that more and more it relies on beauty as a guiding principle.

Although comical when meaning of life in the famous satirical novel of “Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy” turns out to be very simple and mathematical in nature, it’s not far from the truth that, similarly, the ultimate theory of everything could be laughably simple or even an obvious equation.

One of the essays of the book points out to an interesting fact that most of the giants in science had great appreciation for the beauty in art and music, sometimes with greater enthusiasm than they did for science.

Anyone who’s been lucky enough to study and understand special and general theories relativity cannot deny their awe inspiring simplicity and beauty.

Overall this book is a great read for those science enthusiasts who are curious about how discoveries happen rather than learning about them. When you read books such as this, you begin to realize something that is far greater than the scientific theories themselves. You realize that scientific models of nature say more about humans’ thought process than the nature it tries to explain. After all, nature is not bound to follow any rules and laws. It is us who try to mold natures’ behavior into our way of thinking. So it’s not surprising that we look for beauty in such laws. Could it be good’ole projection? May be what we’ve been searching for in the outside world is mere reflection of ourselves in the mirror.

What do you think? Rate and write a review below

Simple is the best

January 14, 2019

Simple solutions are the best ones. Genius is in simplicity.


Science is beautiful

December 17, 2018

I love science. The universe is so beautiful. We have the responsibiliy to care about the earth and keep it clean and beautiful.

Nick J