Rajesh Kumar

Optimizing life, one day after the next

Mathematical Beauty

25 Nov 2005

Do you believe in the theories that equate mathematics and beauty? Why or why not? What are the implications of your judgement?

"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." Cliché, yes; but it has never been more true. Beauty, even today, is purely subjective and interpretations vary vastly from person to person, region to region, and era to era. The Taj Mahal, truly one of the most exquisite pieces of architectural ingenuity in the history of the world is considered "beautiful" by tourists who come flocking to the city of Agra to catch a glimpse of this magnificent phenomenon, and yet this beauty evokes a sense of dejection and mournfulness to those who know its deep-rooted history where it should have brought good-humoured feelings and reminiscences. Mathematics, in its truest form, is a very elaborate yet accurate description of a precise set of rules and regulations that objects around us adhere to. An "elegant theorem" is thus neither too far off nor too abstract to perceive and comprehend. There can be universally "sexy" derivations or hypotheses (Riemann's and l'Hôpital's), and at the same time nasty-looking fractals too. This quantification of beauty in mathematics is, for the most part, unambiguously agreed upon within the scientific community, although its necessitation is suspicious. What then is to be said about the popular theories that inadvertently equate mathematics and beauty? The golden ratio, I assert, is a fluke of kinds where one mistakenly twists the very definitions of beauty and mathematics. One runs into a steep slippery slope of sorts when making such an all-encompassing claim. All beautiful people may indeed follow the golden ratio, just as the seemingly random beauty of our palms follow rigid patterns; however, not all people who follow the golden ratio are beautiful. And of course, people whose android ratios aren't golden can be beautiful too.

In making this judgement, I imply that 'mathematical beauty' and 'beauty beauty' are neither interconnected nor symbiotic. Facial beauty, for instance, does not follow any established norms. Mere measurements, ratios and calculations aren't capable of affirming an object's or person's beauty. To sum it all up in an aphorism: math can be beauty, but beauty not math. If it were, we would be facing the unfortunate consequence of having to consider people with triangular- or hexagonal-shaped faces "beautiful".

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