Movies like Goodwill Hunting and A Beautiful Mind have helped us all to appreciate the beauty of mathematics in a similar way to art. New research by University College London shows that this might not just be due to good cinematography, but because our brains actually do respond to beautiful equations in the same way that they respond to great paintings or masterful music.
The study involved giving 15 mathematicians 60 different formula to assess, while measuring their brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The result? This was rated the most beautiful equation:
And this, the most ugly:
Interestingly, when you look at them it isn't hard for those of us who are not mathematicians to see why. The former explains complex elements within a simple framework. The latter is long and messy.
The fMRI results show that the medial orbito-frontal cortex region of the brain increases in activity in response to pleasing equations. This is the very same area of the brain that fires when people see or hear an appealing work of art such as a Mozart, Shakespeare or Van Gogh. So it seems that the brain appreciates all beauty in the same way, no matter what form it comes in.
The beauty of math: If you're still not convinced that equations can be as beautiful as other forms of art, you might want to check out this stunning video that Yann Pineill & Nicolas Lefaucheux have put together. The film presents everyday events as described by math, and shows an equation on the left, a diagram in the middle, and real-life version on the right.
Although some artistic liberties are taken and not everything here represents perfect science, the piece brilliantly achieves its goal of showing people that "mathematics aren’t that abstract useless concept that we often find it to be when we study it at school,” Pineill told Fast Co.Design. “It’s an awesome universal language that is the foundation of every science and thus the tool to understand fully every single thing around us.”
These math vignettes will make your jaw drop:
There can be no doubts — math is indisputably beautiful! It's well worth checking out the full screen video over at Parachutes. Hopefully works like these will inspire many more to pursue important careers in STEM.
Mathematics, rightly viewed,
possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty
- Bertrand Russell