This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.

Contribute Thoughts | Search Serendip for Other Papers | Serendip Home Page

Beauty,Spring 2005
Second Web Papers
On Serendip

The World Magnified: Beauty in the Eyes of a Scientist

Jaya Vasudevan

As a science major, I've always been under the notion that every scientist lives by the statement "complete objectivity in the search of truth;" however, after many discussions in class about what is beautiful and after much deliberation and brooding, I start to doubt this statement I once believed in so strongly more and more. A human being can never do anything with complete objectivity: there must be an emotional aspect of science which makes it so beautiful in the eyes of the beholder, that drives them to do what they do everyday. Although the technological advancements and discoveries of this generation are incredibly complex and have come along way at an extremely rapid rate, one cannot forget that with their creations and discoveries also came an enormous amount of failures. Despite those failures, these scientists keep coming back for more every day of their lives. What exactly are they striving for in all of their efforts? The answer is somewhat simple: each of them must be reaching for beauty within their own field of science. What is this beauty that they are reaching for? It is the deep desire to understand how and why the world works around them, and once this desire is fulfilled and another piece of the world is understood, no matter how small or insignificant a discovery, the experience must be beautiful for the scientist. Hence, this sense of understanding that comes with the discovery of truth is just one part of what a scientist defines as being beautiful to them.

After reading such a long and heavy claim, one may think about past discussions in class concerning the beauty found in art and find that the beauty in math and science almost completely contradicts it. Many have come to an unanimous decision that one's experience with a piece of art is best when it is left completely untainted (i.e., not having any knowledge about the subject matter), because such an experience with a painting will evoke raw emotions, and according to Barnes, will make the viewer appreciate the artist's style and form better. Therefore, wouldn't understanding nature's phenomena make the phenomena being interpreted much less beautiful? To the science majors that the author asked, their answer to such a question has been in most cases a resounding "no," because the beauty that is seen in a piece of art and one seen in, say, a mathematical equation, are completely different things to them. Beauty in a work of art is extremely subjective and is in the eyes of the beholder, whether the artist or the viewer; on the other hand, beauty in science are the universal truths that transcend space and time, and cannot be disputed like one's opinions towards a piece of artwork can. Also, because science holds these universal truths, and beauty found in art has no concrete universals, it is much harder to change one's opinions towards the beauty within science in comparison to beauty within a work of art. Therefore, an important difference does exist between the beauty found in art and the beauty found in science, and one must consider it to understand why scientists find beauty in the things that they do.

When talking about beauty among science majors, the idea of simplicity and the use of equations are frequently used to describe what is beautiful to them. Equations to a physicist or a mathematician are their own form of language or useful poetry, as different arrays of symbols, numbers, letters, or equations can come together elegantly to provide perfect interpretations or explanations for different phenomena of the world. A scientist's use of a formula for velocity may be as beautiful of an experience as writing The Song of the Self was for Walt Whitman. But what makes the equation so beautiful is that countless complex discoveries of the world have been able to be simplified and quantified into small little code composed of just a few numbers and symbols: as said before in class, the thought of such a feat is an absolutely magnificent thing. What makes these equations even more beautiful is that to the scientist, he/she is able to understand what each of these symbols stand for, how these equations apply to the real world, and how they are able to be linked to other equations to explain many processes within the universe; to a person with no experience with math or science, an equation may be completely and absolutely meaningless, because they have no knowledge of what those symbols and numbers stand for or represent.

A person may be incredulous towards these ideas of equations: how does the scientist know that these equations aren't completely wrong? There is no denying that an equation can be wrong, as mistakes can be seen throughout the history in all fields of sciences. In mathematics, the existence of irrational numbers, E, the imaginary number i, or pi may be very unsettling for some (including the author,) because in these cases they're numbers that can be literally extended to the earth's moon but still not cease; in fact, who is to say that the one thousandth number after the decimal point in the number pi isn't absolutely wrong, hence potentially throwing off the mathematical equations containing the number? Extremely important equations like Einstein's theory of relativity, E=MC2, may be completely wrong as well (which Einstein said he'd be sorry for God if that were the case). Although one cannot dispute these areas of ambiguity within the field of science, the applications of these numbers and equations in the world have been extremely vital and therefore the beauty within the equation is barely lost. If it wasn't for the creation or discovery of these numbers, no matter how outrageous they may seem, the fields of math and science may have come to a standstill. Besides, the mysteriousness of these numbers in a way make them more beautiful- although pi is infinite and could be false, the fact that it has worked for scientists and mathematicians since the times of the great Ancient Greek empire is truly amazing.

Finally, considering myself an amateur scientist, what better way to describe my feelings and ideas of beauty toward science than within a paper such as this one? As pre-medicine and biology student, I'm constantly told many times over that my chosen field involves only the memorization and the regurgitation of facts. Although I can't deny that such has been the case during biology exams taken throughout my college career (or throughout my experiences with biology for that matter) these fellow peers cannot look past this memorization of facts and in consequence fail to see the passion that keeps me from voraciously reading anatomy textbooks, scientific articles, or even at the early hours of the morning; in other words, they fail to see the beauty that I see and try to understand every time I educate myself in the field of biology. I feel that many of the people accusing me of going into such an "empty" profession- one that does not involve much "analytical thinking" that the humanities and social sciences provide probably do not take a good look at themselves and realize how amazing a work of art the human body is. Billions of years ago, small simple celled organisms (otherwise known as prokaryotes) survived very extreme environments and several different eras to ultimately create a feeling, thinking, function human, the most complex and developed form of life known to exist on earth. Every fact that I have to memorize and every part of the human body that I am expected to memorize is so beautiful to me, and at times I just find myself overwhelmed after realizing that trillions upon trillions of tiny little but functioning cells come together so perfectly to form this self. The idea of DNA is quite remarkable too- such a simple ladder structure can cause billions of types of variation between human beings, and separates us from simpler creatures. These ideas of simplicity and understanding the processes of life is what I find so beautiful in my own field of science, and my hope is that one day everyone will look past the memorization and reciting of facts and see this beauty too.

Even if one may still be convinced that it is hard to find beauty within science, maybe there is some hope by looking at a picture of a rainbow. Fisher describes a rainbow as being a phenomenon that occurs only for a few minutes after a rainstorm when the sun is at a certain position in the sky, as the rain is gets reflected in a certain way to form a large band of color. In the most basic terms, many environmental factors have to be in sync with one another to show such spectacular colors of the rainbow. Most importantly (i.e., what's the most beautiful about them), rainbows are a product of the human eye; a dog may look into the sky and see clouds instead of a heavenly arc of color that most humans have the good fortune of seeing. If such an amazing thought doesn't convince you that science can make an experience more beautiful, quite frankly I don't know what will.

| Course Home Page | Course Forum | Science in Culture | Serendip Home |

Send us your comments at Serendip

© by Serendip 1994- - Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 10:51:35 CDT