15th November 2012, Thursday
Tembusu Common Lounge, Level 1
It is a commonplace that mathematical proofs or theorems are beautiful. Even in popular (non-expert) accounts we hear about the ‘beauty’ of a theorem, or the superior ‘elegance’ of one proof over another. An air of mystery surrounds these invocations of ‘mathematical beauty’. But such aesthetic judgments require a considerable familiarity with mathematics. In the philosophy of science and mathematics, this debate has a parallel in discussions about ‘the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences’ (to use the title of an influential paper by Nobel Prize winning mathematical physicist Eugene Wigner).
In this talk I will turn the tables and look at the considerable – yet at the same time elusive – appeal that the aesthetic dimension of mathematics has had on artists and scientists alike. My talk will contribute both to the systematic philosophical discussion and discuss specific examples from the sciences to the arts. I will also emphasise the aesthetics of formats and representations – whether material, diagrammatic or otherwise – and the reality of mathematical, artistic and scientific practice.
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