The Guiding Power of Beauty in Science

Abstract

  • Our physical universe is permeated with beauty.

  • The presence of such beauty appears to be an objective reality, rather than a subjective artifact of our minds.

  • The objective existence of such beauty in our Universe (and the reality of its Guiding Power in Science) points to the existence of an intelligent designer who values beauty, rather than pointing to an atheistic random-chance process (that would be indifferent to beauty) that created our universe.

The Guiding Power of Beauty
  • Our physical universe is permeated with beauty.

  • We see beauty at all levels of magnitude within our universe, down to atoms (angstrom-scale) and molecules (nano-scale), up to snowflakes (mini-scale) and butterflies (midi-scale) and mountains (mega-scale), up to stars, galaxies, and above (ultralarge-scale).

  • Within science, I find that there is a VERY REAL phenomenon, that we can call the “guiding power of beauty”, both in mathematics and in scientific theories.
    • Note: we could call this the “predictive power” of beauty, but we would have to clarify that this predictive power is more a “guiding power” or a “probabilistic predictive power” rather than a “deterministic strong predictive power”.

  • Many world-class scientists have experienced this guiding power of beauty as they practiced science, set up hypotheses, developed theories, and so forth.

  • I have come across this concept ("beauty as a guiding force in Science") on multiple occasions, at grad-school, and through reading in science, and through conversations with scientists.

Rejecting Solipsism
  • It appears rational and reasonable to believe that science is the discovery of what is “really out there in physical reality”…

  • Furthermore, it appears rational and reasonable to reject notions of solipsism (i.e., to reject the notion that you are a brain floating in a chemical vat, imagining this entire physical universe).

  • And so, when we find that a principle like the “guiding power of beauty” appears to work again and again (in science), this is indication that there truth to the concept that there REALLY is a quality of beauty that objectively exists out there in much of physical reality (and that this beauty is not merely an artificial construct of our minds that is a projection of something fictitious “that really doesn’t exist” onto the universe – i.e., using pink glasses to see pink in the universe when there really is NO pink out there in the universe).

  • So, the “guiding power of beauty” in science indicates that there exists an objective “quality of beauty” in our physical universe, irrespective of the presence of any human observers.

  • This existence of this “quality of beauty” in the universe, is more consistent with (or to be naturally expected from) the intelligent-designer hypothesis (for the origin and apparent design of our universe) rather than the atheistic random-chance hypothesis.

  • Therefore, the existence of this beauty appears to be one more pointer towards Theism (i.e., a pointer to the existence of God).

The guiding power of Beauty in Science
  • As I have mentioned above, many world-class scientists have experienced this “guiding power of beauty” in science, as they attempt to understand physical reality.

  • I will provide some quotes below from scientists and science writers to support my statement above. I find that sometimes such individuals use the term “beauty”, but many use other words to express what I believe is the same concept… words such as “elegance”, “pretty”, and others as we will see below…

  • Note: Some of these quotes are more explicit, others have this concept more implicitly, and others make statements with which the concept is consistent.

The guiding power of beauty in Science (relevant quotes & comments)
  • Nobel prize winning physicist, Richard Feynman, known for his work in quantum electrodynamics: (speaking about science and truth in scientific theories)… “you can recognize truth by its beauty and simplicity”, for example, in, The New Story of Science, by Robert Augros and George Stanciu, 1984, page 39.

  • Reference to the “breathtaking beauty of the universe” (and variants on this)… source: conversations with many scientists. Personally, I think this “breathtaking beauty of the universe” was what led me to become so deeply interested in science.

  • Biologists expressing admiration for the awesome splendors (or beauty) of the biological world… source: communication in person, many biological texts.

  • Acknowledgment of the apparent design of the biological world (possibly based on these awesome splendors)… source: many biology books.

  • Robert Augros, George Stanciu (appear to be science writers)… “all of the most eminent physicists of the twentieth century agree that beauty is the primary standard for scientific truth” … in The New Story of Science, by Robert Augros and George Stanciu, 1984, page 39.

  • Einstein’s Theory of Gravity: In Science, one trait of beauty is an elegant simplicity… Einstein’s theory of gravity possesses this grace and propriety, whereas competing theories do not and so they are not taken seriously. (Thomas Dubay, appears to be a science/theology writer)

  • Mathematician (and astrophysicist/cosmologist?) Roger Penrose comments on Einstein’s theory of general relativity, that it is scientifically accepted as “true” in part because, “no rival theory comes close to general relativity in elegance or simplicity of assumption” (cited in Black Holes, in The State of the Universe, ed. Geoffrey Bath, 1980, page 128).

  • Mathematical physicist Henri Poincare comments (speaking of science) “it is because simplicity and vastness are both beautiful that we seek by preference simple facts and vast facts”. (in Science and Method, 1949, page 167).

  • One of the elements of beauty is harmony (e.g., many different voices or instruments contributing to a beautiful whole, as in a symphony orchestra). With this in mind…

  • Albert Einstein: “without belief in the inner harmony of the world there could be no science” (Albert Einstein and Leopold Infield, The Evolution of Physics, 1938, page 313)

  • A strong (dare I say beautiful) scientific theory “will harmonize many previously unrelated facts” (in The New Story of Science, by Robert Augros and George Stanciu, 1984, page 39.)

  • Science, like metaphysics, sees the universe saturated with beauty. (Thomas Dubay – appears to be a science/theology writer)

  • Another aspect of beauty is “proportion” and “symmetry”.

  • Werner Heisenberg (quantum physicist, discoverer of Uncertainty Principle in Quantum Mechanics) comments, “the symmetry properties always constitute the most essential features of a theory” (in, Across the Frontier, 1974, page 167).

  • Another aspect of beauty is brilliance. Personally, I see this as a certain quality of intelligent new insight that is clear and not muddied, and combined with a sense of novelty and wonder….

  • Speaking in the context of such brilliance… “a theory with this quality has great clarity in itself and sheds light on many other things” (in The New Story of Science, by Robert Augros and George Stanciu, 1984, page 44.)

  • Another aspect of beauty, is an underlying unity, a underlying theme that reveals itself with beautiful novel variations (e.g., so many “variations on a theme” in classical music, where there is an underlying theme, and the theme keeps reappearing in the form of variations. A lot of really beautiful classical music has this quality).

  • We see the same quality of “beauty” in the physical universe (variations on a theme: snowflakes – millions of variations on a basic theme resulting in great beauty; similarly flowers, butterflies, galaxies, crystals, crystal atomic arrangements etc). And we see the same quality of beauty in spiritual reality as well (but that is a different topic of discussion).

  • And we see the same quality of “beauty” in science …

  • Sir George Thomason (appears to be a scientist, as far as I can tell): “in physics as in mathematics, it is a great beauty if a theory can bring together apparently different phenomena and show that they are closely connected; or even different aspects of the same thing” (in The Inspiration of Science, Oxford University Press, 1961, page 18).

  • Another aspect of beauty is comprehensibility, and furthermore, comprehensibility at a hierarchy of levels. I experience this aspect of beauty when I listen to various kinds of music and when I see beauty in the physical universe…

  • And we see the same “quality” of beauty in science.

  • Einstein, for instance, marveled at the amazing comprehensibility of the universe as continually found in science (I have to find the quote).

  • Nobel prize winner, James Watson (co-discoverer of the molecular structure of the DNA double helix) speaks of how beauty guided him and his co-workers Crick and Wilkins in their search for the structure of DNA… they, and other scientific groups, had tried various structures for DNA which didn’t work… and then Watson (and co-workers) hit on the idea of the double Helix … and Watson says “so we had lunch, telling each other that a structure this pretty just had to exist”. And they went on to match this beautiful mathematical structure/ molecular structure to X-ray data, and found they matched. (in The Double Helix, 1968, page 131).

  • A scientific genius, Werner Heisenberg, founder of Quantum Mechanics writes that the truth of his theory (in the scientific community) “was immediately found convincing by virtue of its completeness and abstract beauty”. (in, Across the Frontier, 1974, page 183).

  • Werner Heisenberg, again, makes the remark that beauty “in exact science, no less than in the arts… is the most important source of illumination and clarity”. (in, Across the Frontier, 1974, page 183).

  • Augros & Stanciu conclude that “beauty is so central a standard in physics that it takes primacy even over experiment” (in The New Story of Science, by Robert Augros and George Stanciu, 1984, page 40.)

  • Nobel Laureate Paul Dirac (scientist who worked on Quantum Mechanics and Relativity) comments: “It is more important to have beauty in one’s equations than to have them fit experiment.” (in The New Story of Science, by Robert Augros and George Stanciu, 1984, page 40.)

  • Physicist Murray Gell-Mann (worked with weak interactions in physics) comments: “Frequently a theorist will throw out a lot of data on the grounds that if they don’t fit an elegant scheme, they’re wrong. That’s happened to me many times”. He goes on to mention that many times because of the elegance (dare I say “beauty”) of a physics hypothesis/ scheme, theorists would throw out experimental data that didn’t fit the scheme, and on many occasions, later experiments showed that he was (or they were) right to throw out the earlier experimental data (even from other scientists)… And note, that the theoretical scientist’s decision to throw out the experimental data was based on the “elegance” (I might say “beauty) of the hypothesis / scheme.

  • Note: This example above is indeed (to my mind) indication that “beauty” does have guiding power in science (and ultimately I find this to be more consistent with, or to be expected from, an intelligent-design Theistic hypothesis of reality, rather than the random-chance atheistic hypothesis).

  • Here is another statement (which I had mentioned earlier) from a scientist where the statement is consistent with physicist Gell-Mann’s experience… Nobel prize winning physicist, Richard Feynman, known for his work in quantum electrodynamics: (speaking about science and truth in scientific theories)… “you can recognize truth by its beauty and simplicity”, for example, in, The New Story of Science, by Robert Augros and George Stanciu, 1984, page 39.

  • Coming back to physicist Murray Gell-Mann, he mentions a time when he (and possibly other theorists) came up with an elegant (read “beautiful”) scheme in theory of weak interactions… and there were nine experiments that contradicted the elegant (read “beautiful”) scheme… and the theoreticians threw out the experimental evidence because the scheme was elegant (read “beautiful”)… and ultimately, later, the results of those nine experiments were found to be wrong.

  • That (above) was an example of “beauty” being right, and experiment being wrong because it didn’t match “beauty”… I have come across the reality of this concept before in science (but had not spent the time to document it).

Beauty as a pointer to Truth
  • It appears that beauty is a powerful pointer to truth.

A Cosmic artist at work
  • It appears that beauty is a powerful pointer to truth, in part, because our common sense perceives design and intellect in the presence of beauty.

  • A cosmic artist is at work and has been at work in our universe.

  • This cosmic artist created the laws of physics, and appears to be a pure “mathematician”. (K.C. Cole, quoting Sir James Jeans, The Universe and the Teacup: The Mathematics of Truth and beauty, 1997, page 10).

  • His intelligence is so superior, according to Einstein, that in comparison “all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection”. (Fred Heeren, quoting Albert Einstein, Cosmic Pursuit, 1998, page 5)

Bottom Line
  • The existence of this “guiding power of beauty” in science indicates that there exists an objective “quality of beauty” in our physical universe, irrespective of the presence of any human observers .

  • This existence of the “guiding power of beauty” in science and the “quality of beauty” in the universe, is more consistent with (or to be reasonably expected from) the intelligent-designer hypothesis (for the origin and apparent design of our universe) rather than the atheistic random-chance hypothesis for the creation of our universe.

  • This (above) appears to be one more pointer towards Theism (i.e., the evidence suggests that there is a God, a SuperMind who created the physical universe).

Postscript
  • As I have mentioned elsewhere, it was the accumulation of many such pointers that contributed to my growing disillusionment with Atheism, intellectual recognition of the reasonableness of Theism, and ultimate intellectual conversion (paradigm change) to Theism.

Grace and Peace to you
  • Wishing you Peace and Joy through Jesus Christ.