T6.JPG Many have written of the experience of mathematical beauty as being comparable to that derived from the greatest art. This makes it interesting to learn whether the experience of beauty derived from such a highly intellectual and abstract source as mathematics correlates with activity in the same part of the emotional brain as that derived from more sensory, perceptually based, sources. To determine this, the researchers (Semir Zeki, John Paul Romaya, Dionigi M. T. Benincasa and Michael F. Atiyah) used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to image the activity in the brains of 15 mathematicians when they viewed mathematical formulae which they had individually rated as beautiful, indifferent or ugly. Results showed that the experience of mathematical beauty correlates parametrically with activity in the same part of the emotional brain, namely field A1 of the medial orbito-frontal cortex (mOFC), as the experience of beauty derived from other sources.  The formula most consistently rated as beautiful (average rating of 0.8667), both before and during the scans, was Leonhard Euler’s identity.  The formula links 5 fundamental mathematical constants with three basic arithmetic operations, each occurring once as e^(iπ) + 1 = 0.  As precisely said by Bertrand Russell, Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty.   The beauty of mathematical formulations lies in abstracting, in simple equations, truths that have universal validity.  If the experience of mathematical beauty is not strictly related to understanding (of the equations), what can the source of mathematical beauty be? That is perhaps more difficult to account for in mathematics than in visual art or music. Whereas the source for the latter can be accounted for, at least theoretically, by preferred harmonies in nature or preferred distribution of forms or colors, it is more difficult to make such a correspondence in mathematics. The Platonic tradition would emphasize that mathematical formulations are experienced as beautiful because they give insights into the fundamental structure of the universe.

 

http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fnhum.2014.00068/full

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