Artists as well as scientists throughout humanhistory have pondered this beautiful question. With Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek as your guide, embark on a voyage of related discoveries, fromPlato and Pythagoras up to the present. Read more...
Artists as well as scientists throughout humanhistory have pondered this beautiful question. With Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek as your guide, embark on a voyage of related discoveries, fromPlato and Pythagoras up to the present. Wilczek sgroundbreaking work in quantum physics wasinspired by his intuition to look for a deeper orderof beauty in nature. In fact, every major advancein his career came from this intuition: to assumethat the universe embodies beautiful forms, formswhose hallmarks are symmetry harmony, balance, proportion and economy. There areother meanings of beauty, but this is the deeplogic of the universe and it is no accident thatit is also at the heart of what we find aestheticallypleasing and inspiring.
Wilczek is hardly alone among great scientistsin charting his course using beauty as his compass.As he reveals in A Beautiful Question, this has beenthe heart of scientific pursuit from Pythagoras, theancient Greek who was the first to argue that allthings are number, to Galileo, Newton, Maxwell, Einstein, and into the deep waters of twentiethcenturyphysics. Though the ancients weren tright about everything, their ardent belief in themusic of the spheres has proved true down to thequantum level. Indeed, Wilczek explores just howintertwined our ideas about beauty and art are withour scientific understanding of the cosmos.
Wilczek brings us right to the edge of knowledgetoday, where the core insights of even the craziestquantum ideas apply principles we all understand.The equations for atoms and light are almostliterally the same equations that govern musicalinstruments and sound; the subatomic particlesthat are responsible for most of our mass aredetermined by simple geometric symmetries. Theuniverse itself, suggests Wilczek, seems to want toembody beautiful and elegant forms. Perhaps thisforce is the pure elegance of numbers, perhaps thework of a higher being, or somewhere between.Either way, we don t depart from the infinite andinfinitesimal after all; we re profoundly connectedto them, and we connect them. When we find thatour sense of beauty is realized in the physical world, we are discovering something about the world, butalso something about ourselves.
Gorgeously illustrated, A Beautiful Question is amind-shifting book that braids the age-old questfor beauty and the age-old quest for truth into athrilling synthesis. It is a dazzling and importantwork from one of our best thinkers, whose humorand infectious sense of wonder animate every page.Yes: The world is a work of art, and its deepesttruths are ones we already feel, as if they weresomehow written in our souls."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-05-04
- Reviewer: Staff
Wilczek (The Lightness of Being), winner of the 2004 Nobel Prize for Physics, longs to find a unified field theory that would include science, art, philosophy, and all the secret corners of nature. In looking for this theory, he asks, “Is the world a work of art?” Or, alternately, “Does the world embody beautiful ideas?” Wilczek aptly dubs his intellectual voyage a “meditation,” as it wanders and leaps among historical figures, times, and concepts. His rhapsodic explanations of the development of science—especially the study of light, music, and subatomic particles—feature examples of visual art that elucidate his themes. However, Wilczek’s ubiquitous parenthetical comments, meant to trace his meandering thoughts, may confuse or irritate the reader. Pronouncements such as “gravitons are the avatars of general covariance” and “the contrast between substance and force particles—fermions and bosons—is very stark” seem self-evident to Wilczek but are liable to remain puzzling to nonphysicist readers, despite the inclusion of a glossary. Wilczek equates beauty with symmetry and conflates art with aesthetics: for him, beauty is quantifiable, not subjective. Wilczek’s enthusiasm is undeniable, but his execution is flawed. Illus. (July)