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Monday, September 19, 2005

Beauty: Some Thoughts (by others)

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,--that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know." - John Keats, "Ode on a Grecian Urn."

What is it about nature that lets this happen, that it is possible to guess from one part what the rest is going to do? That is an unscientific question: I do not know how to answer it, and therefore I am going to give an unscientific answer. I think it is because nature has a simplicity and therefore a great beauty. Richard Feynman, "Seeking New Laws," pp. 143-167, in Richard Feynman, The Character of Physical Law, New York: Modern Library, 1994. Quote is from p. 167.

The world, you might argue, does not need yet another subatomic particle. But even particle physics has not been about particles for a long time, physicists say. Rather it is about the relationships between particles, the symmetries that nature seems to respect, in short, about the beauty that physical laws seem to embody. Dennis Overbye, "After Triumph and Disillusionment, Wonder Re-enters the Story," New York Times, July 27, 2004

It is, indeed, an incredible fact that what the human mind, at its deepest and most profound, perceives as beautiful finds its realization in external nature. S. Chandrasekar, "Beauty and the quest for beauty in science," Physics Today, July, 1979, pp. 25-30, p. 28.

Thus, the perception of the world's beauty as a reflection of God's glory is incomplete without the awareness that underlying the beauty and wonder of earthly nature is the omnipresent, restless operation of electromagnetic phenomena. These phenomena can be seen as a reflection, an analogue, of God's indwelling. This very thought, in itself, possesses an inherent aesthetic value.

Moreover, the appreciation of the beauty that the EMI [Electromagnetic Interaction] contributes to nature is wanting without the realization that the mathematical equations that describe the EMI have a timeless beauty. The elegant symmetry of Maxwell's equations and the inspired simplicity of Dirac's equation bestow an abiding aesthetic flavor to the texture of the microscopic underworld. Dirac and Heisenberg among many other theoretical physicists have throughout their careers expressed how they have been guided by the criteria of beauty and simplicity in their work. - Lawrence W. Fagg, Electromagnetism and the Sacred: At the Frontier of Spirit and Matter (New York: Continuum, 1999) p. 120.

Beauty slips through the scientist's net. You could take a performance of Bach's Mass in B Minor and Fourier analyze the pattern of sound . . . but by those means you would never come to appreciate what it is all about. An exhaustive chemical analysis of the pigments of a Rembrandt self-portrait would miss the point of the picture. . . . It seems to me that the recognition and experience of beauty is as real and primary an experience as any we encounter. (J. C. Polkinghorne, The Particle Play, Freeman, Oxford, England, 1979, p.17)

Then the great giant raised a horn to his mouth. They could see this by the change of the black shape he made against the stars. After that - quite a bit later, because sound travels so slowly - they heard the sound of the horn: high and terrible, yet of a strange, deadly beauty. The Last Battle, 1956, by C. S. Lewis. Quoted by "The Window in the Garden Wall--a C.S. Lewis blog."

There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach. His song in the Tower had been defiance rather than hope; for then he was thinking of himself. Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master's, ceased to trouble him. He crawled back into the brambles and laid himself by Frodo's side, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King: Being the Third Part of The Lord of the Rings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1963, p. 199.

Isaiah 53:2 For he grew up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. (American Standard Version)

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