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A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature's Deep Design

Does the universe embody beautiful ideas? Artists as well as scientists throughout human history have pondered this "beautiful question." With Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek as your guide, embark on a voyage of related discoveries, from Plato and Pythagoras up to the present. Wilczek's groundbreaking work in quantum physics was inspired by his intuition to look for a deeper order of beauty in nature. In fact, every major advance in his career came from this intuition: to assume that the universe embodies beautiful forms, forms whose hallmarks are symmetry--harmony, balance, proportion--and economy. There are other meanings of "beauty," but this is the deep logic of the universe--and it is no accident that it is also at the heart of what we find aesthetically pleasing and inspiring. As he reveals here, this has been the heart of scientific pursuit from Pythagoras, the ancient Greek who was the first to argue that "all things are number," to Galileo, Newton, Maxwell, Einstein, and into the deep waters of twentieth-century physics. Gorgeously illustrated, A Beautiful Question is a mind-shifting book that braids the age-old quest for beauty and the age-old quest for truth into a thrilling synthesis. Yes: the world is a work of art, and its deepest truths are ones we already feel, as if they were somehow written in our souls.--From publisher description.

A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature's Deep Design

Dynamical beauty transcends specific objects and phenomena, and invites us to imagine the expanse of possibilities. For example, the sizes and shapes of actual planetary orbits are not simple. They are neither the (compounded) circles of Aristotle, Ptolemy, and Nicolaus Copernicus, nor even the more nearly accurate ellipses of Kepler, but rather curves that must be calculated numerically, as functions of time, evolving in complicated ways that depend on the positions and masses of the Sun and the other planets. There is great beauty and simplicity here, but it is only fully evident when we understand the deep design. The appearance of particular objects does not exhaust the beauty of the laws.

As Wilczek writes, reality and the world of ideas are deeply interrelated: Even if our current understanding of particle physics is not this beautiful, deep down there is perfect symmetry, a perfect harmony of tones. We see a distorted reality because we are using the wrong glasses: At energies accessible to current experiments, matter embodies symmetry imperfectly.

The world does not provide its own unique interpretation. It is a multiverse, which offers many possibilities for sensory universes. Some sensory universes reflect the beauty of nature's deep design more clearly than others. The sensory universe natural to humans is fortunate in this regard, but hardly perfect. We can improve it with the help of sense-enhancing instruments (microscopes, telescopes, clocks, ... ) and, above all, by using our gift of imagination.

Wilczek does not assert that those historical figures "anticipate" modern ideas, but argues that the heart of their heroic quest to achieve a synthetic view of the mathematical particulars of the world is shared at a deeply human level. His heroes each make distinctive contributions within the limit of their own historical parameters and express in equal measure the driving central motif--the age-old imperative to read the mathematics of nature's book. There is an ordering impulse in all of us. It is just that some extraordinary scientists (and artists) have been able to satisfy our needs at incredibly high levels. Our incessant quests for order in science and art can be grouped under the collective term "structural intuitions". The historical progression is from static patterns to orders that involve dynamism, process, fields of energy, and the duality of waves and particles, moving decisively beyond the narrow observational span of the frequencies of light that we can actually perceive. 041b061a72


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