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Maths of Planet Earth | Limitless Applications

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Published on May 5th, 2014 | by Liam

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Can maths be beautiful?

Maths is incredibly useful. Maths can help us build a building, or a company, or a computer program. In fact, maths is involved in almost Maths+Statseverything we do, whether we’re shopping, keeping score at a game, or just looking at the time. But can maths ever be beautiful?

Most mathematicians find mathematics to be beautiful. As Henri Poincare said ‘The mathematician does not study pure mathematics because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it and he delights in it because it is beautiful.’ But many people are not convinced. Is this feeling the same one that an artist gets when they look at a beautiful painting?

A group of British scientists were interested in this idea of ‘mathematical beauty’, so they came up with an experiment. First, they collected many important equations. They showed the equations to some mathematicians and asked them which ones were beautiful, and which ones were ugly. Several weeks later they put the same mathematicians into a brain scanner (fMRI) and showed them the same equations.

When the mathematicians were shown the ‘beautiful’ equations, the medial orbitofrontal cortex (mOFC) of their brains were very active. When they were shown the ‘ugly’ equations, these areas did not activate. The mOFC is often associated with beauty – other experiments have shown that the mOFC activates when looking at beautiful paintings, or listening to melodic music. So mathematicians really do find some maths to be beautiful.

More information
Beauty of maths excites emotional brain
Why the brain sees maths as beauty
The beauty of mathematics (video)

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