The Aesthetics of Mathematical Explanations

AbstractMathematicians often describe arguments as “beautiful” or “dull,” and famous scientists have claimed that mathematical beauty is a guide toward the truth. Do laypeople, like mathematicians and scientists, perceive mathematics through an aesthetic lens? We show here that they do. Two studies asked people to rate the similarity of simple mathematical arguments to pieces of classical piano music (Study 1) or to landscape paintings (Study 2). In both cases, there was internal consensus about the pairings of arguments and artworks at greater than chance levels, particularly for visual art. There was also some evidence for correspondence to the aesthetic ratings of undergraduate mathematics students (Study 1) and of professional mathematicians (Studies 1 and 2).

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