Truth, beauty, science and art

7756d4e0-77ff-11e5_1186255hMartin Kemp at The Times Literary Supplement:

The notion that the world embodies “beautiful ideas” might seem to imply that some entity is required “out there” to have the ideas, rather than the more orthodox view that the world embodies mathematical orders at various levels in ways that we find beautiful as responsive observers. Wilczek’s use of the term “idea” without locating it in a specific conscious entity, whether a creative deity or ourselves, serves as an agnostic tease that allows him to identify mathematical harmonies in nature as ideas “out there” that chime with ideas within us. In doing so, he knowingly slides around the central question about who or what is responsible for the organization of the world at atomic and cosmic levels.

His incantation that the world is a work of art knowingly begs the same question. He states that “Nature loves to use such equations”, with reference to Maxwell’s laws. Nature (always with a capital N) implicitly becomes a kind of purposeful agency for the generation of the ideas. Elsewhere he asks, “Is the physical world, considered as a work of art, beautiful”? His answer is emphatically yes, but in this case he seems to allow that it is we who do the considering. For a philosopher, Wilczek’s ambiguity is likely to be irritating, but it allows him a notably productive and suggestive freedom to evangelize about the sublime beauty of the world we can observe and theorize via modern physics.

Wilczek’s evaded question recalls the kind of double truths of reason and revelation expounded in some Medieval and Renaissance theology.

more here.