When I write, I worry about both style and content. I want my sentences to be pleasing aesthetically, but also meaningful.
Perhaps I am displaying my scientific roots by always making aesthetics play handmaiden to the characters and the story - the actual 'facts'. And yet – there is a powerful appreciation of aesthetics running through science, as well as maths. There is always the search for ‘an elegant solution’ to the problem in hand. What is meant by elegance here? I think it’s something to do with simplicity and conciseness, and perhaps novelty.
Aesthetically pleasing science makes apparently complex phenomena simple. Why are there so many different species of finches on the Galapagos – all with different habits?
It can relate disparate phenomena by revealing the underlying laws.
It leads to new areas and gives big bang for your bucks. (It’s no good having a good-looking theory if you can’t do much with it.) Einstein’s concept of light as a particle led to a whole new understanding of the structure of the atom.
It can decide between different ideas. Penzias and Wilson’s discovery that the thermal noise they detected at
It may even be visually pleasing in some way. Crick and Watson’s analysis of DNA revealing its double helix structure, has created an image now embedded in our collective consciousness.
Behind many of these aspects of aesthetics lies simplicity. Simplicity is a powerful driver in creating science. Occam’s razor says that we should not ‘multiply entities’ unnecessarily; so if you’re fitting a mathematical model to your data, you choose the one with the fewest parameters. And a new scientific theory should have as few arbitrary factors as possible. But in judging competing scientific theories, it’s not always obvious which one best obeys Occam’s razor.
For example, the
The Many Worlds Interpretation avoids this in-built limitation, but only at the expense of having to start up a new universe each time an event happens. This seems to be multiplying entities to an extreme degree; and quite wasteful.
So which is the ‘simpler’ explanation of quantum reality? They clearly both have their problems, and not ones which can easily be resolved by examining their aesthetics.