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A Beautiful Question

Finding Nature's Deep Design

This book can be downloaded and read in iBooks on your Mac or iOS device.

Description

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.

Wilczek is hardly alone among great scientists in charting his course using beauty as his compass. As he reveals in A Beautiful Question, 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 twentiethcentury physics. Though the ancients weren’t right about everything, their ardent belief in the music of the spheres has proved true down to the quantum level. Indeed, Wilczek explores just how intertwined our ideas about beauty and art are with our scientific understanding of the cosmos.

Wilczek brings us right to the edge of knowledge today, where the core insights of even the craziest quantum ideas apply principles we all understand. The equations for atoms and light are almost literally the same equations that govern musical instruments and sound; the subatomic particles that are responsible for most of our mass are determined by simple geometric symmetries. The universe itself, suggests Wilczek, seems to want to embody beautiful and elegant forms. Perhaps this force is the pure elegance of numbers, perhaps the work of a higher being, or somewhere between. Either way, we don’t depart from the infinite and infinitesimal after all; we’re profoundly connected to them, and we connect them. When we find that our sense of beauty is realized in the physical world, we are discovering something about the world, but also something about ourselves.

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. It is a dazzling and important work from one of our best thinkers, whose humor and infectious sense of wonder animate every page. 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 Publishers Weekly

May 04, 2015 – Wilczek (The Lightness of Being), winner of the 2004 Nobel Prize for Physics, longs to find a unified field theory that would include science, art, philosophy, and all the secret corners of nature. In looking for this theory, he asks, "Is the world a work of art?" Or, alternately, "Does the world embody beautiful ideas?" Wilczek aptly dubs his intellectual voyage a "meditation," as it wanders and leaps among historical figures, times, and concepts. His rhapsodic explanations of the development of science especially the study of light, music, and subatomic particles feature examples of visual art that elucidate his themes. However, Wilczek's ubiquitous parenthetical comments, meant to trace his meandering thoughts, may confuse or irritate the reader. Pronouncements such as "gravitons are the avatars of general covariance" and "the contrast between substance and force particles fermions and bosons is very stark" seem self-evident to Wilczek but are liable to remain puzzling to nonphysicist readers, despite the inclusion of a glossary. Wilczek equates beauty with symmetry and conflates art with aesthetics: for him, beauty is quantifiable, not subjective. Wilczek's enthusiasm is undeniable, but his execution is flawed. Illus.
A Beautiful Question
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  • $4.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Physics
  • Published: Jul 14, 2015
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Seller: Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
  • Print Length: 448 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.5 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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