Mathematical Beauty: A Definition

What is it and where do you look for it?

When people think of mathematics, they most likely think of numbers, complicated formulas and equations, and the absolute frustration that was high school math class. And it’s true: learning mathematics isn’t an easy thing to do. It takes years, and it can be easily forgotten after years of not having to spend memorizing all those different lessons.

But like I’ve talked about and explained before, mathematics is more than just the left-brained field we’re all forced to study for x amount of years. Mathematics can and has extended into various fields of creativity, even if we might not necessarily see it. Writing genres like mathematical fiction appear more obvious, but there are also more subtle forms of mathematics in creativity. That’s where the concept of mathematical beauty comes in.

But what exactly is mathematical beauty? This might also seem obvious, but there might be some out there who believe mathematics and beauty together may be a stretch. In the wake of discussing mathematics in art, here are a few major factors on mathematical beauty that I would like to elaborate on.

We See It Every Day Without Realizing

Plato once described how the universe and everything in it was made up of the five elements: fire, earth, air, ether (the atmosphere or the heavens), and water. And, like the elements of sacred geometry and its concepts, mathematics does the same thing in that it pervades just about everything around us. That’s the beauty of it. We can’t live without it, even if we don’t see it.

It’s tempting to think of mathematics as simple rules, logic, and just generally everything not associated with creativity because of the distinct way problems are solved, including how the methods employed already pretty solid to begin with. But one of the best aspects inherent to mathematical beauty is that it is everywhere, in creative design and pattern and many other fields of art, even if we don’t see it plainly. Works like M. C. Escher or the Cubist artists can put geometrical shapes at the forefront, but it won’t hold meaning for us if we’re not paying attention.

It’s the Pattern and Design Found in Art

It’s true that writing is a form of art, and you might be thinking “well, fiction already uses math sometimes right?” And that’s true. Mathematical fiction is defined as fiction where mathematics is an important aspect to the story, but you can make an argument that inserting it into a story is not where you find the beauty of mathematics (though it can be used in creative ways, and the beauty can be found in the creativity).

Like I was saying before, the mathematical aesthetic can actually be found in areas of art based on several things. It could be a pattern of design found in the arches of a building, the rhythm and cadence of a stanza in poetry, and more. The experimentation brought to designs and patterns is what contributes to the artist’s creativity, for one. For another, while it may be true that art such as painting, music, poetry, and others doesn’t have to follow specific rules, the precision and measurements noticeable in a work of art can still shine through and contribute to pleasing the senses.

It’s a Result Both Creative Thinking and Mathematics Working Together

“Why are numbers beautiful? It’s like asking why is Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony beautiful. If you don’t see why, someone can’t tell you . . .” – Paul Erdős

Lastly, I referred to this quote by the Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdős because one of the most important facets of mathematical beauty is that while we might not notice it at first, but once we do, we do, things change. That’s where the beauty comes in, and while we might be able to explain mathematical beauty in simple terms, you still have to discover it for yourself rather than be told about it. Knowing where to look is that first step.

This doesn’t mean you need to be a math genius to understand the beauty behind mathematics. It could be something as simple as looking the different shapes in a stained glass window or the way stones have been laid to make a sidewalk. You don’t even have to see the math to know that the math has worked in both cases and that the measurements were more or less precise, leading to a piece of art or something aesthetically pleasing. It’s seeing the results of mathematics that has been already done and recognizing the value in that project that contributes to seeing mathematical beauty in the things around you.

These are probably the biggest definitions of this term, and like mathematical fiction, there’s always room to expand on this topic. This is just a starting point. I plan to elaborate more on this in the future, but for now here are a few basic traits of mathematical beauty that you can remember the next time you look for designs and patterns around you. Hopefully this sparks your interest.

Want to know more? My portfolio is now COMPLETE, and you can find it here! You’ll also find some helpful links to my work in journals in the Original Writing page. You can find me in Ariel Chart, The Cedarville Review, Nailpolish Stories, Bluepepper, 50 Word Stories, The Aurora Journal, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, The Drabble, Anti-heroin Chic, Art of Autism, Your Daily Poem, Sanctuary Magazine, and Sledgehammer Lit. You can now also find my FREE microchap at Origami Poems Project, which I am also offering here.

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