Reflections on Mathematics and Aesthetics

John L. Bell


In this paper I reflect on the nature of mathematical beauty, and examine the connections between mathematics and the arts. I employ Plutarch’s distinction between the intelligible and the sensible, to compare the beauty of mathematics with the beauties of music, poetry and painting. While the beauty of mathematics is almost exclusively intelligible, and the beauties of these arts primarily sensible, it is pointed out that the latter share with mathematics a certain kind of intelligible beauty. The paper also contains reflections on the formal beauty and timelessness of mathematics, beauty as richness flowing from simplicity, form and content in mathematics, and mathematics and fiction. It concludes with some remarks on the question of why mathematical beauty is so little appreciated by non-mathematicians.


Mathematics; Aesthetics; Formal Beauty; Symmetry; Music

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