'Beautiful' Math May Make Us Emotional

It elicits reaction similar to great art
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 16, 2014 9:00 AM CST
'Beautiful' Math May Make Us Emotional
To mathematicians, equations' beauty may be comparable to artistic beauty.   (Shutterstock)

It may not have seemed possible in high school, but math can be beautiful, a study suggests—in fact, an equation can "activate the emotional brain," a researcher tells the BBC. His team scanned 15 mathematicians' brains as the subjects were shown 60 equations. Mathematicians were tasked with rating the equations' beauty or ugliness. Those seen as beautiful were linked to activity in the medial orbito-frontal cortex, Medical Daily reports—part of the brain believed to deal with emotion.

"Neuroscience can't tell you what beauty is, but if you find it beautiful the medial orbito-frontal cortex is likely to be involved," the researcher explains. Looking at a beautiful equation can activate it, he says, "like looking at a great painting or listening to a piece of music." And you don't have to be a mathematician to see the beauty of mathematics, says a professor. Schools, he notes, don't focus on that aspect of math, but elementary school-level skills are enough to appreciate it. The mathematician Edward Frenkel agrees, notes Shane Parrish at Farnam Street, via the Week. "Mathematics," Frenkel writes, "is as much part of our cultural heritage as art, literature, and music." (More mathematics stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.