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 20th century 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.
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“Mr. Wilczek takes the reader on an expertly curated tour across 2,500 years of philosophy and physics.... One of the great pleasures of Mr. Wilczek’s book is his wide-ranging interest in the way the beauty he finds in symmetry appears across human experience.... He has accomplished a rare feat: Writing a book of profound humanity based on questions aimed directly at the eternal.” (The Wall Street Journal)
"A Beautiful Question is both a brilliant exploration of largely uncharted territories and a refreshingly idiosyncratic guide to developments in particle physics." (Nature)
“Relentlessly engaging…not only names but also wisely reframes a lot of basic concepts in modern physics.... Wilczek’s fearless reframing comes as a pleasant relief.” (LA Review of Books)