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New study shows brain's response to mathematical beauty

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On February 13, 2014, a UK neurologists conducted a study with the intent of examining the neurological correlates of the perception of 'mathematical beauty.' While few high schoolers are likely to find mathematics very tantalizing, researchers have found that the same region of the brain is stimulated in response to the perception of the abstract beauty of mathematics as the perception of sensory beauty(Paddock, 2014). In other words, the brains of certain especially nerdy mathematics enthusiasts are stimulated in a manner quite similar to those who enjoy listening to music or looking at a beautiful work of visual art. Semir Zeki, a professor of neurobiology at the University College London, writes: "To many of us mathematical formulae appear dry and inaccessible but to a mathematician an equation can embody the quintessence of beauty...For Plato...the abstract quality of mathematics expressed the ultimate pinnacle of beauty."

The experiment involved 15 mathematicians rating 60 mathematical formulae on a scale of -5 to +5, with -5 being unequivocally ugly and +5 being maximally beautiful. The orbito-frontal cortex exhibited activity commensurate with the rating of a mathematical formula as beautiful. As noted before, this is exactly the same region of the brain which exhibits activity when the perceiver listens to music or views an impressive work of art. Leonhard Euler's identity formula, the Cauchy-Riemann equations, and the Pythagorean identity, were consistently rated the most beautiful formulae(Paddock, 2014). Srinivasa Ramanujan's infinite series and Bernhard Riemann's functional equation, on the other hand, were consistently rated as the ugliest of the formulae(Paddock, 2014).

Paddock, Catharine. "Beauty of mathematics excites emotional brain." Web. 13 February 2014. Retrieved from: