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Is beauty in the brain of the beholder?

Feb 13, 2014

Is beauty in the brain of the beholder?Brain scans reveal that the same part of the brain responds to beautiful maths as to beautiful art.

Researchers at University College London put 15 mathematicians in an fMRI scanner, which measures changes in blood flow in the brain to detect which parts of the brain are being used. They then gave them 60 formulae and asked them to rate how beautiful they found each one.

The more beautiful the formula, the more activity there was in the mathematician's medial orbitofrontal cortex (a part of the brain associated with the appreciation of beauty in other contexts like music or art).

The formula considered most beautiful by the mathematicians was Euler's identity:

1 + e = 0

This equation links five of the most important mathematical constants using three basic operations (addition, multiplication and raising to a power) once each. It also gives a very simple result even though e, i and π are complicated numbers which aren't obviously connected to each other. These features, together with the satisfaction of finding out where the connection comes from, give the formula its special place in mathematicians' hearts - and brains.

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