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Friday, February 27, 2009

How Does Beauty Color the Cosmos?

FROM FRANK WILCZEK, NOBEL LAUREATE AND A PROFESSOR OF PHYSICS AT THE MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY’S CENTER FOR THEORETICAL PHYSICS: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is a commonplace. “Beauty is in the mind of the beholder” cuts deep.
In the microcosmos, where unaided eyes see Nothing—empty space—active minds discover the primary stuff of reality. Everywhere and everywhen, our equations tell us, the world is full of spontaneous activity: the play of quantum fields, dancing to the music of symmetry. Our eyes are attuned only to deviations from the norm. Evolved for survival in a changing environment, they filter out as background what our minds reveal as fundament.
In the macrocosmos, where unaided eyes see points of light against a blank black emptiness, active minds discover mighty globes of nuclear fire, each far larger than all Earth, and in numbers vastly more than our eyes make apparent. They learn, too, that the apparent stability of the world is illusory. The universe as we see it today arose from a fierce and nearly featureless Chaos, out of which gravity, following its inexorable logic over incomprehensible times, slowly distilled structure.
And in life on the scale humans live it—the mesocosmos—active minds find new perspectives, which expand experience. A rainbow is a magnificent spectacle and a marvelous exercise in refraction and caustics; love is a grand experience and a fascinating study in the effects of oxytocin and vasopressin.
In this mind-constructed mix of symmetry, grandeur, and enlightenment, beauty abounds. But Nature’s beauty is Her own. To reach it, we must work honestly and hard, and we must be ready to accept what we find. Her beauty is, it appears, free of emotion and deeply amoral. A quirky quantum fluctuation might initiate a cancer; a supernova that delights astronomers might mark the sudden end of a brilliant civilization.
Does beauty color the cosmos? Yes, absolutely—if you seek it, construct it, and accept it!

Frank Wilczek appears with Peter Atkins, Roger Penrose, Fotini Markopoulou, Stephon Alexander, and Freeman Dyson in "How Does Beauty Color the Cosmos?" the 25th episode in the Closer to Truth: Cosmos, Consciousness, God TV series, hosted and created by Robert Lawrence Kuhn. The series airs Thursdays on the PBS HD network and many other PBS stations. Every Friday, participants will share their views on the previous day's episode.


V.V. Raman said...

"Does beauty color the cosmos? Yes, absolutely—if you seek it, construct it, and accept it!"

If we are to speak with scientific objectivity, we should also say that it is human consciousness that unveils the beauty that is implicit in the cosmos. Bereft of consciousness: a perceiving, creating, and constructing entity (human or otherwise, on earth or elsewhere) all the beauty and splendor and symmetry and rationality implicit in the natural world would at best stay latent in a mute and mindless world, not unlike encyclopedias buried at the bottom of the sea. From this recognition, it is fair to say that the emergence of consciousness in the universe was no less significant an event in cosmic history than the big bang that is believed to have given rise to the physical universe.