Pretty Sonata

Words: Dr Rajgopal NIDAMBOOR

Aesthetics, in art or science, is now no longer a question of “I do my thing, you do yours” — an aphorism incorrectly attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche.

As a matter of fact, integrating aesthetic judgment with truth, beauty, and justness is, today, more than absolutely mandatory than ever before.

It’s not that a theory of knowledge that is merely aesthetic is simply accurate. Far from it.

Not only does such a theory fail to deal with inter-subjective goodness, it even trashes any objective aspects of any sort of truth. So, a middle path, as the Zen masters recommend, would be a signal proposition to bringing about a balance in such a structure: of a composition, where beauty is a sign of truth. It’s a pointer, no less, that attempts, in the process, to include the moment of truth — from empiricism to constructivism, from relativism to aestheticism. In other words, we need to look at an existential approach, or passage, that would release them from their contradictions, and place them, as it were, into a genuine rainbow synthesis.

It goes without saying that when any new scientific theory is put forward, scientists yearn to know how close it is to truth, using empirical data to estimating how close a theory is to truth, again, all right. But, not all theories, however, can be evaluated in this manner. For a plethora of reasons. Here’s why. In areas such as string theory, particle physics, cosmology, evolutionary biology and earth science, for example, arriving at how close a theory is to the truth is next to impossible.

On the contrary, just anybody would be able to assess how beautiful an object is. The features of an object are immediately accessible to most of us. It’s a basic component that is required for one to scrutinise the object with aesthetic judgment: it delivers a conclusive ruling on its beauty. Not so simple, though. Because, such a descent may make us wonder whether to use our aesthetic perception/s, at the proverbial drop of a hat, or not — in order to ascertain how imminent a scientific theory is to the truth.

The legendary Dr Roger Penrose, PhD, summed it up, quite succinctly:

“It is a mysterious thing, in fact, how something which looks attractive may have a better chance of being true than something which looks ugly. I have noticed on many occasions [in my own work] where there might, for example, be two guesses that could be made as to the solution of a problem, and in the first case I’d think how nice it would be if it were true; whereas in the second case I would not care very much about the result even if it were true. So often, in fact, it turns out that the more attractive possibility is the true one.”

Physicists aren’t the only scientific group to have been guided by their sense of beauty in developing new theories. They have learnt naturally, to their primal advantage, how to anticipate the beauty of nature at its most fundamental level. Just like geneticists, for instance. Take this great story, so beautifully illustrated in Dr Candace B Pert’s riveting book, Molecules of Emotion. When Dr Rosalind Franklin learned of Drs Francis Crick and James D Watson’s model of the structure of the DNA, she “accepted the fact that the structure was too pretty not to be true.” It’s a fundamental statement that presupposed that beauty was, indeed, an indicator of truth in scientific theories. So, you may well ask: what is the evidence for this proposition?

Most scientists distinguish objective properties of theories from the subjective sense of beauty in contemplating a theory. However, not all scientists agree over what aesthetic properties a theory must possess to influence as pretty. Yet, one thing is clear: they often acquiesce to beauty in theories that encompass simple mathematical equations, the splendour of truth and beauty of the Universe, symmetries of nature, Cleopatra’s Basic Face etc.,

If this isn’t an epistemological, or scientific, variant that explains why scientists are engaged, albeit unwittingly, or partly unconsciously — in a systematic, inductive [re]search for aesthetic properties that constitute the portent, “Is beauty truth?” — what is?

Dr RAJGOPAL NIDAMBOOR, PhD, is a wellness physician-writer-editor, independent researcher, critic, columnist, author and publisher. His published work includes hundreds of newspaper, magazine, web articles, essays, meditations, columns, and critiques on a host of subjects, eight books on natural health, two coffee table tomes and an encyclopaedic treatise on Indian philosophy. He is Chief Wellness Officer, Docco360 — a mobile health application/platform connecting patients with Ayurveda, homeopathic and Unani physicians, and nutrition therapists, among others, from the comfort of their home — and, Editor-in-Chief, ThinkWellness360.

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