By Paddy Kamen, Publisher, BetterBrainBetterLife.com
I’m not mathematically inclined, but I’ve seen someone who is wax poetic about the beauty of mathematical equations. Shinzen Young, my meditation teacher, has been known, in his evening talks at retreats, to digress into a long sidebar about the beauty of mathematical equations. His enthusiasm is palpable even if the concepts elude.
Research led by Professor Semir Zeki, at University College London, has demonstrated that intellectual and abstract concepts such as mathematical equations, activate the same parts of the brain – the medial orbito-frontal cortex — as do sensory/perceptual experiences of beauty such as the appreciation of music, poetry or the beauty of the natural world. That is, the emotional reaction Shinzen has to certain mathematical formulae is the same, brain-wise, as the emotional reaction I have when listening to Ubi Caritas by the Vancouver Chamber Choir.
This research is apparently the first to establish that the experience of beauty can be quantified. Zeki states:
“We have found that, as with the experience of visual or musical beauty, the activity in the brain is strongly related to how intense people declare their experience of beauty to be – even in this example where the source of beauty is extremely abstract. This answers a critical question in the study of aesthetics, one which has been debated since classical times, namely whether aesthetic experiences can be quantified.”
The research is published in the open-access journal Frontiers in HumanNeuroscience: http://www.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fnhum.2014.00068/abstract.