BBC:Mathematics: Why the brain sees maths as beauty

Brain scans show a complex string of numbers and letters in mathematical formulae can evoke the same sense of beauty as artistic masterpieces and music from the greatest composers.

This news won't come as a surprise to anyone who has studied maths in any detail.

When I was studying maths (double-maths, actually) for ‘A’ level, one of our teachers once wrote a fiendish problem on the blackboard for us to work through as a group. “Any ideas?” he asked.

After studying the equation for a couple of minutes, I suggested that we might like to subtract y^{2} from both sides.

“Why would we want to do that?” asked the teacher, beginning to foam at the mouth.

“Because that will give us an x^{2} and a minus y^{2} on the right-hand side. And x^{2} - y^{2} is, well… *nice*.”

The class burst out laughing. But the teacher, whose foam had turned into a real lather by now, gave them a right bollocking, explaining that Carter was right, and that x^{2} - y^{2} was indeed nice. In fact, it was beautiful.

This particular maths teacher tended to foam at the mouth rather a lot. I don't think this was down to his passion for mathematics. I suspect it was due to madness. He talked to trees. I know this for a fact, because he told us so. He also used to play opera at us during our maths lessons. Wagner, mostly. Very loudly.

To a mathematician, a beautiful formula is every bit as aesthetically pleasing as a piece of Wagner, a painting, or even an attractive film-star. Indeed, any red-blooded male mathematician worth his salt would be hard-pressed to choose between:

and

Which is why I never became a mathematician.

This is very interesting. I also had a Wagnerian mathematics teacher. His name was Mr Smith. Also, I am evidently a red-Blooded mathematician worth his salt, according to your definition.

My Wagnerian mathematics teacher was also called Mr Smith. What are the odds of that? (He probably would have known.)