A BEAUTIFUL QUESTION by Frank Wilczek

A BEAUTIFUL QUESTION

Finding Nature’s Deep Design
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Nobel Prize winner Wilczek (Physics/MIT; The Lightness of Being: Mass, Ether and the Unification of Forces, 2008, etc.) posits that a powerful Creator made the world because of “an impulse to make something beautiful.”

The author traces the evolution of theoretical physics beginning with Pythagoras' discovery of the numerical basis of musical harmonics and the numerical relationship among the sides of a right triangle. He finds inspiration in Plato's effort to deduce the structure of the material world from the relationship among the five regular solids. Though it “fails as a scientific theory,” writes Wilczek, “Plato’s vision succeeds as prophecy and…as a work of intellectual art…[exemplified] by the beauty of mathematical regularity, of perfect symmetry." The author compares the aesthetic satisfaction we experience by gaining a deeper understanding of the symmetries within nature to appreciation of the visual arts—e.g., Renaissance artists’ use of perspective to explore the unity underlying different viewpoints. Moving on to the direct antecedents of modern theoretical physics, Wilczek points to James Clerk Maxwell's use of the symmetrical relationship between the electric and magnetic fields to deduce the existence of electromagnetic radiation. Even though this was not what Maxwell had in mind, his formulation was an important theoretical advance in the recognition that "equations, like objects, can have symmetry and that the equations Nature likes to use in Her fundamental laws have enormous amounts of symmetry." With nearly 100 color illustrations and a 90-page glossary, the author attempts to explain to lay readers the fundamentals of modern theoretical physics and the direction of his current research in supersymmetry. “If correct,” he writes, “[it] will be a profound new embodiment of beauty in the world." While his attempts to encapsulate developments in theoretical physics are not entirely successful, the thread of his argument is clear: that physical reality is best expressed by Pythagoras' vision that "All Things are Number."

A commendable investigation of the nature of reality.

Pub Date: July 14th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-59420-526-2
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Penguin Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2015




SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

NonfictionTIME REBORN by Lee Smolin
by Lee Smolin
IndieTotIs by J. Joseph Kazden
by J. Joseph Kazden
NonfictionTHE BIG PICTURE by Sean Carroll
by Sean Carroll
NonfictionTHE PARTICLE AT THE END OF THE UNIVERSE by Sean Carroll
by Sean Carroll