A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature's Deep Design

by Frank Wilczek

Paperback, 2016



Call number




Penguin Books (2016), Edition: Reprint, 448 pages


Does the universe embody beautiful ideas? Artists as well as scientists throughout human history have pondered this "beautiful question." With Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek as your guide, embark on a voyage of related discoveries, from Plato and Pythagoras up to the present. Wilczek's groundbreaking work in quantum physics was inspired by his intuition to look for a deeper order of beauty in nature. In fact, every major advance in his career came from this intuition: to assume that the universe embodies beautiful forms, forms whose hallmarks are symmetry--harmony, balance, proportion--and economy. There are other meanings of "beauty," but this is the deep logic of the universe--and it is no accident that it is also at the heart of what we find aesthetically pleasing and inspiring. As he reveals here, this has been the heart of scientific pursuit from Pythagoras, the ancient Greek who was the first to argue that "all things are number," to Galileo, Newton, Maxwell, Einstein, and into the deep waters of twentieth-century physics. Gorgeously illustrated, A Beautiful Question is a mind-shifting book that braids the age-old quest for beauty and the age-old quest for truth into a thrilling synthesis. Yes: the world is a work of art, and its deepest truths are ones we already feel, as if they were somehow written in our souls.--From publisher description.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member fpagan
Nobel physicist Wilczek's long "meditation" on the theme that the world embodies beautiful ideas. Nontechnically, but in Wilczek's usual idiosyncratic way, discusses Pythagoras, Plato, Newton, Maxwell, quantum mechanics, symmetry, and fundamental physics' "Core Theory" (Standard Model plus gravity
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and relativity). Dares to bet that the LHC will find supersymmetric particles. It's very good, but I think it would be better if it let us see at least a few of the relevant mathematical equations and dispensed with the numerous references to religiosity.
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LibraryThing member lbeaumont
A Nobel Prize winning physicist explores the symmetry and beauty of the fundamental laws that govern our universe.
LibraryThing member antao
(Original Review, 2015)

Just this morning my Chi Kung teacher at the Sheraton Hotel (I’m doing classes over there at lunch time), a Daoist (Taoist) monk, said virtually the same thing whilst quoting the Yi Jing (I Ching). In fact, the philosophy of movement underlying the entire system (often
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translated as Great Ultimate Fist) is based upon this principle. One might presume this aspect of human awareness reflects a primordial knowledge that precedes any particular culture's intellectual/philosophical continuum. Such primordial knowledge would inform and find expression in any sufficiently refined intellectual/philosophical cultural continuum. In fact, because this is so, this is where things get interesting. For example, I might speak of "the impossible contradiction of the infinite and the finite faced by Spinoza, theology and all previous idealist philosophies." And I might also say, "the integral components of a single unity within which the two opposites reside together in active unity and opposition, and hence in a logical contradiction."

“The sole reality is Being, Being is One, only the One is; the Many not." The issue is the nature or essence of "the One" and what epistemic event allows its nature to be misconstrued. If "the One" is an atemporal metaphor for self-awareness then what leads some to perceive "the Many" whilst others assert "only 'the One' is."? The answer, from an epistemological perspective, is 1/0. Prior to self-reflection and the reification of the perceived 1 is coalescent with 0. Hence, in the midst of self-reflection I find the 1, "the One," is subject to interpretation. Characterizations thereof are perforce unbounded. "The One" is simultaneously infinite and, in its singularity, finite. There is no other. The infinite cannot be achieved because it defines the singularity that is my essence. However, if I, in the midst of self-reflection, reify "the One" then each and every imagined phenomenon is thought to be a distinct entity which collectively may be described as "the Many." Such multiplicity is known to be an illusion by those who do not elect to reify "the One."

With the equation 1/0 in mind we must appreciate the consequence of the initial reification of "the One." No longer experienced as coalescent, in the midst of self-reflection we presume "the One" possesses substance or identity, but all we can know is the truly absolute: 0, or, might we say, emptiness. Truth is all we can know, there is no alternative. Therefore, no matter the nature of the inquiry into "the One," all we can know is emptiness, which manifests as "between." The reified "One" appears to possess two halves. Any conflict between the presumed two halves of "the One" is a faith-based illusion. Only those who reify "the One," the faithful, believe themselves to be apart from the infinite.

There is a famous Daoist description of the common progression of human awareness. The Dao (emptiness) gives birth to "the One." "The One" gives birth to the two (No longer appreciated as coalescent, the reified 1 is believed to be other than 0; 1 and 0 are understood to be 2.). The two gives birth to the three (The two halves and the "between" that separates them.). And the three gives birth to the ten thousand things (The inexorable ubiquity of "between" encountered during investigations of "the One.")

Finally, Daoism has advice for those who would reify any and all characterizations of "the One." "The way that can be spoken of is not the way." 1/0 (*my wife waving from the back of the room and saying: “You’re so full of sh*t!*)

Bottom-line: I once read a blog post somewhere in which some cruel individual unfairly disparaged Noether's theorem as a tautology. I dread to think what they'd have to say about this “everything is information” 'idea'. ;-) Wilczek’s approach to Noether is not the best, but it’s still pretty good. The best treatment on Noether’s theorem is still Weyl’s “Levels of Infinity: Selected Writings on Mathematics and Philosophy.” Also retracted 2 stars because Wilczek states Quantum Mechanics is the definite theory on reality. WTF??
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Physical description

448 p.; 8.35 inches


0143109367 / 9780143109365
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