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This is a blog based on a conjecture. While only a subset of the academic fields explicitly espouse to produce research products that evoke impressions of beauty, each field values the notion, albeit with different words. Indeed, the beauty of a piece of research may be closely connected to the rewards from peers upon encountering the work.

It’s probably best to define the key term. Here, a notion of beauty rests upon the complementarity of components of a work. The subsets of the work fit together. They reinforce one another. They create a whole entirely independently valued relative to its constituent parts. The whole prompts the consumer of the work to see it as new and important.

It is very common for works of art to evoke a standard of beauty. By this we might include the graphic or plastic arts, paintings, music, literature, dance. Critics praise the beauty of works as a desired feature. They attempt to identify the attributes of the work that evoke the feelings of the beautiful.

On the other hand, admittedly the creators of the work might not be seeking the beautiful. Indeed, many seek to create a catalyst for the imagination of the consumer. Sometimes, the work indeed is created not to evoke feelings of beauty, but feelings of horror and revulsion. That appears to be an exception to the standard of beauty in work, but it may merely reflect a different form of beauty than its colloquial meaning. The presentation’s effect is the result of a completely cohesive subentities that perfectly evoke the imagination of the consumer. In that sense the cohesion is the attribute of beauty.

Indeed, we have all encountered a single sentence that we read and reread and judge it a creation of beauty. Even single phrases can shock us into introspection and unprecedented thoughts. A single stroke of an artist’s brush can grab our attention.

The conjecture that motivated this post is that beauty is a desired state of research products of all scholars. It should be acknowledged that use of the term, beauty, is unusually rare in some academic fields. It’s not uncommon for the public to declare a bridge as “beautiful.” The public may mean “pleasing to the eye of all beholders.” But there is also a field-specific meaning of beauty in engineering that speaks of constituent parts working in harmony to efficiently achieve the goal of the given entity. That beauty may not be perceived by the untrained eye.

We may all recall the proofs of long-challenging mathematical speculations that were only recently developed. Fellow mathematicians marvel at the “elegance” of the form of the proof. Some even say the stages of the proof were things of beauty. Non-mathematicians generally cannot perceive such beauty.

In the experimental and observational sciences, similar reactions are evoked among peers when they see the research design, measurement, and analysis in perfect harmony, addressing all the typical counterarguments to the work’s conclusions. The harmony of the evidence-building approach is described as beautiful. Few outside the field can perceive such beauty.

In short, the fact that the different academic fields use different media and methods to produce their works inhibits widespread appreciation of the beauty of all fields’ work. Art appreciation requires knowledge of the act of creation of art. Discerning the beauty of scientific work sometimes requires knowledge of mathematics and fundamental concepts in the field.

In short, identifying the beauty of scholarly products is too often limited to those within the field. However, within a field, the beauty of the creation, the argument, the experimental findings, the literary form, seem to be deeply valued. Beholders within all fields may be seeking beauty on their journey to truth.

4 thoughts on “Beauty

  1. Interesting discussion. As you say beauty is in the eye of the beholder , but we also need to remember ,” beauty is only skin deep “ ! Thanks

    • Which is why a matchmaking tool that I’ve developed (but have not yet readied for “primetime”) offers five matches to each client: overall match, highly idealized match, surface match, deeper match and bottom-line match. This matchmaking tool, in itself, is a beauty to behold (at least, in the eye of the developer : – )

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