Elegance in Science: The Beauty of Simplicity


Elegance in Science: The Beauty of Simplicity by Ian Glynn

Synopsis: We usually associate a sense of elegance with art or fashion design, poetry or dance, but the idea of elegance is surprisingly important in science as well. The use of the term is most apparent in the “elegant proofs” of mathematics–which Bertrand Russell once described as “capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show”–but as Ian Glynn reveals in this fascinating new book, the idea of elegance is essential to scientists working in all fields.

Glynn draws on a wide range of examples that demonstrate the elegance of science, from Pythagoras’ theorem and Archimedes’ proof to Kepler’s Laws, the experiments that demonstrated the nature of heat, and the several extraordinary episodes that led to Watson and Crick’s discovery of the structure of DNA. Scientists often share a sense of admiration and excitement on hearing of an elegant solution to a problem, an elegant theory, or an elegant experiment. For scientists, as for artists, elegance implies beauty, simplicity, clarity, and proportion; the elegant solution has a kind of stunning and unalterable rightness that inspires wonder and awe. The idea of elegance may seem strange in a discipline that prides itself on objectivity, but only if science is regarded as a dull activity of counting and measuring. It is, of course, far more than that, and Glynn shows precisely how and why elegance is a fundamental aspect of the beauty and imagination involved in scientific activity. An elegant solution may not always be a correct one, Glynn cautions, but elegance is deeply related to important philosophical issues of inference and best explanation.

Written with the same clarity and elegant simplicity it describes, Elegance in Science explores an often overlooked but profoundly important aspect of scientific discovery.

Published: May 2010 | ISBN-13: 978-0199668816

Mini-bio: Ian Michael Glynn is a British biologist and a Fellow of the Royal Society. He was Professor of Physiology, University of Cambridge, 1986–95, and is now Professor Emeritus. He has been a Fellow, Trinity College, Cambridge since 1955. Wikipedia

Huffington Post Article by Author

Inside Higher Ed Interviews Author

Science may remain shrouded in mystery and/or nerdish eccentricities (thank you, Big Bang Theory, your existence is both a blessing and a curse) but it is rarely associated with elegance. Leave that to Audrey Hepburn and her ilk, right? Well, no – in this book, particularly elegant examples of scientific thought, theory and experimental design are skilfully dissected by Glynn. This book altered my perspective regarding scientific research and I think it could be an eye-opener to a non-scientist. – From 10 Great Books on Life Sciences

Lab Times Book Review
Popular Science Book Review
Occam’s Typewriter Book Review
Royal Society of Chemistry Book Review

[Image Credit: http://images.huffingtonpost.com/2013-03-06-9780199668816_cover.jpg ]


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