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HOME > PAST ISSUE > March-April 1998 > Article Detail

FEATURE ARTICLE

Is Beauty a Sign of Truth in Scientific Theories?

Why are some new theories embraced as beautiful, others spurned as ugly? Progress in science may require that aesthetic ideals themselves change

James McAllister

Figure 3. Kepler's laws of planetary motionClick to Enlarge Image

The belief that we can use our aesthetic judgment to ascertain how close a scientific theory is to the truth is deeply held by some of the most notable scientists of our century, including Albert Einstein, P. A. M. Dirac and Steven Weinberg. But does the universe truly conform to the tastes of scientists? A philosopher of science, James McAllister, looks at the changing fashions of aesthetic preferences in historical context. He persuasively argues that there is as yet little evidence that scientists have discovered aesthetic properties that indicate the truth of scientific theories.


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