Scientific Aesthetics (Was: Re: SCI: Possible Evidence ...)

Craig Presson (fcp@Traveller.COM)
Tue, 3 Mar 1998 12:14:51 -6

On 3 Mar 98 at 6:10, Hal Finney wrote:

> Most physicists really dislike the CC, which appears as an ad hoc
> fudge factor in the equations of GR. I'm sure there will be a lot of
> work done to try to disprove the recent results, or find a way to fit
> them into a more elegant theory.

I have often wondered about this point. "Elegance" of theory may be
a red herring at times. How much of the typical negative reaction to
new theories is based in aesthetics instead of appropriate critical
thinking? Imponderably, how many times have scientists missed seeing
something really useful because the math was getting ugly?

By elegance here, I don't mean merely simplicity, in the sense of
choosing between two theories of equivalent power because one is
simpler. That is just economy, Ockham's Razor, or constructive
laziness if you will, and is a Good Thing.

The question can be turned around, too, and maybe doing this answers
it: scientific aesthetics could be seen as informed and evolved
intuition about what fits and what makes sense in a theory, just as
artistic aesthetics are at least in part based in intuition about what
fits and makes sense in an artistic composition. So then if aesthetics
leads a scientist astray, it's a fault in his fitness function. If
scientific aesthetics falls prey to mere intellectual fashion or to
_idees fixes_, then the effect is worsened.

<a href="">Science Week</a> has a <a
href="">summary</a> of an
article from American Scientist, Mar/Apr 1998 on this subject by James
W. McAllister <>. The summary gives
some famous examples without going into any depth. The <a
href="">American Scientist WWW page</a> has
only an <a
excerpt</a> as well. I may have to get off my lazy butt here and find
the "real" world magazine :-)

-- (Freeman Craig Presson)