**Mathematics:
Why the brain sees maths as beauty**

The likes of Euler's identity or the
Pythagorean identity are rarely mentioned in the same breath as the best of
Mozart, Shakespeare and Van Gogh but brain scans show a complex string of
numbers and letters in mathematical formulae can evoke the same sense of beauty
as artistic masterpieces and music from the greatest composers.

Mathematicians were shown
"ugly" and "beautiful" equations while in a brain scanner
at University College London and the same emotional brain centres used to
appreciate art were being activated by "beautiful" maths which could
suggest that there may be a neurobiological basis to beauty.

The study in
the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience gave 15 mathematicians 60
formulae to rate. One of the researchers, Prof Semir Zeki, told the BBC:
"A large number of areas of the brain are involved when viewing equations,
but when one looks at a formula rated as beautiful it activates the emotional
brain - the medial orbito-frontal cortex - like looking at a great painting or
listening to a piece of music." The more beautiful they rated the formula,
the greater the surge in activity detected during the fMRI (functional magnetic
resonance imaging) scans. "Neuroscience can't tell you what beauty is, but
if you find it beautiful the medial orbito-frontal cortex is likely to be
involved, you can find beauty in anything," he said.

A thing of great beauty

Euler's identity: Does it get better
than this? To the untrained eye there may not be much beauty in Euler's
identity, but in the study it was the formula of choice for mathematicians and
it is a personal favourite of Prof David Percy from the

The hugely influential theoretical
physicist Paul Dirac said: "What makes the theory of relativity so
acceptable to physicists in spite of its going against the principle of
simplicity is its great mathematical beauty. This is a quality which cannot be
defined, any more than beauty in art can be defined, but which people who study
mathematics usually have no difficulty in appreciating."

Mathematician and professor for the
public understanding of science, Marcus du Sautoy, said he
"absolutely" found beauty in maths and it "motivates every
mathematician". He said he loved a "small thing [mathematician

*13 February 2014 Last updated at 02:12*

*By James GallagherHealth and science reporter, BBC News*

*http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-26151062*