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A Piece of My Mind
June 6, 2017

It’s a Beautiful Thing

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • 2Institute for Health Policy, Management, and Evaluation and Department of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada; and Department of Medicine, Mount Sinai Hospital and University Health Network, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
JAMA. 2017;317(21):2165-2166. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.3102

It is more important to have beauty in one’s equations than to have them fit experiment.

Paul Dirac

Nobel Prize–winning physicist Paul Dirac is perhaps best remembered for his preoccupation with “pretty mathematics.” To the amusement of others, he would spend hours tinkering with equations to make them as aesthetically pleasing as possible—even if this meant rewriting the entire proof from scratch. When forced to choose between beauty and other technical considerations, he would almost always choose beauty, which he saw as an inviolable tenet of physics and the ultimate tendency of nature. Today, his quotes on beauty are inscribed in lecture halls and book covers and are repeated by physics professors in classrooms around the world.