On 26 April 2017 I participated in a panel discussion on beauty in Berlin. Here’s what I and the others said:
The word “beautiful” is used in relation to a loose range of phenomena. When we look for beauty in faces, we’re doing something quite different from when we look for beauty in art. But should we think of beauty as purely sensory? Mathematicians frequently discuss the beauty of certain results or proofs. Another example that I particularly like is from Borges’s story ‘The Book of Sand.’ A man discovers an “infinite book” whose pages continually change and never return. He starts to go insane and chooses to destroy it, but when he considers burning it, fears that “the burning of an infinite book would be similarly infinite, and suffocate the world in smoke.” I find the idea here quite beautiful. The beauty arises from a kind of argument, from the thought the narrator arrives at. It is more logical than sensual. Perhaps we should be willing to talk of beautiful thoughts, ideas and arguments, acknowledging that the epistemological or rational already has an inescapable element of the aesthetic within it.