Beauty & physics, liberal arts & liturgy

Catholic artist and educator David Clayton makes connections between science, aesthetics, classical education, and then, for good measure, liturgy:

In excellent his book, Modern Physics and Ancient Faith, describing the consistency between the Faith and the discoveries of science, Stephen M Barr describes the scientific investigation of a grouping of sub-atomic particles which he refers to as a ‘multiplet’ of ‘hadronic particles’. He describes how when different properties, called ‘flavours’ of ‘SU(3) symmetry’, of nine of these particles were plotted mathematically, then they produced a patterned arrangement that looked like a triangle with the tip missing.

‘Without knowing anything about SU(3) symmetry, one could guess just from the shape of the multiplet diagram that there should be a tenth kind of particle with properties that allow it to be placed down at the bottom to complete the triangle pattern. This is not just a matter of aesthetics, the SU(3) symmetries require it. It can be shown from the SU(3) that the multiplets can only come in certain sizes….On the basis of SU(3) symmetry Murray Gell-Man predicted in 1962 that there must exist a particle with the right properties to fill out this decuplet. Shortly thereafter, the new particle, called the Ωˉ was indeed discovered.’

This result would have been of no surprise to anyone who had undergone an education in beauty based upon the quadrivium, – the ‘four ways’ – the higher part of the education of the seven liberal arts of education in the middle-ages[1]. The shape that Murray Gell-Man’s work completed was the triangular arrangement of 10 points known as the tectractys. As described in my previous articles for the New Liturgical Movement, this is the triangular arrangement of the number 10 in a series of 1:2:3:4. 1, 2, 3 and 4 are the first four numbers that symbolize the creation of the cosmos in three dimensions generated from the unity of God; and notes produced by plucking strings of these relative lengths we can construct the three fundamental harmonies of the musical scale. . . .

‘The traditional quadrivium is essentially the study of pattern, harmony, symmetry and order in nature and mathematics, viewed as a reflection of the Divine Order. When we perceive something that reflects this order, we call it beautiful. For the Christian this is the source, along with Tradition, that provides the model upon which the rhythms and cycles of the liturgy are based. Christian culture, like classical culture before it, was also patterned after this cosmic order; this order which provides the unifying principle that runs through every traditional discipline.  Literature, art, music, architecture, philosophy –all of creation and potentially all human activity- are bound together by this common harmony and receive their fullest meaning in the liturgy…

When we apprehend beauty we do so intuitively. So an education that improves our ability to apprehend beauty develops also our intuition. All creativity is at source an intuitive process. This means that professionals in anyfield including business and science would benefit from an education in beauty because it would develop their creativity. Furthermore, the creativity that an education in beauty stimulates will generate not just more ideas, but better ideas. Better because they are more in harmony with the natural order. The recognition of beauty moves us to love what we see. So such an education would tend to develop also, therefore, our capacity to love and leave us more inclined to the serve God and our fellow man. The end result for the individual who follows this path is joy.’

When the person is habitually ordering his life liturgically, he will tap into this creative force, for he will be inspired by the Creator. Meanwhile all those multiplets of hadronic particles in the cosmos will be giving praise to the Lord.

via The Way of Beauty.

HT: Cathy Sneidman

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Paul

    Good article. Contrary to what most people see in schools, mathematics at the research level is very much an aesthetic discipline, and I always enjoy seeing non-mathematicians express some appreciation of this fact. Now if only more mathematicians felt compelled to integrate their understanding of math and beauty into a wider and meaningful worldview…

  • Paul

    Good article. Contrary to what most people see in schools, mathematics at the research level is very much an aesthetic discipline, and I always enjoy seeing non-mathematicians express some appreciation of this fact. Now if only more mathematicians felt compelled to integrate their understanding of math and beauty into a wider and meaningful worldview…

  • Alan

    I thought this suggestion was worth pondering.

    http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/

    “…I have thought for years that this was a good idea. The government should pay for medical school up front and then instead of facing repayment of these big loans, (necessitating charging huge fees in their practice) doctors could instead pay it back by going on salary for the first few years of their careers. It seems to me that this would hold down health care costs, allow doctors to get plenty of training at a reasonable cost and allow them to pursue the fields in which they are interested or gifted instead of the ones that will help them pay back their enormous debt before they die. It’s worked pretty well with the military.

    “I realize that’s a commie kind of thing, but health care just doesn’t work very well in a laissez faire capitalist system. And frankly we are going to have to reassess whether or not it makes sense that certain doctors are millionaires and others aren’t, depending on their specialty. It’s a sort of microcosm of income inequality that could at least be a tiny bit mitigated by taxpayer sponsored education.”

  • Alan

    I thought this suggestion was worth pondering.

    http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/

    “…I have thought for years that this was a good idea. The government should pay for medical school up front and then instead of facing repayment of these big loans, (necessitating charging huge fees in their practice) doctors could instead pay it back by going on salary for the first few years of their careers. It seems to me that this would hold down health care costs, allow doctors to get plenty of training at a reasonable cost and allow them to pursue the fields in which they are interested or gifted instead of the ones that will help them pay back their enormous debt before they die. It’s worked pretty well with the military.

    “I realize that’s a commie kind of thing, but health care just doesn’t work very well in a laissez faire capitalist system. And frankly we are going to have to reassess whether or not it makes sense that certain doctors are millionaires and others aren’t, depending on their specialty. It’s a sort of microcosm of income inequality that could at least be a tiny bit mitigated by taxpayer sponsored education.”

  • Alan

    Sorry for posting @2 under the wrong topic. I moved it to the appropriate one.

  • Alan

    Sorry for posting @2 under the wrong topic. I moved it to the appropriate one.

  • P.L.Pedersen

    Mathematics
    In everything there is pattern
    Within the pattern is beauty.
    There is rhythm and order.
    In each equation there is symmetry.
    Find the rules, learn the patterns,
    love the beauty, and praise their Creator.

  • P.L.Pedersen

    Mathematics
    In everything there is pattern
    Within the pattern is beauty.
    There is rhythm and order.
    In each equation there is symmetry.
    Find the rules, learn the patterns,
    love the beauty, and praise their Creator.

  • Brad Sohlo

    I never realized how closely related math and music are until I heard Stephen Sondheim speak of his love of both in an interview. Of course, this can be extended to the entirety of God’s creation–science is as beautiful as a painting!

  • Brad Sohlo

    I never realized how closely related math and music are until I heard Stephen Sondheim speak of his love of both in an interview. Of course, this can be extended to the entirety of God’s creation–science is as beautiful as a painting!

  • Brad Sohlo

    And to further the analogy, Cranach was an apothecary and a painter (not to get into “vocation” here) so there is beauty in all things that ultimately give glory to God!

  • Brad Sohlo

    And to further the analogy, Cranach was an apothecary and a painter (not to get into “vocation” here) so there is beauty in all things that ultimately give glory to God!

  • ptl

    a book with a somewhat similar theme “The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science” is one of my favs…

  • ptl

    a book with a somewhat similar theme “The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science” is one of my favs…

  • Brad Sohlo

    Coincidentally, some 20 years ago I fulfilled my science requirements at Hamline University by taking two physics classes–Physics of Sound and Light and Physics for Poets. For one of these classes, my final project was a term paper titled “Sound in the Theatre,” drawing upon my knowledge and passion for the performing arts. I haven’t used the physical principles I learned, but I do continue to work in the theatre (my most recent project being a one-person show as Lucas Cranach telling the story of Luther’s life and teachings.)

  • Brad Sohlo

    Coincidentally, some 20 years ago I fulfilled my science requirements at Hamline University by taking two physics classes–Physics of Sound and Light and Physics for Poets. For one of these classes, my final project was a term paper titled “Sound in the Theatre,” drawing upon my knowledge and passion for the performing arts. I haven’t used the physical principles I learned, but I do continue to work in the theatre (my most recent project being a one-person show as Lucas Cranach telling the story of Luther’s life and teachings.)

  • fws

    “Literature, art, music, architecture, philosophy –all of creation and potentially all human activity- are bound together by this common harmony and receive their fullest meaning in the liturgy…”

    You really are saying then that mortifiction meets faith in the Holy Liturgy. the Nexus between the earthly kingdom and the heavenly kingdom is exactly there in the Holy Liturgy.

  • fws

    “Literature, art, music, architecture, philosophy –all of creation and potentially all human activity- are bound together by this common harmony and receive their fullest meaning in the liturgy…”

    You really are saying then that mortifiction meets faith in the Holy Liturgy. the Nexus between the earthly kingdom and the heavenly kingdom is exactly there in the Holy Liturgy.

  • Michael Schutz

    As a church musician, I have always been fascinated with physics – especialyl the physics of audio, and how music draws so deeply and necessarily upon that.

    I saw a talk a while back where a guy named Evan Grant gives a short history of “cymatics” – the work of trying to visualize sound, and it is fascinating (http://www.ted.com/talks/evan_grant_cymatics.html). After watching it, I couldn’t help but be amazed at the creativity of God that He allows us to discover!

    And it’s no surprise to see these amazing connections between art, beauty, creativity, worship, and liturgy. After all, we have a God whose creation is amazingly beautiful! And really, isn’t theology a similar sort of thing to cymatics – simply (but not simplistictly) discovering what God has revealed?

    As a hobbyist designer, I’m also fascinated with things like the “Golden Ratio” and how they inform so many things that we would call beautiful. And at its core, the Golden Ratio is also more of “discovery” of beauty in nature that we replicate in things we create than it is a creation itself.

    I’ve not had a classical education foundation, but all of these discussions are fascinating to me.

  • Michael Schutz

    As a church musician, I have always been fascinated with physics – especialyl the physics of audio, and how music draws so deeply and necessarily upon that.

    I saw a talk a while back where a guy named Evan Grant gives a short history of “cymatics” – the work of trying to visualize sound, and it is fascinating (http://www.ted.com/talks/evan_grant_cymatics.html). After watching it, I couldn’t help but be amazed at the creativity of God that He allows us to discover!

    And it’s no surprise to see these amazing connections between art, beauty, creativity, worship, and liturgy. After all, we have a God whose creation is amazingly beautiful! And really, isn’t theology a similar sort of thing to cymatics – simply (but not simplistictly) discovering what God has revealed?

    As a hobbyist designer, I’m also fascinated with things like the “Golden Ratio” and how they inform so many things that we would call beautiful. And at its core, the Golden Ratio is also more of “discovery” of beauty in nature that we replicate in things we create than it is a creation itself.

    I’ve not had a classical education foundation, but all of these discussions are fascinating to me.


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