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Why beauty is truth and truth beauty – Quantum Jazz

Quantum Jazz Biology Lecture – Why Beauty is Truth & Truth Beauty
by Mae-Wan Ho: – from Celebrating ISIS Event 26-27 March 2011, London.

Mae-Wan Ho, ‘quantum jazz biologist’, regarded by some as “the most influential scientist alive today”, shows how her science and art bear out the poet John Keat’s enigmatic lines, Beauty is truth, and truth beauty, and why that is important for reclaiming science (and art) for the public good.

Mae-Wan Ho is Director of the Institute of Science in Society (, best known for original work on the physics of organisms and sustainable system and as a strong critic of genetic modification.
See her full biography here

35 Responses to Why beauty is truth and truth beauty – Quantum Jazz

  1. Ariadna Theokopoulos June 14, 2012 at 3:13 am #

    Very interesting, and food for thought. She gives credence to Keats: “Beauty is Truth and Truth is Beauty” although she cites a dissenter as well.

    I happen to believe that Truth is Beauty yet Beauty is not Necessarily Truth. How can that be? The relationship is not mathematical one A = B therefore B= A, but geometric:
    I imagine Truth as a small circle residing inside a larger one, which is Beauty. Thus Truth is completely contained in Beauty but Beauty has large areas that go outside of and beyond Truth.
    Truth endures and is intrinsically beauty; beauty endures only if it is truth. otherwise it turns out to be a false and evanescent perception.

    Humans perceive Beauty as a satisfying Gestalt/pattern with given characteristics: harmony, coherence, simplicity, symmetry (imperfect, because balanced by intermittent ‘chaos,’ surprise, change).
    We necessarily perceive it as Truth as well: it concords with “nature” as we see it. Geometry is beauty and truth, so is the Nautilus shell, the Parthenon, or the Cathedral of Amiens, Goedel’s self-referential equations, Escher’s ‘infinite’ drawings (the hand that draws the hand that draws it), or Bach’s fugues– the last three all sharing the same mathematical pattern, as Hoefstader taught us in his ‘beauty explained to end all explanations of beauty” study: “Goedel, Escher, Bach.”
    They are also Truth for all mankind for all times, until aliens come, snatch our bodies and fill them with their Truth…

    Examples to the contrary:
    When presented with the beautiful explanation that Earth is a large rectangular surface whose 4 corners are resting on 4 giant turtles, aided by 12 smaller ones ranged around the edges, the ancients were convinced it was true. It was beautiful, perfectly proportioned and it also explained earthquakes (the turtles were shifting the burden on their backs). For centuries this Beauty was Truth.
    So was later the beautiful geocentric model of the planetary system, with the sun and all the planets circling the Earth as “observed.” It was beautiful, harmonious, coherent, pleasing to man, and it was Truth; besides, it worked well enough with the calendars.
    These are examples of Beauty that was not Truth, but the inner coherence of their beauty was equated with the coherence of truth. They “held together.”

    In the realm of societal aesthetics:
    Mussolini’s fascism set about to create a new nation out of the Italians –not just to make them punctual and get the trains to run on time– but to revive the “power that was Rome” and give them the “glory” that was Fascism (I am bastardizing Poe here).
    The Italian fascism was not just a German Nazi version with better couture and more stylish boots; they set out to create their own new aesthetics fit for the new Italian fascist. No need to revive Latin (as the jews had to revive Hebrew) because, unlike the Jews, Italians all speak the same language (except in Calabria, but who goes there?)
    They reformed the language though: abolished the polite form of address (“Lei”) as a vestige of the old society, not fit for one of equals. (The Soviets also forbade the use of Sir/Mr (gospodar) and obligated people to call each other Comrade (tovarishch).
    Italian babies were named Cesare, Cicerone, even Anibale, but no longer Gianni, Fabrizio or Enzo. They “hailed” to the old and now renewed glory.
    The new aesthetics of the Italofascisti was meant to illustrate the “spirit” of the new, improved Italian.
    A lot of art was commissioned/subsidized, much was spontaneoulsy offered by sincere fascists or by opportunists.
    There was merry and proud and martial music and a new anthem (Giovinezza, giovinezza, primavera di bele-e-e-e-ezza…”), there was architecture –fascist bauhaus and bastardized neo–neo-classic one, plastic arts galore and poetry. Who wishes to see Italian fascist art needs to go to EUR, near Rome, where Mussolini started (but fortunately did not finish) the fascist “village” he envisioned, complete with a stadium and sculptures representing all sports and all the provinces of Italy. Sculpture in which Brave New World rapes classicism.

    I have absolutely no opinion about Israeli art because I have not seen any.
    All I can say is that ALL the art produced by such societies/ideologies that I do know, seeking to “forge a new nation” or a “new man”:
    —looks alike (the EUR architecture or the Soviet architecture reminiscent of government buildings in Washington, DC, the socialist realist art, the TVA art commissioned by Roosevelt, Italian fascist music or Soviet Komsomol music)
    –is kitsch (they bastardized classicism and even plagiarized each other)
    –expresses a supremacist ideology
    –depicts a non-existent utopian, two-dimensional cardboard human animated by hyperbolized prescribed “qualities”
    –it is false even when it is …. sincere, like the ham actor looking at the audience over his shoulder while reciting his lines, because it is not created freely, improvisationally, even accidentally but canonically and programatically, and not even the overeager enthusiasm of the artist can cure that
    The only art created in such societies that has value is art that defies the ideological requirements, dissident art, which does not get circulated at the time except in “samizdat” forms or now–on the internet

    I would not be able to say about any of it that it has any aesthetic value, only a historical value in the sense that it helps us understand the mentality and circumstances under which it was created. It has no Truth, only documentary, “lower case “truth”

    I emphasize that this does not refer to Israeli art, of which I have no knowledge whatsoeveer, and which may well be, like so much else about Israel, an exception.

    • Jonathon Blakeley June 14, 2012 at 9:48 am #

      great stuff Ariadna I will reply shortly

    • Somoe June 14, 2012 at 10:40 am #

      Wow, Ariadna! Before you wrote your response I was warming to the idea that Beauty is Truth. But your comment beautifully explains why this is not necessarily so and your points so wonderfully illustrated with examples. Thank you.

    • Paul Eisen June 14, 2012 at 11:16 am #


      I hope this is not s silly question, but could you give an example of something (outside the realms of mathematics or science), you think is true?

      • Ariadna Theokopoulos June 14, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

        That is a tough question, Paul. Searching for examples I had to eliminate one closest to my heart, Fibonacci’s number, also all of algebra, Avogadro’s number, transcendental numbers, Feigenbaum’s numbers (what a fine jew! 🙂 ), all geometry, DNA’s double helix, etc because it is all “mathematics or science.”
        So what is there that humans contemplate that is not touched by science?
        Music is excluded too. Mathematicians, those methodical slugs, crawled all over it and left their shiny grafitti on it: on Debussy’s La Mer they wrote: ‘Fibonacci was here!’ Bach is simply “defaced” with their scribblings. Even some musician quislings got into the act: listen to Glenn Gould’s recorded lectures, dissecting Bach and Mozart.
        Forget music.
        What is there that we can label Truth that cannot be said to belong to/be examined by science/math?
        Religious faith comes to mind, but to call it Truth it requires a bit of prestidigitation. Thus: “Creo quia absurdum”– I believe BECAUSE it is absurd.
        Can the absurd be true? Sure, everything we cannot explain is absurd but since that everything exists, it must be ‘true.’
        On the other hand, others say that the sleight of hand resides in the word “believe,” meaning I can only BELIEVE the absurd; if it were not absurd I would KNOW, not just believe. Some people have no problem with it though. Others say: “I cannot know for sure, but why not believe, just in case. What do I have to lose?” As if God is going to take lightly on a skeptical investor who’s hedging his bets in getting a diversified portfolio… 🙂
        Then there is “moral truth”– a huge mess of contradictory opinions and a battlefield strewn with inscribed stones, papyri, and more books than could be placed in the library imagined by Borges, to say nothing of the blood-soaked battlefields where wars have been fought in their names.
        On moral truth I am reminded of the old jewish adage of the Goy who says to the rabbi: “I am a busy man. Not much time on my hands. Can you teach me judaism while I stand on one leg? No problem, says the rabbi: Don’t do unto others.
        I would find it sufficient… Too bad it got no traction.

      • Jonathon Blakeley June 14, 2012 at 10:21 pm #

        To Paul… if I may interject

        3 things that are true or certain.

        1. Birth
        2. Death
        3. Change

        All else is filled with various shades of doubt and uncertain.

      • searching June 14, 2012 at 10:36 pm #

        “could you give an example of something (outside the realms of mathematics or science), you think is true?’
        I will answer with the quote from V. Frankl’s great book ,”Man’s search for meaning”.
        “A thought transfixed me; for the first time in my life I saw THE TRUTH as it is set into song by many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers.
        THE TRUTH –that LOVE is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and believe have to impart : The salvation of man is through LOVE and in LOVE . ……
        For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words :”the angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory”…
        I knew only one thing –which I learned well by now: LOVE goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved. It finds its deepest meaning in his spiritual being, his inner self. Whether or not he is actually present, whether he is still alive at all, ceases somehow to be of importance..”
        Victor Frankl wrote all of it as not a particulary religious man, he wrote it after his experience of concentration camp.

        • searching June 14, 2012 at 10:47 pm #

          The power of human spirit led by love and care.
          For me this is the ultimate BEAUTY.
          The power of spirt of this unknown Chinease man ,who had the courage to stop the tanks
          that were heading to do the bloody carneage.
          The kindness of a an old, wrinkled woman, who invited a group of strange, lost in the area tourists for a warm, home cooked meal.
          The mother who looks at her new born baby as a gift given form heaven.
          The older coupple who after 50 years of marriage still have so much love and respect for each other like the day they met.
          My friend , who spent the last 10 years caring for her very sick husband, and did not regret a minute of it.

        • Jonathon Blakeley June 14, 2012 at 11:00 pm #

          Great answer.. (Bonus Point). Love is missing from my diagram.
          I will see if I can integrate it.

          Great comment.

          Love is being completely honest with someone.

          • searching June 14, 2012 at 11:19 pm #

            “Love is being completely honest with someone”
            Yes ,but love is also about giving and not expecting too much in return ,( the ultimate state), and also about taking it and giving it back.
            Love as the utlimate sacrifice.
            Love that is needed for a spirit to grow, to thrive, to blossom.
            Can you imagine life without love??
            Imagine that all the love that you received/receive from your family, friends, kids, wife, girlfriend ,etc. is taken from you, what else is left??
            A religious person maybe wuld find a consolation in a love of God, some people are happy just offering love to others, but nonethelss we all need love to grow, to flourish.

        • Jonathon Blakeley June 14, 2012 at 11:04 pm #

          Is Love a Subset of Truth?

    • Jonathon Blakeley June 14, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

      I think you are too harsh Ariadna… Let’s not forget Israel’s greatest contribution to the World…

      Uri Geller and Spoon bending.

      • Ariadna Theokopoulos June 14, 2012 at 3:22 pm #

        🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂
        Did you come up with it independently of Gilad because great mind think alike? I remember reading it in one of his writings or perhaps hearing him in one of the interviews. That was quite a while ago.

    • Paul Eisen June 14, 2012 at 9:47 pm #

      “The Italian fascism was not just a German Nazi version with better couture and more stylish boots;”

      How bloody dare you! No-one, but no-one out-styles the Nazis

      • Ariadna Theokopoulos June 14, 2012 at 10:27 pm #

        Say that in Milano if you feel suicidal

        • searching June 14, 2012 at 11:00 pm #

          Are there still Mussolini’s lovers in Milano??
          I though they are all long dead by now.
          Are they open about it, or more like hush -hush, here is a secret, but don’t tell??

  2. who_me June 14, 2012 at 4:17 am #

    great find, jb, thanks.

    this might be related?

    or maybe not.

    rest of the talk:

  3. who_me June 14, 2012 at 5:08 am #

    she kicks arse, no?

  4. Jonathon Blakeley June 14, 2012 at 9:30 am #

    She certainly does kick arse. The best video I have seen since “The brother from another planet”.

  5. Somoe June 14, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    What a fabulous endeavour ISIS is! This is exactly the kind of approach to understanding the universe of which we are a part – a holistic vision.

  6. Jonathon Blakeley June 14, 2012 at 12:49 pm #

    I was trained in mathematics so I thought this may help to further our understanding – your feedback refinements is of course welcome..

    • Ariadna Theokopoulos June 14, 2012 at 3:24 pm #


      • Paul Eisen June 14, 2012 at 8:22 pm #

        Yes superb, but other than Maths, Science and God, what’s in the circle?

        • Ariadna Theokopoulos June 14, 2012 at 8:27 pm #

          You’re asking in what else is there Truth? “Veritas” for the Romans? Simple: wine.

        • Ariadna Theokopoulos June 14, 2012 at 8:50 pm #

          Perhaps we should also talk about personal, lower case “truths.”
          If asked to speculate, I would guess that yours is “Nothing human is alien to me.”

        • Jonathon Blakeley June 14, 2012 at 10:24 pm #

          Truth is a circle of zero radius at the centre of the circle of beauty.

          I am at the centre, as we all are.

          • Ariadna Theokopoulos June 14, 2012 at 10:31 pm #

            “Truth is a circle of zero radius at the centre of the circle of beauty.”

            I WILL have this framed.
            Beautiful, really beautiful.
            Must be your math training.

          • searching June 14, 2012 at 10:54 pm #

            if man is in the centre, whom does he eventually wind up worshiping ??

  7. Ariadna Theokopoulos June 14, 2012 at 9:43 pm #

    Here is a funny personal anecdote that could be called
    Beauty Takes No Prisoners:
    A long time ago I was visiting various sites of interest in Rome with an Italian acquaintance who almost had a car (Fiat 500)… In the Roman Forum I think he warned me at least 5 times not to pick up anything from the ground as a souvenir because “if every tourist did that, Rome would soon look like Athens” (i.e., bare, emptied of antiquities with only the Parthenon left). I kept assuring him I wouldn’t.
    During our walks he gave me his high opinion of Mussolini–a great, much maligned Italian patriot. He insisted on showing me the balcony from which he which he had spoken, etc. It was clear he was a Mussolini fan.
    Later in the day we visited EUR, the stadium, etc, where he told me what he thought Il Duce’s “vision” had been.
    I was listening quietly and just looking down at my feet, standing on one of Il Duce’s mosaics. Suddenly, just before leaving, he bent over, dislodged a piece of the mosaic and said “Here! You can take this as a souvenir.” Why, I asked? Why this is OK?
    Oh, he said, this is ugly. EUR is shit.”

  8. Jonathon Blakeley June 14, 2012 at 11:22 pm #

    I like Venn Diagrams because i think they express the quantum relationships of things, concept and sets of information. I use them for meditation.

    My latest offering, love as a subset of beauty and truth.

    • searching June 14, 2012 at 11:36 pm #

      Neat . Self/not-self.
      “Love your neighbor as yourself “.
      of course for me the ultimate Love is God. Sometimes I tend to forget it during the course of worrying about the “earthly” matters.

  9. Jonathon Blakeley June 15, 2012 at 12:20 am #

    exactly, Love seems to be a subset of truth.
    But then there are many forms of Love.
    I read the Greeks and 5 forms.,


    • searching June 15, 2012 at 1:24 am #


      Here is a great movie that I watched recently.
      “The way back” by Peter Weir.
      The story of mostly Polish prisoners, who escaped from Siberian gulag and walked 4500 miles to freedom. It shows an incredible power of human spirit, the power love, the power of friendship and the power of determination.
      Worth seeing.