The Brain, Mathematics, and Art – Matt Pham

The human brain is divided into two parts: the left and the right. Most people believe that one side is emotional while is other is rational, so it can be hard to see how mathematics can possibly relate to art. It is true that the left side is more “technical” and “linear,” while the right side is more “emotional” and “visual” (“One Brain – Two Halves”), but both sides also have a mathematical component. The difference between the left and the right in their mathematical ability is that the left is concerned with linear problems like arithmetic, while the right is better with geometry and algebra. This explains how mathematics can be visual, and as such, applicable to art.

The brain is also very interested in patterns. We use patterns to generalize, categorize, and rationalize. Possibly, our desire to find patterns is evolved from a need to condense all the information that we receive in life. I think that fractals are attractive because our brains are made to find patterns. Fractals follow a specific set of rules, which is why they make sense to the eye, in a way. Fractals also appear often in nature, so they may invoke a sense of familiarity as well.


I think that this sense of familiarity is what makes phi beautiful, as well. Since phi shows up everywhere, it registers with our minds. We believe: “this is the way things should be; things should conform with phi,” and when they do, we feel good because our thinking is confirmed. This is why I think that people with faces that fit the golden mean are considered the most beautiful, while people with faces that are out of proportion or asymmetrical are considered to be unattractive. They do not fit with the pattern of phi, and thus seem unnatural.

However, the connection between beauty and mathematics raises another question. Is our interpretation of beauty, at its most fundamental level, simply based on mathematical formulae? Perhaps we only like what we like because it fits a certain formula. On the other hand, maybe my understanding of phi is wrong, and it is really just another standard of beauty created by society thousands of years ago. After all, there are many things that do not fit the golden ratio that we find beautiful.

(“Fern.” )

(“One Brain – Two Halves.” )


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