Love, Grief, and Hope: Emotional responses to death and dying in the UK
Madeleine Pennington and Nathan Mladin’s report examining emotional responses to death and dying in the UK. 27/11/2023
Nick Spencer’s report on the relationship between science and beauty. 16/01/2023
Beauty matters to scientists. They find it in the subject of their research, their experiments, and their teaching. It serves not only as a motivator but also as an indicator of truth. Only 3% claim not to find it at all.
The research for this report was conducted among physicists and biologists in four countries (UK, Italy, USA, India) and involved a substantial quantitative questionnaire and in–depth qualitative interviews.
It found that among UK scientists, 76% reported encountering beauty most commonly in the phenomena they studied, whereas 62% found it in scientific theories. Other areas included teaching (46%) and the process of scientific research (44%).
Scientists in India tended to be more likely to encounter beauty in their work, with, for example, 40% saying they “felt a sense of clarity as I saw how things fit together”, compared to 32% of UK scientists surveyed.
Physicists and biologists tended to have slightly differing conceptions of beauty. Biologists tended to cite “complexity” more often, whereas physicists cited “symmetry” and “simplicity”. However, they concurred on the salience of “elegance”, “hidden order or patterns”, and the “inner logic of systems” for the idea of beauty.
While it is too simplistic to say that beauty was straightforwardly or necessarily interpreted as a guide to truth in science, it is nonetheless true that it could be and was used as an indicator or guide in the pursuit of truth. For some, beauty was the reason they started doing science in the first place. For others, it is a reason to continue when things are tough.
Above all, however, beauty plays a role in the connection between the human mind and the world that it is investigating. The fact there is such a connection often strikes scientists as remarkable itself, as does the fact that science reveals a deep coherence within nature that matches this comprehension. The fact that that connection, coherence, and comprehension often reveals itself in simple, elegant, parsimonious – ‘beautiful’ – form is important.
Over the last two years, Theos has been working with The Catholic University of America on a study entitled Work and Well–Being in Science. The project is a large, international research programme exploring the role of key factors that affect the well–being of scientists, focussing primarily on physicists and biologists from India, Italy, the UK, and the US. The study examined a wide range of topics, including meaning and identity in work, and scientists’ assessments of their workplace cultures, but our collaboration focused on the significance and the role of aesthetics in scientific work.
Read the full report here.
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Images by Emily Downe
Nick is Senior Fellow at Theos. He is the author of a number of books and reports, including Magisteria: the entangled histories of science and religion (Oneworld, 2023), The Political Samaritan: how power hijacked a parable (Bloomsbury, 2017), The Evolution of the West (SPCK, 2016) and Atheists: The Origin of the Species (Bloomsbury, 2014). He is host of the podcast Reading Our Times.
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Nick Spencer introduces Theos’ latest research exploring the realms of Science and Beauty. 13/01/2023In Brief
Theos researches and investigates the intersection of religion, politics and society in the contemporary world.