Book Review: A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design by Frank Wilczek

The question is, does beauty exist in nature or more so in physics? Frank Wilczek sets to prove it by looking through mathematical, physical, and philosophical theories about the world, starting from Plato and Pythagoras and ending up with his and his colleagues’ postulations about supersymmetry. I’m not sure if to give you an answer or a tip on what beauty means (there, now all of you got it instantly,) as Wilczek gives away the plot in the first pages, but I guess for the sake of tension, I leave it for you to find out.

I have complex feelings about this book. While it clarifies so much and the writer’s arguments are eloquent, there are also places I get lost, and I suddenly have read several pages with no comprehension. There are two reasons for this: the concepts expressed differ in their complexity. First, when we get to the nitty-gritty of atomic level and quantum theories with their Creek symbols, the simplicity of the explanations is lost. Understandable. But to argue, there are places where Wilczek uses metaphors to explain the whole concept in one sentence, and you are like, “Yeah, I understand now.” This is especially true in the sections handling color, vibration, and photons and how music fits into the picture. Second, the language of the book varies greatly, making reading a confusing experience. You spend hundreds of pages with the writer removed as an actor, and suddenly, we jump into his children and marvel at the cosmos. This contradiction and jumping around happens inside the chapters as well, suddenly changing from physics to philosophy, forcing you to stop and ponder why the jump was made, sometimes without an obvious answer.

What I also found very confusing was that I thought I had formed a coherent idea of the quantum world and physics through simple reads like Carlo Rovelli’s Reality is Not What it Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity, and as I read this book, suddenly it was all gone, and I was back lost in this universe without comprehension of the physical reality which governs me. I’m not sure if it is just my brain that finds competing explanations with slight differences in how and what theories are stressed distributive? All this makes me feel stupid and as if someone had sneaked in to steal what I already knew and leave a note saying, “sorry, not compatible.” And then I think that maybe the scientists are not so out of Plato’s cave, and actually, I’m caught between competing explanations and no sides make that clear to the laymen like me, and in my case leaves me lot confused and believing someone indeed stole information out of my brain. Anyway, this has nothing to do with the book—just my ruminations about the failings of my mind and comprehending the book in its entirety.

Still, I love reading books about physics and the quantum world, as always some new aspect will reveal itself and stick with me. From this book, I take with me the image of atoms as musical instruments played by photons. 

Thank you for reading, and have a beautiful day ❤

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