By Hamish Johnston
Paul Dirac famously said “A physical theory must possess mathematical beauty”.
This morning Radio 4’s Today programme asked Dirac’s biographer Graham Farmelo “How can a theory of physics possess beauty?”.
Farmelo was joined on-air by Jim Al-Khalili, professor of physics at the University of Surrey, and together they discussed if aesthetics and logical thinking can go together.
You can listen to the conversation here — scroll right down to the last item of the programme. The audio clip will be available for about one week.
Although Al-Khalili and Farmelo did their best to explain, Radio 4’s normally razor-sharp John Humphrys seemed humbled by the concept.
The piece ended with Humphrys asking Al-Khalili for a concrete example of how the beauty of mathematics led Dirac to ground-breaking physics.
Al-Khalili recounted how Dirac used mathematics to predict the existence of antimatter several years before the stuff was actually seen in an experiment.
“…and antimatter is?”, replied Humphrys.