From the Curator / Yivsam Azgad
The nerve cells in our brains control our feelings and perceptions, and they detect aesthetics in the wash of information flooding our senses; yet they are unaware of the quantum world of light that engages in complex interplay with matter. The laws governing atmospheric turbulence – on Earth or other planets – play no role in the world of genes whose complex networks are ruled by their own sets of laws. The plants taking in the Sun’s energy and releasing the oxygen we breathe live in a completely different sphere of existence from that of the particles that come from the far reaches of the Universe, pass through our bodies and the mass of our planet, and continue off into the void. Embryonic development takes place within its own little world, insensible to the stars exploding millions of light years distant.
What do all of these have in common? What are the natural laws at the basis of all known phenomena, from the composition of inanimate matter up to the complex systems that enable sentient life to flourish? These are the deep, fundamental questions that science tries to answer. If we could better understand the “rules of the game,” we might come closer to attaining one of our greatest goals: to better predict the future.
Along the way, we develop theories, test them with experiments and, if need be, modify or replace them. Here is the original instance in which the concept of beauty meets up with science. Scientists and philosophers have long held the notion that a good theory must be beautiful to be correct. For scientists, beauty is to be found in the greatest moments in their careers; it beckons them through microscopes and telescopes, blossoms in new conceptualizations of complex data, is expressed in the plotting of a graph or the depicting of a chemical or biological process, and accompanies the “dance steps” of a new theory.
In many cases – though not always – there is an observable fit between beauty and truth. To be sure, “a beautiful hypothesis may be slain by an ugly fact,” in the words of Thomas Huxley. But many believe this situation merely awaits the breakthrough that will reveal a deeper, more beautiful truth. Eventual triumph may lie in the distant future, but where science reveals the beauty of nature, hope springs eternal.
This exhibit brings together images generated in defining moments in the course of scientific discovery, revealing the visual beauty that is part and parcel of the research conducted by members of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities and the Israel Young Academy. Presenting them as they were obtained, without any processing, is a way for scientists to share the excitement and joy that accompany the daily struggle to expand the boundaries of human knowledge.