milky wayWhat’s out there? Alien life forms?

Maybe.

The physical embodiment of a whole lot of math?

Definitely.

In Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine, physicist Alan Lightman waxes poetic about math: certainly as worthy a poetic topic as love or longing. He describes an epiphany he had years ago. He had been stuck on a physics problem, when suddenly he found the answer—the mathematical solution.

“But this was not only mathematics,” he realizes. “Somewhere in the universe, in another galaxy perhaps, this thing might be happening, according to these equations. How could that be? What had I touched?”

And so the narrative circles around this idea of the interconnectedness of math and aesthetic wonderment. Whereas people used to look at stars and wonder at their permanence, science now allows us to look at stars and wonder not at that—for stars are born and die, just like us—but at the permanence of the mathematical equations that govern them.

How can it be that an equation is more eternal than a star?

The next time you want to impress a lover, don’t say “I’d give you the stars!” Instead, try saying this: “I’d give you the equations!”

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