Poetry News

Did Keats Get It All Wrong?

By Harriet Staff

That's what David Orrell thinks, over at the Huffington Post. He's, of course, referring to Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn," where Keats writes:

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
   Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

His discussion begins by laying out a classical definition of beauty and connecting the definition to elegant theories in science:

Three of the main aesthetic properties in science are the classical ideals of elegance, unity, and symmetry. Perhaps the archetypal example of a beautiful theory is Newton's law of gravity, which is the scientific equivalent of the Parthenon, or maybe Grace Kelly. Its design is deceptively simple and elegant. It unifies a broad range of phenomena--everything from the motion of a planet around the Earth, to an apple falling to the ground--just as an artwork or beautiful face brings an inherent unity and consistency. And it is highly symmetric, in the sense that the force produced by a body acts the same in every direction.


Another famous example of a beautiful theory is Einstein's E=mc2, which unifies the concept of energy (E), mass (m), and the speed of light (c). The equation grew out of Einstein's theory of relativity, which his colleague Max Born called "a great work of art, to be enjoyed and admired from a distance."

Seems to make sense. Orrell goes on to write, "The success of these elegant theories meant that beauty has become a kind of a goal in itself. But, with due respect to John Keats, is it possible that beauty is not truth? And could the quest for beauty be leading science down the wrong path?" Good question. Follow the link to find out the answer.

Originally Published: November 14th, 2012