ISSN 2050-5337 - ISSUE 4

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Wednesday, 29 August 2012 13:45

Creativity and Skill in Science

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There are probably around a hundred proofs of the Pythagoras theorem. Functionally they are the same; they all prove the Pythagoras theorem. But some of these proofs are beautiful, some are surprising, others are dull. If you 'speak maths', then one proof is a like a poem, and another is like an excerpt from a safety manual. One proof is creative, another one is utilitarian.

Two proofs of the Pythagoras theorem

At first sight it may seem surprising that something as mechanical, as algorithmic as a mathematical proof can have aesthetical properties. Aesthetical properties are, after all, more commonly associated with art, music, and literature. But the relevant difference between a mathematical proof and a painting does not reside in the human ingenuity or creativity required for either pursuit. The relevant difference is in the tools that are used to express our creativity: cunning jumps in logic in one case, paint and canvas in the other. This could be the end of this essay, but there are aspects of scientific creativity that set it apart from any other form of creativity.

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Dr Maarten H P Ambaum

Maarten Ambaum is Senior Lecturer in Theoretical Meteorology at the University of Reading. His research interests span a wide range of topics in the physics and mathematics of the atmosphere and oceans. He has a degree in theoretical physics from the University of Utrecht, The Netherlands. His most recent work dealt with the influence of cosmic rays on cloud formation, statistical methods in climate science, thermodynamics of the climate system, and predictability of the jet stream. He is author of a textbook on thermal physics of the atmosphere. Some of his work was also part of an art-science collaboration between the Universities of Brighton, Reading, Exeter and Sussex.

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