Dissertation, Harvard University (2020)

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In this dissertation, I connect aesthetics to two unusual areas: mathematics and meditation. In the first two essays, I argue that beauty and aesthetic experience make a difference to mathematical practice. A mathematical proof is very different from more familiar beauties, but I argue that what mathematicians call "beauty" really deserves the name. "No Mathematics Without Beauty" argues that mathematicians wouldn't be able to understand or create certain proofs without the capacity for aesthetic experience, and answers the objection that only things perceived through the senses can be beautiful. "The Allure of Elegance" is a detailed case study which traces the role of aesthetic factors in the development of three related proofs of the Quadratic Reciprocity Theorem. In "Where Aesthetics Meets Meditation," I argue that meditation as well as aesthetic appreciation involves adopting an attitude of "accepting attention." This attitude transforms the character of pain, increases the number and intensity of aesthetic experiences, and is a special, "warm,'' kind of detachment. The last fact sheds new light on old aesthetic notions such as "distance" and "disinterest".
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