Are Aesthetic Judgements Purely Aesthetic? Testing the Social Conformity Account

ZDM (forthcoming)

Authors
Andrew Aberdein
Florida Institute of Technology
Abstract
Many of the methods commonly used to research mathematical practice, such as analyses of historical episodes or individual cases, are particularly well-suited to generating causal hypotheses, but less well-suited to testing causal hypotheses. In this paper we reflect on the contribution that the so-called hypothetico-deductive method, with a particular focus on experimental studies, can make to our understanding of mathematical practice. By way of illustration, we report an experiment that investigated how mathematicians attribute aesthetic properties to mathematical proofs. We demonstrate that perceptions of the aesthetic properties of mathematical proofs are, in some cases at least, subject to social influence. Specifically, we show that mathematicians’ aesthetic judgements tend to conform to the judgements made by others. Pedagogical implications are discussed.
Keywords hypotheses  mathematical aesthetics  hypothetico-deductive method
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