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Olaf L. Müller

Too good to be wrong

About aesthetics in science
S. Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2019
ISBN 9783100507099
Hardcover, 576 pages, EUR 34.00


Are Truth and Beauty Connected? Does it help scientists when they think aesthetically? Does beauty teach us anything about nature? When a scientific thought is as beautiful as it is, its credibility increases: this is the statement made by leading physicists since Kepler and Newton without blushing. Conversely, some scientific ideas are too ugly to be true and must therefore die. But why do physicists orient themselves so successfully to their sense of aesthetics? Olaf L. Müller looks over the shoulders of the geniuses at their beauty-conscious work. As he demonstrates using countless examples from art, music and poetry, there are close aesthetic relationships between artistic and scientific achievements: our sense of beauty constitutes part of what we strive for in scientific knowledge.

Review note on Die Tageszeitung, October 31, 2019

Reviewer Ingo Arend is apparently a bit ambivalent about beauty in science. On the one hand, he impressedly describes Müller's way of working - showing off a plethora of quotations, presenting an enormously extensive empirical material and detailed rendering of ancient disputes on the subject. But then it annoyed him that the author had not taken up the criticism of the physicist Hossenfelder, which appeared in the previous year and which apparently seemed very plausible to him, who opposed a certain beauty dogma in theoretical physics. In the end, however, the critic is happy again with the author about "courageous aesthetic" judgments by natural scientists that made them more human - and finds it worthwhile that someone makes the alleged contradiction of aesthetics and rationality something vulnerable.

Review note on Die Zeit, May 29, 2019

Only recently, the physicist Sabine Hossenfelder remarked critically that, because of the fixation on the beauty of a solution, no more new discoveries can be made in the natural sciences and especially in physics, says Maja Beckers. Nevertheless, she takes Olaf L. Müller's argument seriously. Müller tries to prove that the criteria of beauty, i.e. aesthetics, correspond to the truth in scientific thinking. Müller mentions Copernicus, for example, "who also opted for the heliocentric worldview for aesthetic reasons". And even Newton carried out his light experiments until they confirmed a theory that met his aesthetic criteria. Of course, Beckers also finds this extremely interesting - especially where Müller captures those moments in which aesthetics intrudes into the field of natural sciences, for example when "experiments follow narrative patterns". But the reviewer thinks that Müller is exaggerating where he "wants to give the sense of beauty its own rights". On the other hand, she cites Kepler's theory of the earth's elliptical orbit around the sun: It was not believed for a long time because a circular orbit was thought to be more beautiful. The skeptical reviewer warns that even symmetrically fitting elements of a theory can contain a "false reverse conclusion".