I’ve known a lot of mathematicians in my time, and generally they seem oblivious to any kind of beauty around them, except sometimes for Mozart. This surprises me because there is a beauty in mathematics which a mathematician is best placed to appreciate, and I suspect that many opportunities to appreciate this are missed. I hope I am wrong.

I have a wooden box on my desk, containing a few small important things, and I have often thought it the most beautiful box I’ve ever seen. It’s just a box – why is it so beautiful? Today I actually measured it: 19.3 x 11.4 x 7 cms. Then I looked at the proportions: 19.3/11.4 = 1.69, and 11.4/7 = 1.63, both numbers close to the Golden Mean, 1.6180339887 approximately. So this is why the box looks so right as a box - the proportions are as they should be. But this then begs the more fundamental question: Why is this ratio so right? Any ideas?

I watched a television documentary about the Golden Ratio a few months ago. Fascinating. It was based around architecture but briefly outlined other walks of life where it was apparent.

Throughout history not only architects but painters, composers and nature have made beautiful use of these proportions, either knowingly or not.

For me the word ‘beautiful’ is the key. It just is. Pleasing to the eye, restful on the mind, easy on the ear.

Reading around the subject I think that symmetry might be the answer. It is often said that what makes a human face beautiful is symmetry. Perhaps that is what is at work on our subconscious here?

Symmetry is one of the triad of qualities the ancient Greeks thought comprised beauty. The other two were proportion and harmony. It just works! But it doesn’t explain, to me, why this golden mean is so perfect – and it was used, very knowingly indeed, in ancient Greek architecture, most notably in the Parthenon, on the Athenian Acropolis.