A good friend of mine from college just finished his doctorate in mathematics. While I have always had an aptitude for math I never saw in it the beauty that has been described by so many mathematicians. I have read many examples of elegant proofs but none have ever led to an “aha” moment.
In describing the ineffability of mathematics Paul Erdös said “If you don’t see why, someone can’t tell you. I know numbers are beautiful.” As many times as I have seen the “1,2,3 Count With Me” Sesame Street video introducing the importance of numbers my feelings toward them have not gone far beyond a mature appreciation.
I think, however, that I recently opened the door to the feeling of mathematical beauty through the experience of beauty and elegance in chess.
I have been plowing through the book Learn Chess Tactics by John Nunn. Each chapter introduces a tactic or approach and ends with practice scenarios from expert games. Solutions to the problems are in the back of the book and some of them are gorgeous. Many plays are unexpectedly sharp and surprising, at times appearing to be errors while in actuality forcing the opponent into serious trouble. There can be tremendous magnificence in chess.
In an odd way I feel that I discovered a separate beauty as well, that of appreciating elegance in math through the discovery of a similar elegance in chess. Now I just have to learn to play well!