# The Math Behind Beauty A plastic surgeon computes the perfect face. �What is Beauty?

� Very little has surprised me more, in my years as a public intellectual, than how often I get collared on the street by some desperate pedestrian demanding an answer to this most fundamental question. Almost never. It hardly ever happens. Which is odd, because people still care about Beauty�quite a lot in fact�especially here in Southern California, if I can be the first to make that observation. Last night in my room at the Sunset Marquis I reached out for what I assumed was the room-service menu and passed a few fleeting surreal moments trying to imagine what �Upper Leg with Bikini� might taste like, for a mere \$100. It turned out that I had grabbed the Beauty Menu by mistake and that for \$240 someone was prepared to come to my room and give my skin a �Firming Renovateur.� But while people may care about being beautiful as much as they ever did, it seems they have largely stopped trying to figure out what Beauty actually is. It wasn�t always thus. The ancient Greeks, for their part, were convinced that an explanation of, and definition for, Beauty was as concrete and discoverable as the answer to why the days got shorter in winter or why your toga weighed more after you�d gone swimming in it. Indeed, no less a thinker than Pythagoras, he of hypotenuse fame, logged some impressive early results. In music, Pythagoras showed that the notes of the musical scale were not arbitrary but reflected the tones produced by a lute string�or any string�when its length was subdivided precisely into such simple ratios as 2:1 or 3:2. In architecture and design, similarly, he managed to show that the shapes people found most pleasing were those whose sides were related by the so-called golden ratio. The golden ratio, briefly, is the proportional relationship between two lines a and b such that (a + b) is to a as a is to b; in other words, the ratio between the whole and one of its parts is the same as the ratio between its two parts. This doesn�t sound like much in algebra form (a/b = (a + b)/a) and still less when expressed as a decimal (1:1.61814). But draw a rectangle�or build a Parthenon�with sides of a and b, and the sheer cosmic rightness of the thing leaps out at you. If you were to be stranded on a desert island with one particular rectangle, that�s the one you�d go with. Palpably, it�s the first rectangle that occurred to God when he realized he needed another four-sided, right-angled shape to complement his juvenile masterpiece, the square. This was good enough for Plato, the 800-pound gorilla of ancient Greek intellectual life, to include Beauty as one of his famous forms: those transcendent, invisible archetypes of which this reality is nothing but a set of blurry ramshackle imitations. Beauty was not in the eye of the beholder. On the contrary, to borrow Plato�s legendary cave metaphor, the beholder had his back to Beauty, able to see only its flickering shadows on the grimy cave wall of reality. In short, the Science of Beauty was inaugurated by the two classical thinkers upon whose shoulders the science of pretty much everything else would eventually come to rest. Among historians of science, that�s what is known as a rollicking and