The science of beauty

Video details

A two-day conference organised by Sir Michael Atiyah, University of Edinburgh and Professor Semir Zeki, University College London, exploring the scientific basis behind how we perceive beauty and the effect it has on our brain.

What is common to the experience of beauty derived from sensory, cognitive and moral sources? What is the relationship between aesthetic judgement and aesthetic experience? And what is the grander biological significance of the experience of beauty? These are some of the questions that were discussed at length by the many distinguished speakers at this wide-ranging two-day conference.


University of Edinburgh
Professor Semir Zeki
University College London
Professor Beatrice de Gelder
Maastricht University
Director of The Center for the Study of Scottish Philosophy, Princeton Theological Seminary
Dr Angela Breitenbach
Cambridge University
Professor Winfried Menninghaus
Director, Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Frankfurt
Sir David Attenborough
Director and Leon Levy Professor, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton
Dr Tomohiro Ishizu
University College London
Dr Cinzia Di Dio
University Cattolica Milan
Professor Michael Trimble
Institute of Neurology, University College London
Professor Nicky Clayton
Cambridge University and Mr Clive Wilkins, Artist in Residence, Cambridge University
Sir Roger Penrose
Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at the Mathematical Institute of the University of Oxford and an Emeritus Fellow of Wadham College

Lecture reports

The Science of Beauty

Speakers from the forefront of fields including mathematics, physics, neuroscience, art and psychology explored the experience of beauty. Over two days, they considered what beauty from sensory sources such as music and art has in common with beauty from cognitive ones such as mathematics or from moral sources. Sir David Attenborough also considered whether some animals make judgments for aesthetic reasons.

The audience and speakers were welcomed by Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, who described the event as one that embraced many of the RSE’s areas of interest such as science, arts and the humanities.

Day one

Day two