1933, Harvard mathematician George Birkhoff quantified beauty. The
basic idea, he said, is that M = O/C, where M is the “aesthetic
measure,” O is order, and C is complexity. By elaborating this principle
into specific formulas, he decided that the square is the most pleasing
polygon and the major triad the most pleasing diatonic chord. Of eight
vases he considered, a Ming jar ranked highest, with
M = 0.80, and in poetry the opening of Colerige’s “Kubla Khan” received
an M rating of 0.83. The same principles can be applied to painting,
sculpture, and architecture.
This kind of use of the formula leads at once to certain well known aesthetic maxims:
Unify as far as possible without loss of variety (that is, diminish the complexity C without decrease of the order O). Achieve variety in so far as possible without loss of unity (that is, increase O without increase of C).
This ‘unity in variety’ must be found in the several parts as
well as in the whole (that is, the order and complexity of the parts
enter into the order and complexity of the whole).
seems to me that the postulation of genius in any mystical sense is
unnecessary,” he concluded. “The analytic phase appears as an inevitable
part of aesthetic experience. The more extensive this experience is,
the more definite becomes the analysis.”