Elegance is a synonym for beautiful that has come to acquire the additional connotations of unusual effectiveness and simplicity. It is frequently used as a standard of tastefulness particularly in the areas of visual design, decoration, the sciences, and the aesthetics of mathematics. Elegant things exhibit refined grace and dignified propriety.
Different applications of the term are not fully isomorphic in the sense described by Douglas Hofstadter as follows: “The word ‘isomorphism’ applies when two complex structures can be mapped onto each other, in such a way that to each part of one structure there is a corresponding part in the other structure, where ‘corresponding’ means that the two parts play similar roles in their respective structures.” The lack of such an isomorphism means that various definitions are in some degree mutually inconsistent.
Nonetheless, essential components of the concept include simplicity and consistency of design, focusing on the essential features of an object. In art of any kind one might also require dignified grace, or restrained beauty of style.
Visual stimuli are frequently considered elegant if a small number of colors and stimuli are used, emphasizing the remainder.
In philosophy of science
In philosophy of science, simplicity is a meta-scientific criterion by which to evaluate competing theories. In this field, a distinction is often made between two senses of simplicity: "syntactic simplicity" (the number and complexity of hypotheses), and ontological simplicity (the number and complexity of things postulated). These two aspects of simplicity are often referred to as elegance and parsimony respectively.
The proof of a mathematical theorem exhibits mathematical elegance if it is surprisingly simple yet effective and constructive; similarly, a computer program or algorithm is elegant if it uses a small amount of code to great effect.
In engineering, a solution may be considered elegant if it uses a non-obvious method to produce a solution which is highly effective and simple. An elegant solution may solve multiple problems at once, especially problems not thought to be inter-related.
In chemistry, chemists might look for elegance in theory and method, in technique and procedure. For example: elegance might comprise creative parsimony and versatility in the utilization of resources, in the manipulation of materials, and in effectiveness in syntheses and analysis.
- Hofstadter, Douglas R. (1999). Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-02656-7. OCLC 40724766.
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry
- Perrin, Chad (16 August 2006). "ITLOG Import: Elegance". Chad Perrin: SOB.
- Spolsky, Joel (15 December 2006). "Elegance". Joel on Software.
- Zeldes, Nathan (2007). "Ingenious simplicity". Nathan's Possibly Interesting Web Site. Retrieved 11 October 2011.