A Beautiful Question


This work was especially prepared for “A Beautiful Question” by Shuifa He, a modern master of traditional Chinese art and calligraphy. He is renowned for the vigor and subtlety of his brushwork, and for the spiritual depth of his depiction of flowers, birds, and nature.


A simple translation of the inscription is this: “Taiji double fish is the essence of Chinese culture. This image was painted by Shuifa He on a lake in early winter.”


Taiji has been translated in several ways, of which “Supreme Polarity” may be the most suggestive. Its symbol contains two contrasting elements, Yin (dark) and Yang (light), and is commonly called a Yin-Yang figure. Note that these two elements form an inseparable whole, and that each both contains, and is contained in, the other.


Our deepest descriptions of physical reality, in quantum theory and in the four Core theories of forces (gravitation, electromagnetism, strong and weak forces), bring in concepts that call to mind Yin and Yang. Niels Bohr, an influential founder of quantum theory, saw strong parallels between his concept of complementarity and the unified duality of Yin- Yang. He designed a coat of arms for himself, in which the Yin-Yang figures centrally. The Core theories, as explained in the later parts of this book, center around the interplay between light-like space filling fluids (Yang) and substances (Yin) they both direct and respond to.


The playful “double fish” aspect of Taiji comes to life in Shuifa He’s image. The Yin and Yang resemble two carp playing together, and there are hints of their eyes and fins.


At Henan, on the Yellow River, is a waterfall called Dragon’s Gate. Yulong carp attempt to jump the cataract, although it is very difficult for them. Those that succeed transform into lucky dragons. With a sense of humor, we may associate this event with the transformation of virtual into real particles, an essential quantum process that is now thought to underly the origin of structure in the universe. Alternatively we may identify ourselves with the carp, and their strivings with our quest for understanding.


Frank Wilczek


A Work of Art


"A work of art is an infinitely complex focus of human experience. The mystery of its creation, its historic, and the rise and fall of its esthetic, documentary, sentimental and commercial values, the endless variety of its relationship to other works of art, its physical condition, the meaning of its subject, the technique of its production, the purpose of the person who made it — all these factors lie behind a work of art, converge upon it, and challenge our powers of analysis and publication.  And they should be made accessible to other scholars and intelligible to the general public.”

Alfred H. Barr, Jr. (1946), first director of the New York Museum of Modern Art.


This definition expresses the work of both Frank Wilczek and Shuifa He. For Shuifa He, it expresses his work in a classical way. Frank Wilczek’s work in theoretical physics is an artful enterprise of the intellect, guided by beauty, and it challenges our power of analysis and his thought process is an infinitely complex focus of human experience.

Admissions to all Brahe programs is free. Brahe does not engage in any religious or political activity.