Paul Dirac and the Religion of Mathematical Beauty

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Paul Dirac has been called ‘the first truly modern theoretical physicist’. In the latter part of his life, he was obsessed by the idea that the fundamental laws of nature must have mathematical beauty. This was ‘almost a religion to him’, he said. In this talk, I shall trace the origins of his fascination with this idea (going back to his school education) and question the account he gave of his contribution to quantum mechanics and field theory, which he often said emerged from his aesthetic perspective. I shall also give some insights into the extraordinary character of this man, whom Niels Bohr called ‘the strangest man’ who ever visited his Institute in Copenhagen.