Gushing waterfall over rocks on a rainy day

Definitions and Explanations


The term “most elegant solution” is an expression used in science and mathematics.  It refers to an equation that is extraordinarily simple yet governs an extraordinarily large number of situations or phenomena.  An inelegant solution, on the. other hand, is an extraordinarily complex equation that governs a single or a small set of situations. 


Through both experience and common sense, Science considers elegant solutions to contain much greater insight, clarity, and intelligibility (e.g. truth) than they would inelegant solutions.  Elegant solutions are generalized equations whereas inelegant solutions are much more situational specific.


For example, Newton’s Second Law of Motion is a physics equation that relates force to mass and acceleration, F=ma.  It’s a simple yet high generalized equation that governs motion/force throughout the Universe.  It’s a highly elegant solution.


On the other hand, a graph of experimental test data relating stress and strain of a metal alloy is much less elegant, less insightful, and situation specific.  The graph tells an engineer how a specific type of metal will perform (deform) under a force (stress), but it won’t give much data on any other metal alloys, objects, or situations.  The test data is governed by the Second Law of Motion, F=ma, but only contains information for a relatively small set of situations.


Without knowing anything about physics, it’s quite apparent that the highly elegant solution of F=ma contains much more truth and clarity than the inelegant stress/strain test data found in the graph.

Photo by Ivana Cajina from