Alec Wilkinson in The New Yorker:
The problem that Zhang chose, in 2010, is from number theory, a branch of pure mathematics. Pure mathematics, as opposed to applied mathematics, is done with no practical purposes in mind. It is as close to art and philosophy as it is to engineering. “My result is useless for industry,” Zhang said. The British mathematician G. H. Hardy wrote in 1940 that mathematics is, of “all the arts and sciences, the most austere and the most remote.” Bertrand Russell called it a refuge from “the dreary exile of the actual world.” Hardy believed emphatically in the precise aesthetics of math. A mathematical proof, such as Zhang produced, “should resemble a simple and clear-cut constellation,” he wrote, “not a scattered cluster in the Milky Way.” Edward Frenkel, a math professor at the University of California, Berkeley, says Zhang’s proof has “a renaissance beauty,” meaning that though it is deeply complex, its outlines are easily apprehended. The pursuit of beauty in pure mathematics is a tenet. Last year, neuroscientists in Great Britain discovered that the same part of the brain that is activated by art and music was activated in the brains of mathematicians when they looked at math they regarded as beautiful.