A sign of balance and agreement

Train Trestle Symmetry

According to Nobel laureate Phil Anderson, “It is only slightly overstating the case to say that physics is the study of symmetry.” The word “symmetry” comes from the Greek, synnetria, meaning “Agreement in dimensions, due proportion, arrangement.”

I’ve chosen this theme for contemplation because, somewhere along the line, I’d gotten into the habit of noticing symmetries and associating them with the aesthetic sensibilities of harmony, proportion, and balance—touchstones in my everyday aesthetic awareness. 

Whenever I’m made aware of something symmetrical, whether in a garden or grocery store, on a digital clock or distant highway, I experience a little Aha!, a twinge of harmony. I’ve come to think of it as a sort of attunement to the fundamental patterning of the universe. The experience seems to say to me, “What you’re thinking or doing in this moment is in harmony with your purpose—and all is well.” I reached this conclusion because, over the course of many years, the feeling that “all is well” occurred consistently in association with sightings of symmetry. Subtle experiences like this are rarely talked about, yet imagination and pattern recognition are among the features that distinguish us from other members of the animal kingdom.

This is not to say that symmetry is the only or even primary arrangement of the universe. It’s not. Asymmetry is the other side of the coin—and just as significant. But to show the pervasiveness of symmetry and to help us know where to look, it commonly appears in many domains.

Accounting: (Balance sheets)

Aesthetics: (Symmetry in faces has been shown to be physically attractive)

Architecture: (Every civilization. Cathedrals, temples, mosques, pyramids, White House)

Art: (Pottery, jewelry, quilts, sand-paintings, carpets, furniture, masks)

Biology: (The DNA spiral. Bilateral animals: humans, plants, starfish, sea urchins)

Chemistry: (Symmetry underlies all specific interactions between molecules in nature)

Communities: (Certain suburbs, streets, city grids)

Consciousness: (Yin/Yang. Logic: If Paul is as tall as Karen, Karen is as tall as Paul)

Food: (Fruits and vegetables cut in half are all symmetrical)

Games: (Chess, Chinese Checkers, Playing Cards, Hop-Scotch, Jump-Rope)

Geometry: (Drawings and transformations, scaling, reflection, rotation)

Language: (The words—“Mom” “Dad” “Pop” “Nun”)

Mathematics: (Algebraic equations. Even and odd functions in calculus)

Music: (Canons, permutations, invariance, pitch, scales)

Nature: (Rainbows, raindrops, leaves, sand dunes. beehives, bird, birds, insects, reptiles)

Physics: (The symmetries of the laws of physics determine the properties of particles)

Roads: (Right & left lanes, cloverleafs, tunnels, overpasses)

Social Interaction: (Reciprocity, empathy, dialog, respect, justice, revenge)

Spatial relationships: (Vertical or horizontal. The photograph of the above train tressel)

Time: (Expressed in numbers: 9:09am , 10:10pm, 6:36pm, 1:41am, 3:33pm)

Transportation: (Cars, trucks, trains, airplanes)

It is the harmony of the diverse parts, their symmetry, their happy balance; in a word it is all that introduces order, all that gives unity, that permits us to see clearly and to comprehend at once both the ensemble and the details.

Henri Poincare, French theoretical physicist


Photography Monographs (Select a book. Click on in it to turn pages)



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