Editors note: This is the second part of a blog we posted in July. There is a link at the bottom if you want to go back to it.
Galileo said “the universe is written in the language of math.” There is symmetry in the structure of molecules. Understanding the symmetry groups associated with particles helps physicists see how our universe works.
Our assessment of beauty is often based on symmetry. A perfectly oval face with evenly distributed features is considered beautiful. But then a slightly broken symmetrical design might seem more pleasing because it confers more character to a face. A cat with perfectly matched markings but with funny blotches on one side of the face might be more endearing.
Too much symmetry can be soothing, comforting and boring. A room where everything is perfectly matched in spacing and coloring is totally devoid of character. In jewelry too asymmetry can be pleasing to the eye.
Music is constructed symmetrically. The most obvious example is the use of echo. But this symmetry is not static. A phrasing is repeated but never exactly… it could be in a different key, another tempo or reversed. This builds a certain expectation because you can anticipate more or less where it is going. But a clever composer usually plays with melodies in unexpected ways, heightening the surprise effect. This creates excitement but when it goes too far it can be disconcerting. Maybe that is why I cannot fully appreciate some contemporary music. The notes seem to fly off somewhere but you wait in vain for them to return and close the loop.
Symmetry seems to be a pervasive concept in our world. We humans have a perverse love for breaking it Maybe that is because we like random shapes. Clouds have random shapes.