Symmetry is a fascinating concept. It exists in so many fields and forms that “defining” it would be a waste of time and a rather arrogant undertaking on my part. Blabbering about it, however, falls perfectly in my purview. Let’s talk about some of my favorite symmetrical things!
This winter, I got my hands on a copy of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, the movie adaptation of which had recently been in theaters. I made the mistake of reading the incredibly flattering review quotes on/inside the cover, which I fear may have pre-disposed me to love the book. Whether I was tricked or not, however, it was a highly engaging and frankly awesome novel. The story’s structure is a series of nested frame stories. That is, the first plot began only to be interrupted halfway through by a second, which was, in turn, interrupted by a third and so on (six total!). At the conclusion of the sixth story, the fifth re-began halfway through, and so on until the first storyline picked up again, hundreds of pages after it began. Watching an author weave the pieces of stories together is a nearly religious experience when it’s done correctly, and this was a great example of that feeling.
If you’re into math at all or just like cool things, you’ve probably heard of fractals. A fractal is, to put it non-technically, a pattern or set that is identical to itself when viewed from different distances. This kind of symmetry is called scale symmetry, and is more easily understood by examination than by reading my blog, so here are a few fun fractals:
The Koch Snowflake (easy to understand but so mesmerizing to watch!), Romanesco Broccoli (the edible fractal, which I’d very much like to try eating), and the Lorenz Attractor (of which there are some really excellent pictures).
In addition to being fractal-y, there’s some very cool math about the ratio between a river’s actual length and the distance from its origin to endpoint.
Finally, reciprocity. A fancy way of describing conventional wisdom, reciprocity is essentially the idea that treating someone a certain way in an interaction guarantees (or increases the chances of ) being treated the same way. It’s a social psychology way of saying that people are more likely to be friendly or cooperative in response to friendly actions. Sounds simple (much simpler than fractals, for sure), but I like this one simply because of how true it is. When I wake up in a good mood and decide to be a positive person for the day (a decision highly contingent upon amount of sleep), I can make a demonstrable and noticeable difference in the mood of the people with whom I interact. I’m sure you’ve noticed the same – give someone an extra smile or go out of your way to be helpful, and they’ll respond in kind! I’d like to try and be that way more often, so maybe calling it one of my favorite forms of symmetry will keep me more accountable.
These are some of the reasons I think symmetry is the greatest. Victoria will probably have something to say soon enough!