This is my current weird thought. I’ve recently been thinking a lot about symmetry. A few things have happened in my life recently that have been symmetrical and I want to know why (‘question your teaspoons’ says George Perec).
I have always liked symmetry. I also like asymmetry. They are both interesting for different reasons.
Symmetry has beauty, order, serenity.
Asymmetry winks in the face of symmetry. It is quirky. It sits outside the box. It turns neatness on its side. It warps the box.
It is like Schrodinger’s old pussy – both one and the other or neither.
So I like both. Is that contradictory? I hope not. But who wants to be predictable and, well, symmetrical?
Recently, I’ve noticed symmetry appearing in the real world and that interests me. I can grasp the concept of symmetry in maths and art but symmetry in terms of events is a little too metaphysical to just accept as not worth examining. It is worth examining. What does it mean?
The sort of symmetry in real life I’m talking about is when something happens to a person, they then go forth and unwittingly cause that event to happen elsewhere. They may or may not notice this. They repeat the behaviour of someone else. They don’t know why they do it. They just do it. Or, someone hears a story about an event happening to someone they know, that same event then occurs in their life. They may or may not see it. I have seen this pattern recently in me and others. Why does it happen? I want to understand it. Is it a ‘thing’ or just coincidence? Some might wonder whether I am talking about karma, but this isn’t quite karma, as this isn’t necessarily a bad thing that a person commits coming back to them. It could be a thing (event, bad or good) that happens to them that they then unwittingly commit elsewhere.
Symmetry is related to repetition. And I am a huge fan of repetition (or at least I have recently become interested in it). However, symmetry is generally a once-only repetition rather than a repetition ad infinitum. It appears, it is repeated and mirrored.
A more simplified example is say you are planning a trip to Venice. You suddenly notice ‘coincidences’ around you with respect to the topic of ‘Venice’. You see references to Venice: someone else is going or has been to Venice, there’s a documentary about Venice on TV, you see an advert on the Tube for holidays in Venice or you spot Death in Venice on your bookshelf. Is this symmetry at work? Or just pure coincidence based on the fact that you wouldn’t have previously connected the ‘dots’ so to speak? I, being the airy fairy teeny, tiny possibility philosopher that I am, believe that it is symmetry at work.
What I also like about symmetry is that it is one of those mathematical concepts that is also found in art (along with many others such as infinity, the void, the golden mean, the Fibonacci sequence, and the rhizome to name a few). I find the overlap of maths and art fascinating. I’m starting to think that they are one and the same (who knew?). The word ‘abstract’ appears in both. They both look at the meta. They both look at the concept. They both start with a gem of an idea and they work, rework, churn, think, work, rework until a diamond emerges.
Symmetry is pleasing because of the aesthetic. Aesthetics is desired, sought after, in all categories of art from representational to abstract and conceptual. All artists yearn for the aesthetic experience in their viewer. Maths is also all about the aesthetic : the aesthetic of numbers, and in this case, of symmetry.
Symmetry is beautiful and fascinating to me. To return to the idea of the symmetry of life. To me that is as beautiful and fascinating as mathematical or artistic symmetry. I see symmetry in my life and I reluctantly see the beauty in it even if it hurts when it happens.
So can we prevent this pattern? I suspect, not. So in conclusion. Don’t hate symmetry: embrace it. It is part of the fabric of nature and life.