Christian Long

Marcus du Sautoy: Symmetry is Reality’s Riddle

In TED Talks on April 26, 2010 at 10:34 am

Reflection by SCOTT M.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Marcus du Sautoy:  Symmetry is Reality’s Riddle

Everything in nature has something in common and that is symmetry. Symmetry is the one natural law that all beautiful things share. He shows this very well in his real world examples of how symmetry makes everything what it is.

When first looking at a building or a snowflake or anything else that has symmetry, no one really notices it. But symmetry is what makes everything in this universe work. After seeing the six-sided starfish that he worked with, I realized that the shape is not much different then the shape of our galaxy. One little piece that throws it off balance and our whole universe could come tumbling down. There are many examples of symmetry in nature.

Take a look at a leaf from a tree.

It has exactly the same number of points on the left then it does on the right. A snowflake is another perfect example of symmetry. It has symmetry in the sense that it can have a line drawn through it at any place through the center and it will still look the same on both sides. But it also has another kind of symmetry. Some people may say that every snowflake is unique. But only part of this is true. Every snowflake has an inner hexagonal shape. This is the exact same for every single snow flake you will find. The part that is unique are the “branches” that extend from the hexagon.

He doesn’t give a word for this type of symmetry though.

There is reflective symmetry where you can flip an object and it still looks the same. Or abstract symmetry where the object can be rotated and it will still look the same. Congruency is a good word for the type of symmetry I described but a better word (that I’m sure he himself would come up with) would be universal symmetry. Where you have two objects that are the exact same. They will always be the same no matter if you draw a line through them or turn them upside down.

(I don’t have the guys name in front of me so I can’t remember it)

Insert name here shows us a very sketchy concept that’s hard to understand. Although it is filled with mathematical formulas it is still one that poses an important concept in life. Without symmetry nothing would be the same, pop culture, art, math, science. Without symmetry our galaxy would fall apart.


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