Christian Long

Marcus du Sautoy: Symmetry, Reality’s Riddle

In TED Talks on May 26, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Extra credit reflection by SYLVIA A.

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

Marcus du Sautoy:  Symmetry, Reality’s Riddle

Ah, yes! I must say I was biased from the beginning.

I have a new fascination towards symmetry and how it applies itself in unknown ways in every aspect of our lives. This talk was more of a mathematical look at symmetry rather than its scientific factors. Now I will be the first to say math is not really my thing but, the speaker, Marcus du Sautoy created an atmosphere such that my interest was actually peeked to see what mathematical factors and numbers could be applied when studying the symmetry of an object.

Symmetry is everywhere. It lies in the foundation of everything around us, such as architecture, genetics, and chemistry. It is like the ultimate example of what organism and our surroundings strive to be like. Symmetry creates efficiency. Our society’s number one goal is to become more and more efficient as we develop, so symmetry is, and will always be a major factor as our future unfolds.

But what really is symmetry? The mathematician Galois was obsessed with the study of symmetry. As Sautoy put it, he really was a pioneer in the development of the ‘language’ of symmetry. This language allows people to understand symmetry instead of just looking at it from a typical standpoint and skimming the surface of such complex subject. It’s impossible to learn about or even communicate about a topic like symmetry with out a language such as the one Sautoy illustrates during his presentation.

Now I’m going to be honest, I’m obviously not an expert on this topic. It just fascinates me.

I’m not quite familiar with the vernacular, so I got somewhat lost during the middle of his talk when he brought up the picture of the 6 types of symmetry and how the interact with each other to create new symmetries. Though this is true, I still understood the the big idea of his talk which to me, is more interesting and accessible to most people.

I think one of the most powerful things he said that summed up the spirit of his talk was this: “Leaving something incomplete makes it interesting, and gives one the feeling that there is room for growth.” This is a quote he believed described his passion for symmetry and mathematics in general. In the end, you see how much potential the study of mathematics has now with new discoveries in the world of symmetry made by passionate people like Sautoy.


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