[NetBehaviour] symmetry - science, art and nature

neil jenkins neil at furtherfield.org
Sat Apr 21 17:28:44 CEST 2007

On 21 Apr 2007, at 15:07, @-_q @@ wrote:

> the program you talk is this?
> http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/rmhttp/downloadtrial/radio4/inourtime/ 
> inourtime_20070419-0900_40_st.mp3

yes - make sure you download it soon, it'll be online till tuesday I  

> i hope i don't miss many things because it is in english, ajj
> the last thing i've been thinking about was the fact of improvisation.
> i wonder if it could be said that humans tend to improvise in  
> symmetric patterns

interesting thought, I'd say this is true in the case of many musicians  
improvising, but then I'd say that music itself has an innate symmetry  
through rhythm and tone, and in it's physical dynamic as a waveform (eg  
double the wavelength and the tone moves down one octave, the sub  
harmonics of a vibrating string appearing as recursively divided  
vibrations of the overall note)

> and...
> this is stupid, but funny... i've been thinking about the new  
> criatures in science fict movies, for instance, and all them, as far  
> as i remember, are symmetric, no matter if they have body of man and  
> head of fish, or they resemble sort-of-horses... they all are  
> symmetric. even the characters of pixar's monsters s.a. were  
> symmetric.

the program mentions our cognitive perception of other things that are  
symmetrical - in nature this can be seen in recognition of other  
animals for survival - eat or be eaten ! the symmetry of flowers and  
bees sensitivity to this symmetry whilst having otherwise quite poor  
visual perception.

When things that we concieve *should* be symmetrical are not, they  
appear odd; if the non symmetry is subtle it is quite difficult to  
describe what actually *is* odd about what we see; whether it be  
reflective symmetry or rotational symmetry. In a more extreme case, say  
an amputee, our brain becomes quite fascinated with the missing limb.  
the mythical cyclops whilst appearing symmetrical plays this further;  
the one eye upsetting our percieved idea of a face and thus making it  
appear strange or unworldly.

Something not discussed in the program is the effect of environmental  
factors on our visual perception, take for example the Müller-Lyer  
Illusion where two lines of equal length appear different when  
arrowheads are added, pointing inward on ne line and outward on the  

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"Experiments reported in 1966 by Segall, Campbell and Herskovitz  
suggested that the Müller-Lyer illusion may be absent or reduced  
amongst people who grow up in certain environments. They tested some  
Zulu people in South Africa who, at the time, lived in circular huts  
with arched doorways and had little experience of Western rectangular  
buildings. The Zulus seemed less affected by the Müller-Lyer illusion.  
The argument is that these people lived in a 'circular culture' whereas  
those who are more subject to the illusion live in a 'carpentered  
world' of rectangles and parallel lines (Segall, Campbell & Herskovits  
1966). Europeans and Americans are more likely to interpret oblique and  
acute angles as displaced right angles and to perceive two-dimensional  
drawings in terms of depth."

[ http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Modules/MC10220/visper04.html ]

> lord voldemort is a symmetric criature, all rowling's immaginarium...
> if there is any fiction criature asymmetric as siniestra, please, do  
> tell me...
> neil jenkins escribió:
>> God symmetry wasn't discussed, although the subject of religion came  
>> up when they talked about the Alhambra, saying that as pictures of  
>> animals or anything with a soul were not allowed to be depicted, they  
>> used geometric symmetry to express the infinite complexity of god
>> I found some interesting historical references lookin at quadratic  
>> equations in wikipedia [  
>> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quadratic_equation ] which noted Turkish  
>> and Indian mathematicians solving these equations, notable  
>> Brahmagupta in the 7th century, who first discovered the negative  
>> solutions (ie the square root of 4 is 2 or it's symmetric -2) he also  
>> popularised the concept of the number 0
>> In terms of art, the discussion also raised the issue of artists and  
>> their use of symmetry and also disrupting it. poetry has always had  
>> an innate symmetry to me in phrasing and rhythm -
>> "Traditional meaning of symmetry
>> The meaning of this term went through a fabulous transformation  
>> during its use for dozens of centuries. The proper translation of the  
>> Greek term symmetria  ? (from the prefix syn [common] and the noun  
>> metros [measure]) ? is 'common measure'. The Greeks interpreted this  
>> word, as the harmony of the different parts of an object, the good  
>> proportions between its constituent parts. Later this meaning was  
>> transferred to e.g., the rhythm of poems, of music, the cosmos  
>> ('well-ordered system of the universe as contrast of chaos').  
>> Therefore the Latin and the modern European languages used its  
>> translations like harmony, proportion until the Renaissance. In wider  
>> sense, balance, equilibrium belonged also to this family of synonyms.  
>>  Some way symmetry was always related to beauty, truth and good.  
>> (These relative meanings determined its application in the arts, the  
>> sciences, and the ethics, respectively.) Symmetry was not only  
>> related to such positive values, it became even a symbol of seeking  
>> for perfection."
>> [ http://symmetry.hu/definition.html ]
>> This program came at a perfect moment for me as i was re-working the  
>> maths i'd used in the spirograp[h]d interface for Pall Thayer's PANSE  
>> [ ] - the complex set of  
>> sliders aren't that easy to see in terms of a physical spirograph set  
>> and i wanted to work out how to create the patterns by choosing outer  
>> ring size, disc size and pen position - alot simpler to  
>> conceptualise.
>> last night i listened to the program again, and inadvertantly left a  
>> Philip Glass track [ In The Upper Room: Dance IX ] playing, the  
>> resulting mix was pure serendepity
>> :) inpsired
>> On 21 Apr 2007, at 11:06, @-_q @@ wrote:
>>> neil, thanks a lot...
>>> years ago, i wrote a short storie, sinister,
>>> in spanish siniestra
>>> which can be the name of a woman, a property of a sort of darkness,  
>>> or it can refer to left sides too...
>>> that woman had a problem, a progresive sickness... her left side was  
>>> melting down, sort of melting down...
>>> the idea shocked me so much that i made a drawing of a nude women  
>>> sat on a elegant armchair with her right side like a beautiful woman  
>>> and with her left side like a mess mass hunged at her right side of  
>>> the body.
>>> this was funny, but there is more...
>>> i've already share with you that i suffer dislexy, even typing, not  
>>> only writing... i change b and p
>>> i'm really interested on the differences between our 2 cerebral  
>>> hemispheres...
>>> marchall mc luhan worked with it, and each hemisphere have a  
>>> property.
>>> but the funny thing is that the capacity of language or motion or  
>>> making music is not placed simetric in our brain... or i have not  
>>> the right information...
>>> ....
>>> did the speakers talk about god or a similar entity?
>>> did they lucubrate about god symmetry?
>>> as far as i've read (the 3 books and other religious text), god is  
>>> not worry about symetry, but he "created" a symmetric nature.
>>> as far as i remember, no kabala writer wrote about the symmetric  
>>> event... sufi poetry or bagavad ghita...
>>> ... may be sacred music (christian, jew, sufi or hinduist...)
>>> ...
>>> did gilles deleuze talked about symmetrics in the rizoma?
>>> i did not find it.
>>> i think we have french members in NetB that can know about it.
>>> i mean, there may be members in NetB who know more about what i've  
>>> commented... if i'm wrong in any hypothesis, please, tell me, even  
>>> if i talk from the wrong point of view... the wrong place to watch  
>>> at it.
>>> ---
>>> in my creative work, i always break symmetry because i feel my brain  
>>> when it stands in front of asymmetries: i feel physically how it  
>>> works !
>>> one of the things i'm doing is working at the input of sound: i  
>>> record my voice from left speaker to right speaker and so on, and  
>>> that makes a sort of brain massage... try it...
>>> what my brain feels in front of symmetries is... relief !
>>> and, for instances, drawing symmetric mandalas smooth me down
>>> isn't it funny?
>>> ***
>>> **
>>> *
>>> neil jenkins escribió:
>>>> tricky to transpose, but here goes..
>>>> early neolithic sculptures in regular forms, cognitive recognition  
>>>> of symmmetric forms (by animals/humans and artists), cuniform,  
>>>> babylonian maths and greek geometry, methods for solving (and  
>>>> working out) quadratic and cubic equations (respectively) - (method  
>>>> and conic sections), algebra in place of derived solution tables,  
>>>> mathematical transformations and group theory (*no transformation  
>>>> is part of the subset of symmetrical transformations, or  
>>>> 'operations' - nothing is something.. ), the alhambra, bell  
>>>> ringing, the lack of a solution for quintic equations and 'atoms'  
>>>> of symmetry - shapes divided by shapes, indivisible symmetries
>>>> phew.. i won't start on the last 20 minutes and misquote einstein :)
>>>> On 19 Apr 2007, at 23:22, @-_q @@ wrote:
>>>>> neil, if you go,
>>>>> could you write just a little bit of what you heard there?
>>>>> (pleasepleaseplease)
>>>>> neil jenkins escribió:
>>>>>> http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/rmhttp/downloadtrial/radio4/inourtime/ 
>>>>>> inourtime_20070419-0900_40_st.mp3
>>>>>> -->
>>>>>> Today we will be discussing symmetry, from the most perfect forms  
>>>>>> in nature, like the snowflake and the butterfly, to our  
>>>>>> perceptions of beauty in the human face. There's symmetry too in  
>>>>>> most of the laws that govern our physical world.
>>>>>> The Greek philosopher Aristotle described symmetry as one of the  
>>>>>> greatest forms of beauty to be found in the mathematical  
>>>>>> sciences, while the French poet Paul Valery went further,  
>>>>>> declaring; ?The universe is built on a plan, the profound  
>>>>>> symmetry of which is somehow present in the inner structure of  
>>>>>> our intellect?.
>>>>>> The story of symmetry tracks an extraordinary shift from its role  
>>>>>> as an aesthetic model - found in the tiles in the Alhambra and  
>>>>>> Bach's compositions - to becoming a key tool to understanding how  
>>>>>> the physical world works. It provides a major breakthrough in  
>>>>>> mathematics with the development of group theory in the 19th  
>>>>>> century. And it is the unexpected breakdown of symmetry at  
>>>>>> sub-atomic level that is so tantalising for contemporary quantum  
>>>>>> physicists.
>>>>>> So why is symmetry so prevalent and appealing in both art and  
>>>>>> nature? How does symmetry enable us to grapple with monstrous  
>>>>>> numbers? And how might symmetry contribute to the elusive Theory  
>>>>>> of Everything?
>>>>>> Contributors
>>>>>> Fay Dowker, Reader in Theoretical Physics at Imperial College,  
>>>>>> London
>>>>>> Marcus du Sautoy, Professor of Mathematics at the University of  
>>>>>> Oxford
>>>>>> Ian Stewart, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Warwick
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