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Symmetry and Beauty

Bayram Yerlikaya

2004-10-01 00:00:00

When visiting Moscow University, Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac, the famous physicist and the founder of Quantum Mechanics, as well as being the fifteenth Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, was asked about his philosophy in physics and he wrote on a blackboard “physical laws should have mathematical beauty.” This phrase remains preserved on the same blackboard today. As Sir Michael Berry said at the opening of Dirac House in 1997, “he showed that the simplest wave satisfying the requirements was not a simple number but consisted of four components. This seemed like to complicate matters, especially for those minds that were still reeling from the unfamiliarity of “ordinary” quantum mechanics. Four components! Why should anybody take Dirac’s theory seriously? Foremost and above all for Dirac was the fact that the logic leading to the theory was, although deeply sophisticated, in a sense beautifully simple. Much later, when someone asked him “what do you think of the equation?” he is said to have replied: “I think that it is beautiful.” In fact, Professor Dirac knew that very significant mathematical equations occur in all created things. Even though these consist of deeply sophisticated matters, at the same time they occur with a beautiful simplicity and are a clear description of the action of creation of the Eternally Besought of All. When we examine his quotation in this light, we are better able to understand what he meant.

Be they physical or chemical, many attributes of beings are dependent on mathematical laws and their appearances are also shaped along mathematical principles. When we observe creation from this standpoint, we can perceive the perfection as well as the spectacular beauty that is inherent in every being. As reflections of the Attributes of the Names of God Almighty, Jamil (The Owner of Beauty), Bari (The One Who Creates from nothing), Sani (The Maker of All) and Musawwir (The Designer), this beauty found in the external appearance of beings is dependent on more than one factor coinciding. The most important factor here is “symmetry,” which is described as “an exact correspondence and beautiful balance among the parts of an object.” Beings are created with various symmetrical attributes and with great artistic beauty.

The most common symmetry type is the bilateral symmetry; this creates a mirror effect which is an exact correspondence between the right and left sides. An object forms an exact symmetry with its reflection in the mirror. A perfect symmetry that is very similar to the mirror effect can be found in the human body. The left and right sides of our body are symmetrically corresponding. Imagine a dividing line that passes from the middle of the forehead, through nose, chin and down the chest, we can see a perfect symmetry on both sides of the body. Our arms, legs, eyes, ears, nose and lips are designed with a bilateral symmetry. The same symmetrical structures can also be seen in most other creatures. All mammals, reptiles and birds are symmetrically created.

Another type of symmetry is rotational (radial) symmetry. Imagine a metal object that is in the shape of an equilateral triangular placed on the sand. If we will rotate this object 120o around an axis that passes through its center, the new position of the object will fit exactly into its original mark left on the sand. The reason for this is that the radial symmetry for equilateral triangles is 120 degrees. In the same way, a square has a radial symmetry of 90o and a regular polygon with n number of sides has a radial symmetry of 360/n degrees.

The beautiful symmetry of snow flakes, with their regular hexagonal shape are a beautiful natural phenomenon. In addition to these there are shapes in nature that have a three-dimensional radial symmetry. The most significant of these shapes are regular polyhedrons. An example of such polyhedrons is the salt crystalline elements that have cubical structures. Until recently, the fact that there is a creature in nature that has a regular polyhedral shape, consisting of twenty sides, was unknown. However, when a type of adenovirus that causes infections and hepatitis in dogs was discovered, it was found that there is a creature with twenty regular sides in nature.

One of the most beautiful samples of radial symmetry in nature is the daisy. Symmetrical structures do not only exist in the normal world and in the micro worlds, but also can be found in the macro world, like all the huge celestial objects, the Sun, the Moon, galaxies, star clusters in the sky . . . . All planets move around the Sun in a symmetrical manner, whereas galaxies have a spiral symmetry. It is interesting that the symmetrical structure of living beings is overwhelmingly apparent externally, rather than internally. For example, the internal organs in the human body, like the lungs, liver, stomach and intestines are not symmetrical and we have only one heart in one side of our chest cavity. Moreover, the lobes of the brain are not symmetrical either. However, all the metabolic processes in human body function properly. Does this mean that the mathematical beauty found in our external appearance is merely for aesthetical reasons? God does not create things for only one reason or purpose, on the contrary, He creates them to serve many motives and in relation with many functions. For example, if we did not have two eyes and if they were not symmetrically placed on our faces, we would not be able to see objects three-dimensionally. In the same way, if our ears were not symmetrically placed on our heads, then we would have great difficulty in determining the direction and source of sounds. If we did not have symmetrical feet and legs, we would not be able to walk well, and if our arms were not symmetrical, we would not be able to balance our body’s center of gravity while walking. If birds did not have symmetrical wings, they would not be able to fly, and if the fins of fishes were not symmetrical, they would not be able to swim smoothly.

Symmetry is also closely related to physical and mental robustness. According to one study, women who suffer from an infectious disease during pregnancy are more likely to have babies with asymmetrical features. The same study claims that asymmetrical babies are more susceptible to heart disease than symmetrical babies.

Another study shows that people with asymmetrical teeth are more likely to have more harmful microorganisms in their mouth than those who have symmetrical teeth. It is interesting that there tends to be a greater difference between the fingerprints on the left and right hands of schizophrenic people than on those of normal people.

Symmetry is a phenomenon that is used by animals and insects. For example, an experiment showed that bees prefer flowers that are symmetrical. Actually, flowers with perfectly symmetrical shapes produce more nectar than those that are asymmetrical. In one investigation, a symmetrical flower was made asymmetrical with a pair of scissors. The flower had been attractive to bees before its shape was changed; after made asymmetrical, the flower became unattractive to bees, even though it had just the same amount of nectar as before.

All these facts reveal that there is much wisdom and beauty hidden within the symmetry that the Almighty Designer uses to shape all beings. We take symmetry for granted. To have two eyes placed equidistance and two ears on each side of the head is the norm. Anything else strikes us as strange. But if we just take a few moments to think about why our eyes are where they are, and why our ears are placed on the sides of our heads, the answer is obvious. God’s mercy is infinite; in even the simplest example of symmetry there is a reason. We should not take this world for granted, but rather use every opportunity to dwell upon and be thankful for the wonderful world that has been created for us. 


  • Stewart, I. & M. Golubitsky, Fearful Symmetry, Blackwell, 1992.
  • Rosen, J., Symmetry Discovered, Cambridge University Press, 1975.
  • Tarasov, L., This Amazingly Symmetrical World, Mir Publishers, Moscow: 1986.
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