Sunday, October 18, 2015

Parallel Lines and Broken Symmetry

Broken Symmetry
When I took this picture I was trying to capture the vanishing effect of two parallel lines. But the road wasn't quite straight, and the effect is interrupted by nonsymmetric elements such as the break in the green plants on the left and the log a little beyond that. There are further subtle imbalances that make the image just slightly asymmetric.

There is something in our nature that looks for this symmetry and balance in the universe and tries to find meaning in it. Some have taken this to the extent that they think that the only true forms are the ultimate reality in the universe. Everything, they assume, is a reflection of the perfect forms. It is in a sense a very comforting approach to the world since it appeals to that part of us that looks for perfect conformity to what we know.

But this approach seems a little odd to me since it fundamentally assumes that the true reality of existence is not found in existence. That reality is only a reflection of reality. That the universe does not adequately demonstrate what it is.

Recently I was attended an astronomy seminar where we discussed recent progress in the area of cosmology. One researcher mentioned how she had been trying to fit certain data to a Gaussian profile, but after an insightful question by a colleague she readdressed the problem with a different approach. She found that the data would fit a slightly asymmetric Gaussian, which would explain in some small way why the universe appeared the way it is.

And this brings us back to parallel lines and broken symmetries. Sometimes in our search for meaning we think that everything; the universe, each other, what it means to be perfect, or even God himself, must conform to our ideas of what is perfect and proper, or what appeals to our sense of balance and symmetry. But if we look hard enough we will see that nothing ever conforms to what we think things should be like. Everywhere we look the universe will remind us that what we think is perfect and symmetrical is not how things really are. Even though it did not turn out the way I wanted it to, I like the picture I took because it reminds me that in reality there are no parallel lines.

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