TED Conversations

Saidi Ngutu

Water, Sanitation and Environmental Engineer, Netwas International

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Why are man-made creations so symmetrical?

Why is this world so symmetrical, have you ever thought about it? Nature and all man-made things have to be symmetrical. Did 'God' have an obsession with symmetry which has translated to everything we create? Is it because our minds, symmetrical in nature, can only understand objects in symmetry?

This idea has troubled and puzzles me everywhere I turn. As i write this, my laptop, my phone the plate next to me, the bottle of coke on my table all this objects are so symmetrical yet each unique in its own way serving a different purpose. Maybe something beyond us created this universe of things so symmetrical that's why we are obsessed with perfection, thrive in order, and relate to the normal of symmetry.

I am quite new at TED and was wondering if anyone has ever explored this peculiar existence that cuts through nature and the man-made objects.

Topics: philosophy

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    Oct 21 2012: I can think of several reasons, depending on what the object is. For example, I would expand symmetry to include parallel. If you see parallel lines in perspective you can easily see the symmetry axis (think railroad tracks).

    From there we can expand to rhyme. Rhyme is the repetition of key elements (e.g. ending) of sequential lines (of poems), but given some rhythm and the rhyme, they become parallel and symmetrical. Look at how this has been ritualized in typesetting for poetry.

    We are symmetrical to a greater degree, and we enjoy symmetrical faces, so there is some cognitive bias on that.

    Finally, suppose you are designing a thing, say a chest. Balance has been repeated often in previous commentaries, symmetry guarantees balance above any other construct. But let's assume you are the designer. You have designed the left part and proven it is useful and safe. Then you copy-paste + flip-horizontally + match corresponding edges, and erase the shared wall. Your finished work is beautiful, fast, proven, and balanced. How else could you attain those attributes for the finished product without symmetry?

    As for assymmetry, that can be beautiful too. We humans love surprises, especially humorous ones !

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