In terms of this discussion on symmetry, is symmetry an ideal?

I don't mean idealized, but something more like an archetype, something that exists outside of the human standpoint. Is that what symmetry is?

That's so different from asymmetry. I know my mind gets a bit stuck when something is perfectly symmetrical. Like it's looking for that asymmetrical something to see something it recognizes or feels familiar with.


It’s an interesting question. I suppose symmetry might have been considered an “ideal” from a classical point of view, just as beauty was considered an ideal. Certainly the symmetry in buildings was considered an ideal when cathedrals were being built, for example, because the structure honored God. The “ideal” bank or government building was symmetrical for similar reasons, as I say in the essay for this lesson. Symmetry sent the subliminal message of order, trust and solidity! And true symmetry does exist in some forms–the buildings I just described, some patchwork quilts, based on the pattern and color choice, and in some pottery or glasswork, for example. I wouldn’t say symmetry is archetypal, per se, but it is a natural reality that doesn’t exist because of humans. We can only recognize it and use it, just like we can recognize and use gravity, but don’t have any dominion over it!

Two points:

Ideals change. So beauty isn’t necessarily an ideal as it was during the Renaissance. Our ideas evolve. We have tolerance for things that would never have been considered beautiful then, because we understand life differently. It would be a valuable exercise for each of us to think about what we value and see as beautiful or ideal. I doubt we would be in agreement!

And it’s interesting, isn’t it, that many of the natural “forces” we never thought human beings could affect, are being affected by collective human behavior. But that’s another topic for another discussion!

Yes, symmetry can get us “stuck” because it is, by nature, static. Orderly, solid, mirror-image perfection might be good in some instances, but it isn’t necessarily dynamic! And as we explore these concepts, I think we’ll see that everything around us has two sides, as you are describing. What is sometimes called the yin and yang, the shadow and the light, the positive and the negative. (as in space, but also as in good/bad) It’s one of the divine paradoxes of existence. Balance is the same. It has two sides and they are symmetry and asymmetry. What makes it a paradox is that neither is good or bad. Each has its distinctive characteristics. It our job to learn about these characteristics so we know when one style of balance of another is the best fit for what we are creating.