The word “symmetry” leads to questions about meaning, like when we encounter words like “democracy” or “love”. The word symmetry basically means “agreement in dimensions, proportions, and arrangement”.
Things that strike us as being symmetrical definitely seem to fit this criteria. We assume that measuring the dimensions, proportions, and the arrangement of something will determine if it’s symmetrical or not.
But in practice, the ancient Greeks viewed the meaning of “symmetria” in an expanded form, beyond mere mathematical measurements.
Fourth century Greek sculptor Polykleitos developed a revolutionary theory about the relationship between the mathematical expression and the dimensions of symmetry, and the dynamic movements of the human body.
His sculptures of young Greek athletes were studies of the interplay of detailing dimension with balance and rhythm. He called this interplay “symmetry”.
The concept of symmetry changed our perspective forever, paved the way for the sublime works of Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Rodin, and countless others.
From the very beginning, symmetry was not just a calculation. “symmetria” was, as the definition says, and agreement, a relationship.
In our modern and highly technological age, where we seek to measure everything, we might do well to remember that “symmetria” isn’t just a number.
In this episode of The Question podcast, you will hear highlights from Frederick Tamagi’s presentation on “The Message of Symmetry”, as well as the music of David Andrew Wiebe.
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