For long I was of the opinion that symmetry is one of the important properties of the universe. Granted, not everything we see around us today is symmetric, but a shocking number of naturally occurring things do exhibit symmetry. The human body, leaves, flowers, galaxies, the earth, planets (really any rock that is spinning that fast around itself will be round and hence, symmetric). It would be a staggering coincidence for all the symmetry in the universe to have just happened by chance. After all, it takes effort to create something symmetric; asymmetry is so much easier to create and therefore, I figured, probable. And yet we see symmetry.

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I can’t talk of symmetry without mentioning an Israeli guy, Ori, I met last year in Ecuador. As an aside, the meaning of Ori in Hebrew is close to what my name means in Sanskrit.

Ori was convinced that symmetry is something we ought to strive towards. He had stopped doing activities that were asymmetric, physically (tennis, for instance), and learnt hobbies that were symmetric, atleast in the bigger picture (swimming, free diving, etc.). To him it was wrong, almost unnatural, to be doing asymmetric activities with the body we have.

What about writing, I asked? He had trained himself to be ambidextrous in as many ways as possible.

It seemed like a noble thought and something nice to experiment with. I never gave it serious thought since then. But whenever I hear about symmetry, that exchange I had with him comes back flashing.

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Speaking of symmetric activities, yoga is one that rigorously strives for symmetry as a first principle: every movement is balanced by an opposite movement. A left with a right; a clockwise with a counter-clockwise. At times while doing yoga I get smug thoughts that it’s still not technically symmetric if the opposite movements are done at different points in time. However that’s the best we can do without twisting ourselves into awkward positions.

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I recently came across this podcast that made me rethink the concept of symmetry in the universe: Desperately Seeking Symmetry. Do listen to it.

It still left one question lingering: If asymmetry is so innate in the universe we inhabit, why does symmetry feel so good?

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