‘In Our Time‘ – the BBC’s flagship science, mathematics and arts discussion programme – was on symmetry this week. It was, as ever, a fascinating mix of physics, philosophy and history, full of interesting moments, but one comment that jumped out at me was part of a section on symmetry in quantum / particle physics:
“The amount of matter and anti-matter were very slightly asymmetrical at the dawn of creation. If they had not been the ‘big bang’ would have cancelled itself out”
It reminded me of a quote from Chesterton I used in the book:
Suppose some mathematical creature from the moon were able to reckon up the human body: he would at once see that it was duplicate. Having noted that there was an arm on the right and one on the left, a leg on the right and one on the left, he might go further and still find on each side the same number of fingers, the same number of toes, twin eyes, twin ears, twin nostrils, and even twin lobes on the brain. At last he would take it as a law; and then, where he found a heart on one side, would deduce that there was another heart on the other. And just then, where he felt he was right, he would be wrong. […] Life is not an illogicality, yet it is a trap for logicians; its inexactitude lies hidden; its wildness lies in wait.
There is an essential symmetry to life, to beauty, to science. But hidden beneath there also lurks a vital asymmetry. All things are not equal. The universe is not quite in balance.
It was in this asymmetric place that the universe was created. And it remains in these asymmetric places that true creativity occurs. It has to: in balance there is no newness, in equilibrium there is no disturbance. The artist does not create from balance. The artist reflects on and is immersed in context and history, but the newness comes from elsewhere, the creativity from a disturbance of these forces.
Creation and redemption are asymmetric. Their imbalance come from mystery, from elsewhere, and , being from outside the boundary, are dirty.
The balanced, symmetrical self will never genuinely create. The ‘other’ is needed to unsettle us.