For an arts lover, I am always surprised just how much I love going to the Brighton Science Festival (19 Feb – 6 March 2011). There are always so many interesting things to see and hear. Symmetry will be the subject of one night, looking at symmetry in physics, music, art, maths and biochemistry.
Haydn wrote a whole movement of one his symphonies (no 47 in G) as a palindrome; the second part of the minuet is the same as the first but backwards. (Haydn didn’t confine his surprises to the Surprise Symphony!). Symmetry has been a major player in many areas of modern life.
The drug thalidomide was stigmatised as a killer in the 1970s, when its use as a pain-killer by pregnant mothers led to serious birth defects. But we now know that the thalidomide molecule comes in two symmetrical forms; the right-handed form is useful and benign, the left hand form is – in both senses – sinister. ‘Sinister’? ‘Dexterous’? Left-handedness was long considered a sign of being backward (‘cack-handed’). But it could be argued that preferential use of any hand, right or left is slightly unbalanced. Why aren’t we ambidextrous, as a perfectly symmetrical being should be?
Although, by and large, we, and most animals, do a great job of being symmetrical, it seems that nobody is perfect. Is the Universe symmetrical? Is space-time elegant, or is it cack-handed? Find out on Wed 23 Feb 2011.