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Home > Category Index for Science Quotations > Category Index S > Category: Symmetry

Symmetry Quotes (21 quotes)

An amino acid residue (other than glycine) has no symmetry elements. The general operation of conversion of one residue of a single chain into a second residue equivalent to the first is accordingly a rotation about an axis accompanied by translation along the axis. Hence the only configurations for a chain compatible with our postulate of equivalence of the residues are helical configurations.
[Co-author with American chemist, ert B. Corey (1897-1971) and H. R. Branson]
'The Structure of Proteins: Two Hydrogen-bonded Helical Configurations of the Polypeptide Chain', Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (1951), 37, 206.
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Are the atoms of the dextroacid (tartaric) grouped in the spirals of a right-hand helix or situated at the angles of an irregular tetrahedron, or arranged in such or such particular unsymmetrical fashion? We are unable to reply to these questions. But there can be no reason for doubting that the grouping of the atoms has an unsymmetrical arrangement with a non-superimposable image. It is not less certain that the atoms of the laevo-acid realize precisely an unsymmetrical arrangement of the inverse of the above.
Leçons de Chemie (1860), 25.
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Louis Pasteur quote: Every chemical substance, whether natural or artificial, falls into one of two major categories, according
Every chemical substance, whether natural or artificial, falls into one of two major categories, according to the spatial characteristic of its form. The distinction is between those substances that have a plane of symmetry and those that do not. The former belong to the mineral, the latter to the living world.
Pasteur Vallery-Radot (ed.), Oeuvres de Pasteur (1922-1939), Vol. I, 331. Quoted in Patrice Debré, Louis Pasteur, trans. Elborg Forster (1994), 261.
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I suppose that I tend to be optimistic about the future of physics. And nothing makes me more optimistic than the discovery of broken symmetries. In the seventh book of the Republic, Plato describes prisoners who are chained in a cave and can see only shadows that things outside cast on the cave wall. When released from the cave at first their eyes hurt, and for a while they think that the shadows they saw in the cave are more real than the objects they now see. But eventually their vision clears, and they can understand how beautiful the real world is. We are in such a cave, imprisoned by the limitations on the sorts of experiments we can do. In particular, we can study matter only at relatively low temperatures, where symmetries are likely to be spontaneously broken, so that nature does not appear very simple or unified. We have not been able to get out of this cave, but by looking long and hard at the shadows on the cave wall, we can at least make out the shapes of symmetries, which though broken, are exact principles governing all phenomena, expressions of the beauty of the world outside.
In Nobel Lecture (8 Dec 1989), 'Conceptual Foundations of the Unified Theory of Weak and Electromagnetic Interactions.' Nobel Lectures: Physics 1971-1980 (1992), 556.
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In geometric and physical applications, it always turns out that a quantity is characterized not only by its tensor order, but also by symmetry.
Epigraph in Charles W. Misner, Kip S. Thorn and John Archibald Wheeler, Gravitation (1970, 1973), 47. Cited as “(1925),” with no source.
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In the simplest array of digits [Ramanujan] detected wonderful properties: congruences, symmetries and relationships which had escaped the notice of even the outstandingly gifted theoreticians.
In The World of Mathematics (1956), 367.
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It is perhaps difficult for a modern student of Physics to realize the basic taboo of the past period (before 1956) … it was unthinkable that anyone would question the validity of symmetries under “space inversion,” “charge conjugation” and “time reversal.” It would have been almost sacrilegious to do experiments to test such unholy thoughts.
In paper presented to the International Conference on the History of Original Ideas and Basic Discoveries, Erice, Sicily (27 Jul-4 Aug 1994), 'Parity Violation' collected in Harvey B. Newman, Thomas Ypsilantis History of Original Ideas and Basic Discoveries in Particle Physics (1996), 381.
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Maxwell's equations… originally consisted of eight equations. These equations are not “beautiful.” They do not possess much symmetry. In their original form, they are ugly. …However, when rewritten using time as the fourth dimension, this rather awkward set of eight equations collapses into a single tensor equation. This is what a physicist calls “beauty.”
In 'Quantum Heresy', Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the Tenth Dimension (1995), 130. Note: For two “beauty” criteria, unifying symmetry and economy of expression, see quote on this page beginning “When physicists…”
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Nature seems to take advantage of the simple mathematical representations of the symmetry laws. When one pauses to consider the elegance and the beautiful perfection of the mathematical reasoning involved and contrast it with the complex and far-reaching physical consequences, a deep sense of respect for the power of the symmetry laws never fails to develop.
Nobel Lecture (11 Dec 1957). In Nobel Lectures: Physics, 1981-1990) (1998), 394-395.
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Nothing in physics seems so hopeful to as the idea that it is possible for a theory to have a high degree of symmetry was hidden from us in everyday life. The physicist's task is to find this deeper symmetry.
In American Scientist (1977) (as cited in The Atlantic (1984), 254, 81.) As an epigraph in Crystal and Dragon: The Cosmic Dance of Symmetry and Chaos in Nature, Art and Consciousness (1993), 139.
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Of possible quadruple algebras the one that had seemed to him by far the most beautiful and remarkable was practically identical with quaternions, and that he thought it most interesting that a calculus which so strongly appealed to the human mind by its intrinsic beauty and symmetry should prove to be especially adapted to the study of natural phenomena. The mind of man and that of Nature’s God must work in the same channels.
As quoted in W. E. Byerly (writing as a Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, but a former student at a Peirce lecture on Hamilton's new calculus of quaternions), 'Benjamin Peirce: II. Reminiscences', The American Mathematical Monthly (Jan 1925), 32, No. 1, 6.
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Since the beginning of physics, symmetry considerations have provided us with an extremely powerful and useful tool in our effort to understand nature. Gradually they have become the backbone of our theoretical formulation of physical laws.
Particle Physics and an Introduction to Field Theory (1981), 177.
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Speaking about symmetry, look out our window, and you may see a cardinal attacking its reflection in the window. The cardinal is the only bird we have who often does this. If it has a nest nearby, the cardinal thinks there is another cardinal trying to invade its territory. It never realizes it is attacking its own reflection. Cardinals don't know much about mirror symmetry!
In István Hargittai, 'A Great Communicator of Mathematics and Other Games: A Conversation with Martin Gardner', The Mathematical Intelligencer. (1997), 194(4), 36-40. Quoted in István and Magdolna Hargittai, In Our Own Image (2000), 9.
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Symmetry, as wide or as narrow as you may define its meaning, is one idea by which man through the ages has tried to comprehend and create order, beauty and perfection.
Symmetry (1952), 5.
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The artificial products do not have any molecular dissymmetry; and I could not indicate the existence of a more profound separation between the products born under the influence of life and all the others.
Quoted in Joseph S. Fruton, Proteins, Enzymes, Genes: The Interplay of Chemistry and Biology (1999), 135.
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The genius of Laplace was a perfect sledge hammer in bursting purely mathematical obstacles; but, like that useful instrument, it gave neither finish nor beauty to the results. In truth, in truism if the reader please, Laplace was neither Lagrange nor Euler, as every student is made to feel. The second is power and symmetry, the third power and simplicity; the first is power without either symmetry or simplicity. But, nevertheless, Laplace never attempted investigation of a subject without leaving upon it the marks of difficulties conquered: sometimes clumsily, sometimes indirectly, always without minuteness of design or arrangement of detail; but still, his end is obtained and the difficulty is conquered.
'Review of "Théorie Analytique des Probabilites" par M. le Marquis de Laplace, 3eme edition. Paris. 1820', Dublin Review (1837), 2, 348.
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The person who did most to give to analysis the generality and symmetry which are now its pride, was also the person who made mechanics analytical; I mean Euler.
From History of the Inductive Sciences from the Earliest to the Present (1837), Vol. 2, 93.
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We called the new [fourth] quark the “charmed quark” because we were pleased, and fascinated by the symmetry it brought to the subnuclear world. “Charm” also means a “a magical device to avert evil,” and in 1970 it was realized that the old three quark theory ran into very serious problems. ... As if by magic the existence of the charmed quark would [solve those problems].
From asppearance in the BBC-TV program written by Nigel Calder, 'The Key to the Universe,' (27 Jan 1977). As cited in Arthur Lewis Caso, 'The Production of New Scientific Terms', American Speech (Summer 1980), 55, No. 2, 102.
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We have simply arrived too late in the history of the universe to see this primordial simplicity easily ... But although the symmetries are hidden from us, we can sense that they are latent in nature, governing everything about us. That's the most exciting idea I know: that nature is much simpler than it looks. Nothing makes me more hopeful that our generation of human beings may actually hold the key to the universe in our hands—that perhaps in our lifetimes we may be able to tell why all of what we see in this immense universe of galaxies and particles is logically inevitable.
Quoted in Nigel Calder, The Key to the Universe: A Report on the New Physics (1978), 185.
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Wheeler’s First Moral Principle: Never make a calculation until you know the answer. Make an estimate before every calculation, try a simple physical argument (symmetry! invariance! conservation!) before every derivation, guess the answer to every paradox and puzzle. Courage: No one else needs to know what the guess is. Therefore make it quickly, by instinct. A right guess reinforces this instinct. A wrong guess brings the refreshment of surprise. In either case life as a spacetime expert, however long, is more fun!
In E.F. Taylor and J.A. Wheeler, Spacetime Physics (1992), 20.
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When physicists speak of “beauty” in their theories, they really mean that their theory possesses at least two essential features: 1. A unifying symmetry 2. The ability to explain vast amounts of experimental data with the most economical mathematical expressions.
In 'Quantum Heresy', Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the Tenth Dimension (1995), 127.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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