Symmetry in Nature

Fundamental Fact or Human Bias?


Women have more orgasms during sex with men who are more symmetrical. Does this penchant for order cloud our ability to see the universe accurately? 

During the early part of the 20th century, the famous Harvard mathematician George David Birkhoff developed a mathematical formula which he believed could be used to gauge how beautiful and appealing a work of art was.

 

Birkhoff's formula relied on two abstract concepts: complexity and order (or symmetry). According to Birkhoff, if something is complex, it will be more appealing if it is less symmetrical. Alternatively, if something is highly-symmetrical, it is better if it is less complex.

 

The formula seemed to make sense in theory, but there was one major problem: how to measure complexity and symmetry? Birkhoff claimed there was a way to do this, but his methods were too subjective for most people's tastes and his formula was soon forgotten.

 

Despite his failed effort, Birkhoff's idea that symmetry is a crucial determining factor for an object's aesthetic appeal is once again gaining credence in science, but in a slightly different form. In biology, recent studies have found that humans and other animals are highly attuned to symmetry in each other and often use it to gauge beauty and health during mate selection. Sensitivity to symmetry, it seems, is ingrained into our behavior.

 

Symmetry and Sex

 

The body plans of most animals, including humans, exhibit mirror symmetry, also called bilateral symmetry. They are symmetric about a plane running from head to tail (or toe).

 

Bilateral symmetry is so prevalent in the animal kingdom that many scientists think that it can't be a coincidence. After all, there are infinitely more ways to construct an asymmetrical body than a symmetrical one. And yet, fossilized evidence shows that bilateral symmetry had already taken hold in animals as early as 500 million years ago.

 

Therefore, bilateral symmetry must have evolved for a reason, the thinking goes. And over the years, scientists have come up with a number of hypotheses about what that reason might be. According to one, a body that is bilaterally symmetrical is easier for the brain to recognize while in different orientations and positions, thus making visual perception easier.

 

Another popular hypothesis is that symmetry evolved to help with mate selection. Experiments with birds and insects revealed that females prefer to mate with males possessing the most symmetrical sexual ornaments. Peahens, for example, prefer peacocks with more extravagant and symmetrical tails, and female barn swallows prefer males with long, symmetrical tail feathers.

Human experiments also show similar patterns.

 

Experiments have found that women are more attracted to men who have features that are more symmetrical than other men. One study even found that women have more orgasms during sex with men who were more symmetrical, regardless of their level of romantic attachment or the guys' sexual experience.

 

The connection between body symmetry and mate selection began to make sense when researchers started finding correlations between symmetry and health. One study found that men with asymmetric faces tend to suffer more from depression, anxiety, headaches and even stomach problems. Women with facial asymmetry are less healthy and more prone to emotional instability and depression.

 

Another study found that the more asymmetric a person's body was, the more likely they were to show signs of aggression when provoked. Symmetry is also prevalent in the physical sciences and is woven into the very laws that govern our universe.

Kemo D. (a.k.a. no.7)

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