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Current Literature Edited by Elizabeth Crumley I. Book Reviews Book Review Panel: George Agoston, Rudolf Arnheim, John E. Bowlt, Hans Brill, Donald Brook, Patricia Butler, John Cooper, Robert Dixon, Elmer Duncan, Vic Gray, Yusuf Grillo, John G. Hanhardt, Sharon Lebell, Alan Lee, Joy Turner Luke, John Mallinckrodt, Leo Narodny,Sean O’Driscoll, David Pariser, Yehuda Safran, Shao Dazhen, Allan Shields, David Topper, Stephen Wilson. FEARFULSYMMETRY.THESEARCH FOR BEAUTY IN MODERN PHYSICS by A. Zee. Macmillan, New York, NY, U.S.A., 1986. 322 pp. Trade, $25.00. Reviewed by Rudolf Arnheim, 1133South Seventh Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48103, U.S.A. Symmetry is certain to be among the principleswe consult when we attempt to describe the basic structure underlying works of art. To be sure,explicitbilateral symmetryis limitedmostlyto architecture and ornament, and centric or rotational symmetry is even rarer; but we are tempted to believe that the complexity of many compositions in painting and sculptureisultimatelybasedonsymmetry. We are encouraged in this belief when we learn that the bewildering maze of the physical world, from the galaxies all the way down to the nuclear particles, is now suspected of being reducible to a few simplesymmetrical relations. This development is particularly relevant to the arts since physicists describe such symmetries as the ‘beauty’ of successful theories. By beauty they mean an elegant simplicity of form tying all relevant facts together-a definition that theart people, too, might find quite acceptable. As a lay reader one could not ask for a better guide to the latest thoughts on the nature of thephysicalworldthan Anthony Zee, a professor of physics at the University of California. Sodirectly is he involved in the most recent struggles for clarification in his field that he seems to bejust taking a breather to tellus what he and his colleaguesareup to. Although the achievements on which he can report are truly spectacular, he ends his book not with a finale but with the latest question mark; and the suspense is fully shared by the reader because Zee is remarkably 0 1988 EAST capable of explaining things simply, entertainingly, and with his eyes on the central target. He is a ‘fundamental physicist’, meaning one concerned with the most basic principles rather than with the exploration of what Einstein called just ‘this or that’ phenomenon. I confess that by the point where he walks his readers through thevalley of the flavored quarks, he had lost me, even though his rod and staff did not ceaseto comfort me. Even when he deals with the intricacy of the ultimate nuclear particles, he maintains the expectation that eventually everything will be found to fit a grand symmetry. “Intrinsically”, he says, “advanced physics is simpler than elementary physics-a little secret not often revealed to the layman” (p. 75). To recognize symmetry in what physicists are talking about, we need to remember thateverysymmetricalrelation has two components, namely invariance and transformation. Think of a design such as a spread eagle. The structure on both sides is the same, but the two are transformed into each other. Similarly, Einstein’s great discovery was the extrication of the principle of invariance. “Relativistic invariance says that two observers in relative motion of constant velocity must arrive at the same physical laws, in spite of the fact that they differ in their measurements of various physical quantities” @. 55). Einstein’sovercoming of relativistic onesidedness was the first step toward the ‘grand unification’ physicists are approaching, the taming of the complexity that strikes our eyes. We are taught that the almost infinite multiplicity of appearances isreducibleto a very few structural principles and that our understanding is ultimately based on this underlying simplicity. Thus, the symmetry inherent in the physical world as well as in many of the visual patterns we call art is not evident but concealed. Infact, if that simpleorder would rule unopposed, the world would be shapeless. “Symmetry is beauty, and beauty is desirable. But if the design is perfectly symmetrical, then there would be onlyoneinteraction. Thefundamental particles would all be identical and hence indistinguishable fromoneanother.Such a world is possible, but it would be very dull. Therewould be no atom, no star, no planet, no flower, and no physicist” @. 212).Thedesign problem...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1530-9282
Print ISSN
0024-094X
Pages
pp. 457-458
Launched on MUSE
2017-01-04
Open Access
No
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