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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Structure and Symmetry

The Structure and Properties of Mildly-broken Symmetries: consequences in Arts, Aesthetics, Music, Molecular Biology, Zoology, Materials, Physics, Maths, Law and Psychology

‘Mildly broken symmetry’ appears much less understood and studied compared to symmetry itself. The terminologies symmetry and asymmetry grossly oversimplify reality and the choice of 'mildly broke or near symmetry' was purposefully chosen to make this distinction from symmetry and asymmetry.

Quantifying near-symmetry is a challenge and has purposefully been chosen as the issue to be addressed in the first workshop in a series of three Having considered research questions such as: how can one characterise (including mathematically) near-symmetry structure and why do we find near-symmetry structure attractive, three workshops are planned during the course of 2017/18.

The first workshop Quantifying Near-symmetry workshop takes place on 4 and 5 October 2017 and will consider how can one characterise (including mathematically) near-symmetrical structures. Unlike symmetry, ‘near perfect’ symmetry (rephrased from herein as ‘mildly broken symmetry’) has not been well studied. Whilst there are mathematical problems (such as the fact that the surface of spheres cannot be symmetrically tiled with identical shapes) the aim will be to seek, test and quantify the concept of ‘mildly broken symmetry’ across all disciplines because our attraction to ‘near perfect’ symmetry is ubiquitous. In particular the workshop may enquire whether a general perturbation approach can be applied to underlying symmetries of a base original model in order a better understanding mildly broken symmetry.

A number of external speakers are confirmed for October including: Professor Frank Close, (Physics, Oxford); Professor Ard Louis (Physics, Oxford); Professor Myron Penner (Philosophy, Trinity Western); Dr Iain McGilchrist (Psychiatry, Oxford); Professor Chris McManus (Psychology, UCL); Professor Jonathan Heddle (Biotechnology, Krakow); Professor Alan Goriely (Maths, Oxford). For further information contact Professor Tom McLeish or Dr Markus Hausmann or see:

The second workshop Human Perception of Near-symmetry will explore why near symmetrical structures are found to be attractive? Humans have a predisposition towards symmetry and this is likely to be neurologically controlled (with the left side of the brain searching for symmetry whilst the right side searches for broken symmetry). Whilst one reason for our attraction to symmetry is related to reduced information processing time and thus energy expenditure excessive symmetry would we not perceive absolute symmetry as disturbing? On the other hand excessively broken symmetry would be perceived as an outward indicator of a lack of fitness.

Workshop three, Near-symmetry, Information, Understanding & Applications will investigate whether understanding of theoretical physics, biology, economics, musics etc. can be improved by enriching the existing discussion of symmetry with an analysis of mildly-broken symmetry. Is mildly-broken the subtle norm?