ON SYMMETRY (AND ITS DESIRABLE, POSSIBLE, AND ACTUAL CONSEQUENCES WITH RESPECT TO THEOLOGY, PARTICLE PHYSICS, AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT)
I’ve been thinking lately about the prevalence of symmetry in so many philosophies, ideologies, and such. It seems like just about every major world religion, if not every major religion, has some concept of good versus evil; light versus dark — dancing an endless waltz; a delicate, fragile deadlock, which, despite all odds, never loses its equilibrium. There must be some subtle gyroscope at work, maintaining the balance. A god beyond God?
The thing is, all these varying belief systems seem to agree that this balance exists, that there is a counteraction to each action, that there is a shadow cast by each light. The interpretation of this, the significance of this, the rightness of this is wherein we have differing schools of thought.
Some believe that good is ultimately more powerful than evil. Some disagree. Some call it a stalemate. This all ties in with the end times, though. Or, to a certain extent, The Beginning.
In Christianity there is little doubt that Satan is a mere pest. There is nothing to fear if you just give your life to God. But why has the omnipotent Lord of All Creation not removed this very finite, fallible (and Fallen) fellow? That is the question. Perhaps not everything is set in stone? Perhaps Lucifer is a long-shot, but not a lost cause in this horse-race? In the End, the Prince of Lies has his day, and perhaps he has a role to play, both now and during Armageddon?
In Zoroastrianism, there is no charade, no puppet show. There are two gods, one of good, one of evil, and they are constantly battling it out. Unlike Christianity’s rather odd view of things, we have here two gods of very comparable power, both struggling for purchase in the universe, and in the world of man. In the end, supposedly, good will vanquish evil, and we’ll all have cupcakes and lemonade. But how accurate are religious prophecies, really? I mean, in general.
Cut to Norse mythos, where again we have a final battle of good versus evil, except in this case, evil wins. Yeah, seriously. I wonder if that’s what all those Viking raids were about. Wouldn’t that be funny, though? An entire culture that actually defines itself as evil, and that’s okay, because they’re on the winning team? I don’t know enough about the various Scandinavian countries and their histories to do anything but speculate wildly here.
Looking now at Buddhism, and perhaps to a somewhat greater extent, its off-shoot, Taoism, we again have the balance. But in this case, no value judgments are made on whether light or dark is good or bad. They are simply two aspects of the whole, both necessary, both positive. In this case, balance of the two halves is not a compromise, or the apex of some inner battle, it is the goal. In terms of modern psychology, this view perhaps makes the most sense, though most people have difficulty letting go of value judgments completely.
Cue to modern physics: particle physics; nuclear physics; cosmology. Matter and anti-matter. Every particle with its anti-particle. You know they’ve even made anti-hydrogen. An anti-proton, encircled by a positron. The nucleus is negatively charged anti-matter, and the surrounding positron orbit is positive anti-matter. Every time you create a matter particle, you create an anti-matter particle. Every time. It’s like a built-in undo command. You put them together and they annihilate, returning to the dust whence they came, or rather, the energy.
The Big Bang, whatever the hell happened way back then, some 13.4 billion years ago, resulted in the universe. Somehow, we had a whole lot of chaos, a whole lot of messy energy and maybe a tiny little bit of space, a potent, contained maelstrom, and then we had matter. We had particles being created, and anti-particles along with it, but somehow, something got messed up. There was a glitch. For perhaps one in every several thousand particles that were created, we had several thousand anti-particles, less one.
Then it stopped, and the universe started sorting itself out. Space expanding, matter coalescing, and after 11 or so billion years, one tiny little clump of dirt had another weird, unexplained thing happen. Life started. And it took awhile to get itself sorted out too. Actually, we’re still working on it.
Which segues back into the human scale of things. Consider international development; social justice; war. If a miracle is the standard term for defining anything that’s unexplained, then there was some kind of a miracle when the universe was created. There’s supposed to be balance. There’s supposed to be symmetry. It went a little bit off and that’s why we’re all here. I guess the obvious question is whether we can achieve some fractional asymmetry with respect to humanity’s light and dark sides, as well, and if so, whether this is a good thing.
Can good vanquish evil? Should it? Or should we seek balance? Or by striving for goodness while others struggle for their own dark ends, will balance be the fated result?
I don’t know. I don’t really believe in fate. I think good, by definition, is what we want. What, exactly, is good, is more the question. Forgetting about what’s desirable, I’d rather look at what’s possible. Can we escape this particular type of moral symmetry? Can things get better without somewhere else things getting worse? I guess, as a general rule, scientifically, naturally, historically, this has been difficult to arrange. Each solution reveals new problems. But it’s not impossible. It’s happened once before.
There seems to be some evolutionary psychology behind our penchant for dichotomy and symmetry, but just because we tend to see things that way doesn’t mean that’s how things actually are, nor how they need to be.
So, we should all keep up the struggle. Or end the struggle. Stop with the crime, stop with the war, and stop saying mean things behind our friends’ backs (unless they really deserve it). The method by which we achieve these things is left as an exercise to the reader. And then, finally, we’ll all have some cupcakes and lemonade. Won’t that be lovely?