Saturday, May 22, 2010

Are Flaws In Perfection Necessary For Life And Existence?

I would like to point to a recent news story, From The imperfect universe: Goodbye, theory of everything:
Symmetries are violated left and right; in nature, unlike in John Keats's famous poem, beauty isn't always truth... But there's more. I propose that fundamental asymmetries are a necessary part of our universe, that they determine our very existence...
Life itself is a product of imperfections, from the spatial asymmetry of amino acids to mutations during reproduction. Asymmetries forged the long, complex and erratic path from particles to atoms to cells, from simple prokaryotic cells without nuclei to more sophisticated eukaryotic cells, and then from unicellular to multicellular organisms...

Since the days of Newton physicists have hopped to come up with a mathematically elegant theory of everything.  I'm in no way stating that this is impossible, however I am wondering if it will be as beautiful and elegant as we naively guessed.

The reality is symmetries, a fancy word that encompasses the notions of beauty and elegance, are violated left and right.  In fact, I have heard some people go so far as to claim that that symmetries (again the layman can think beauty and elegance) don't exist fundamentally. (At high energies)  Maybe the symmetries we do see are no more then "stamp collecting like" labels we apply to patterns that appear well above fundamental scales. (Ie.. at low energies.)

But maybe this is a good thing.  Maybe we need asymmetries for existence.  If the universe was perfectly homogeneous and isotropic, there would be no gravitational collapse leading to the formation of galaxies and planets.  If there was no violation to the famous CP symmetry, all matter would have been annihilated after the Big Bang.

Heck! If water didn't do the opposite of nearly everything else (an asymmetry) by expanding when it freezes, ice would not float and bodies of water would always completely free through during cold months killing all life inside. Etc...

So, maybe the violation of symmetries are a good thing.  Maybe flaws in perfection are indeed necessary for life and existence

Your thoughts?


  1. Joseph,

    A few months ago I had some related thoughts here.

  2. I think perhaps this is where I would differ greatly with my dear physicist friends. As an engineer my world is far from perfect. In fact, I would say pure physics does a lousy job of predicting my reality. The engineer's mantra is "there is noise in every system." That is not to say you guys are doing something wrong, I understand the different purposes of our fields. It's just that things are never perfect because reality isn't perfect, and since my job is where the proverbial tires hit the pavement, I have to care about this stuff.

    Frankly, I don't see how evolution could even exist if nature were "perfect." I suppose we could argue that the process of evolution is perfect in the sense that it always (in the long run) produces optimal results, but who would argue that each mutation along the way is perfect?

    So I would tentatively conclude that yes, flaws are necessary for life. Though perhaps this is because I don't know anything different!

    As an interesting sidenote, what does such a conclusion imply about how we should read our church history, or view the modern church in general?

  3. Jared*,

    Thanks for the link.


    Interesting points, and yes physicists agree at large scales there is nolise everywhere.

    * First off, I don't think we disagree. We both think imperfections are needed for life but I do want to address the idea that only fantasy worlds would be devoid of noise *

    The question arises of whether there is "noise" or perfection at the smallest most fundamental scales.

    Now, before you laugh that this may be the case see this TED talk by a famous Nobel Prize winner.

    "since my job is where the proverbial tires hit the pavement "

    My point is by assuming that as things become more fundamental they become more aesthetic and symmetric has actually been very successful in describing the real world. Modern quantum field theory, which was formulated based of of these ideas, has the most precise predictions that have every been verified.

    So, assuming beauty and perfection has led to some very accurate-in-the-real-world theories but I admit perhaps this has been luck and that at more fundamental scales things don't become perfect and beautiful.

  4. Fractality is natural and not symmetric in a lot of cases: see clouds, trees, and the blood vessels. Thus symmetry seems to be a relative perfection but as we can read in "Chaos" by Gleick : an aim of science is too find order in chaos, and it does work ; then chaos is having less and less place.

  5. Joseph-
    Good thoughts! I hadn't thought of that before.

  6. I Mormon theology, we imagine God as finding His purpose in helping others less fortunate. In short, we imagine the ideal universe as being forever full of imperfection.

  7. Bruce, that's an interesting perspective.


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