The History of the Concept of Symmetry


for Members

The history of the concept of symmetry

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

CUNY Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue at 34th Street, Room 9206, Ninth Floor

Symmetry is commonly perceived as a concept that expresses bilateral, or radial relations, which effectively describes spatial arrangements that most people think is in some sense innate to the human mind. So, does the concept have a history? Has it evolved, or even undergone a revolution? Three auxiliary questions are formulated: (1) What did the word symmetry mean throughout the ages and, if the meaning changed, how did it change over time? (2) If symmetry as we use it today was not available to ancient, medieval, or early modern thinkers, what then were the ways of expressing the relation right-left of similar and equal elements? (3) Somewhere in the literature there must have been a substantial change in spatial analysis which called for a new concept—the concept we use today. What was this juncture? The first two questions are briefly addressed while the third is the subject of the talk. The two principal players are a philosopher and a mathematician, Immanuel Kant and Adrien-Marie Legendre.


Giora Hon

University of Haifa

Giora Hon teaches history and philosophy of science (University of Haifa, Israel). He has published widely on the problem of error in philosophy and science, especially in experimental research (Giora Hon, Jutta Schickore, and Friedrich Steinle. (eds.) 2009. Going Amiss in Experimental Research. Dordrecht: Springer). In recent years he has collaborated with Bernard R. Goldstein (University of Pittsburgh) in an extensive research project on the history and philosophy of the concept of symmetry (Giora Hon, and Bernard R. Goldstein. 2008. From Summetria to Symmetry: The Making of a Revolutionary Scientific Concept. Dordrecht: Springer).