The Beautifully Lazy World

Yes, you read it right. The world is as lazy as it is beautiful and funnily, it is beautiful precisely because it wants to be lazy. “Heh?” you might ask. Let me tell you why I think so if you have a couple of minutes to spare.

Let me base my argument on a very trivial concept that we associate beauty with, SYMMETRY. Its everywhere. I won’t waste your time listing trivial examples. What I will do instead is to draw lines connecting symmetry in various aspects to the underlying laziness that it serves. A couple of cases will get your thought train running and catch up with mine and we can smile at the dance of these seemingly unrelated concepts together.

I love physics so I’ll start with that. Don’t worry if don’t share the same love. It’s only as technical as you want it to be. So, at the very heart of classical physics is the concept of “Principle of Stationary Action”. What it basically says is, if you try to encapsulate the behavior of any system using physics, you will end up realizing that systems prefers to be lazy while going from one state to another just like you and me. I wouldn’t want to walk down to a shop 1 km away to buy snacks just to change my state from hungry to not-hungry. I would much rather prefer walking to my fridge which hopefully has something left in it. If someone could serve me snacks while I am writing this in my bedroom, better. So basically, everyone and everything is LAZY. Now comes the interesting part. It also turns out that symmetry in such systems is also ubiquitous. While it might not be the traditional “mirror image” symmetry that you might be thinking, its a kind of symmetry nonetheless. This Laziness and Symmetry together allow the systems to Conserve a quantity. While this quantity can at many times be non trivial, you might have guessed the most common one already: Energy! So to sum things in the physics department : System wants to be lazy. System has symmetry. System conserves. (Whenever I feel guilty of being lazy, I restructure the question of “Why am I being lazy?” to “Why am I conserving energy?” and tell myself : “ Well, it’s the law of nature! Can I get some snacks now please?”)

Let’s take up more tangible examples from nature now. Why do you find symmetry in honey bee combs? Well, turns out it’s the structure that allows them to pack everything closely without gaps thus reducing their effort. Poor fellows already work so hard flying around and the last thing you want is for your workspace to add to your efforts beyond what is needed. Why is there always some symmetry that seems to be associated with the bodies of creatures (approx. symmetry. Not identical symmetry)? Be it Bilateral symmetry like in animals, cylindrical symmetry like in worms or radial symmetry like in some primitive organisms? While functional reasons and evolutionary requirements might have lead to lot of asymmetry within bodies, the body that packs it has some kind of approximate symmetry. (I just can’t imagine human body contouring the shape of internal organs that it protects. We would look hideous. Or would we?). Drawing parallels, it’s just that the system in question here, the creature, is lazy and wants to minimize the information that it needs to develop. Just think. Half the information to build the body seems less of a work than to painstakingly sculpt the body to the intricate outline of things that it protects. Also, symmetry even helps functionally. Makes movement efficient in starfish, allows to capture food from all directions in a few organisms etc. I ain’t a biologist so I am just making some educated guesses here. There might be more scientific explanations which you are welcome to explore.

Why do we find symmetric faces more beautiful? The two possible explanations I found were that from evolutionary point of view, symmetry in faces and body is associated with healthy development and fitness (The body did a good job making two halves from half the information failing which, there was clearly some problem). Makes for a better mate. The other reason being, our brain is too lazy. If there is one thing about brain, it loves shortcuts to arrive at information. It loves to reduce the effort needed to appreciate someone/something. While it works hard to figure out the beauty of the person inside by knowing them and putting an effort to understand them, it wants them to makes its job easier by being symmetric on the outside. What a weird organ!

Most of the traditional architecture is based on symmetry and for many reasons. It is appealing (again, blame the brain), it is easier to design (design half of it), structurally efficient (physics) and easier to construct among many other things (oh, and fits really well into the rule of thirds and makes job easier for an amateur smartphone photographer :P). The reason why modern architects try to make a civil engineer miserable by coming up with asymmetric designs is because they want the people to put some effort to appreciate whatever abstract concept they want to convey. They want people to study the whole of building, not just half! (Again, this argument is from a few articles and drawing parallels myself. I don’t claim it is the absolute reason as I ain’t an architect).

Observe how you don’t even bother to study each feature in The ceiling of Lotfollah mosque, Isfahan, Iran and find it beautiful. Yes, what a lazy brain! (Source: Wikipedia)

Not so surprisingly, there is an aspect of symmetry in society and relationships. Symmetry in terms of love, trust, belief etc(as in reciprocity) makes it easy to sustain a relationship. It’s just too much an effort for one sided relationships, be it with friends, family or partner. And if you have been following my arguments, we are inherently lazy and symmetry just makes it easier to maintain these relationships.

It is just fascinating to realize that the nature around you prefers symmetry and makes you believe it is beautiful because it is lazy and it made you to be lazy. So as I lay in my bed for the most part of this weekend being lazy, I can’t help but smile and appreciate the tiny little details of this BEAUTIFULLY LAZY WORLD!

A vessel with a mind that frequently goes on marathons. A Type 1 on the Enneagram Chart