# SYMMETRY AND COMPLEXITY

**THE SPIRIT AND BEAUTY OF NONLINEAR SCIENCE
**

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SYMMETRY AND COMPLEXITY

THE SPIRIT AND BEAUTY OF NONLINEAR SCIENCE

Kl aus Mai nzer

World Scientific

We

University of Augsburg, Germany

Series Editor: Leon O. Chua

Series A Vol. 51

ONLINEAR SCIENC

WORLD SCIENTIFIC SERIES ON

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SYMMETRY AND COMPLEXITY

The Spirit and Beauty of Nonlinear Science

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Preface

Symmetry and complexity determine the spirit of nonlinear science.

The expansion of the universe, the evolution of life and the globaliza-

tion of human economies and societies lead from symmetry and sim-

plicity to complexity and diversity. The emergence of new order and

structure means symmetry breaking and transition from unstable to

stable states of balance. It is explained by physical, chemical, biolog-

ical, and social self-organization, according to the laws of nonlinear

dynamics. Atoms and molecules, stars and clouds, organisms and

brains, economies and societies are only some examples of dynamical

systems. Thus, symmetry and complexity are the basic principles

of a common systems science in the 21st century, overcoming tra-

ditional boundaries between natural, cognitive, and social sciences,

mathematics, humanities and philosophy.

This book treats the essence of my scientiﬁc work that can be

described by a kind of dialectical triad. In a ﬁrst step, I pub-

lished a comprehensive treatise on Symmetries of Nature in 1988

(English: 1996). Early studies in geometry and space-time had in-

spired my interest in mathematical invariance and universal laws.

As many other scientists, philosophers, and artists, I was also fas-

cinated by the beauty of mathematical symmetries. But, physi-

cal, chemical, and biological symmetries are broken by natural pro-

cesses, leading to the observed complexity and diversity of the world.

Therefore, I studied the foundations of nonlinear dynamics and, as

a second step, published the book Thinking in Complexity. The

v

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vi Symmetry and Complexity

Complex Dynamics of Matter, Mind, and Mankind in 1994 (4th

enlarged edition 2004). My interest in complexity dates back to

my Ph.D. thesis on the foundations of constructive mathematics

and computational degrees of complexity in 1973. In many other

books and articles, I enlarged the applications of nonlinear systems

to computer science, cognitive science, and social science. After

thesis and antithesis, this book is the synthesis of Symmetry and

Complexity. It also connects my life-long love of music and art with

nonlinear science.

Research is always realized in a network of cooperation and com-

munication. Therefore, I want to thank some colleagues, friends and

institutions. Leon O. Chua (Department of Electrical Engineering

& Computer Sciences, University of California, Berkeley) invited me

to publish a book in his series on Nonlinear Science. He is also the

editor of the International Journal of Bifurcation and Chaos in Ap-

plied Sciences and Engineering. As a member of the editorial board

of this journal, I have the opportunity to get an interdisciplinary

overview of worldwide explorations in nonlinear science. Symmetry

and complexity are also topics of international and cultural inte-

gration. International translations of my books underline the inter-

est in symmetry and complexity beyond all cultural boundaries. I

would like to thank the European Academy of Science (Academia

Europaea in London) who invited me for a lecture on symmetry

and complex systems in January 2005. Furthermore, I would like

to thank the Leibniz-Community of German Research Institutions

and the Japanese Research Institute of Integration Science for their

kind invitation on a lecture on complex systems in October 2004.

Thanks also to Hermann Haken and Wolfgang Weidlich (Institute

of Theoretical Physics, University of Stuttgart), J¨ urgen Mittelstraß

(Department of Philosophy, University of Constance), Martin Quack

(Laboratory of Physical Chemistry, ETH Z¨ urich), and Alwyn Scott

(Department of Mathematics, University of Arizona) who have in-

spired and supported my work.

Last but not least, I would like to thank Dominik B¨ osl, Michael

Hochholdinger, Jutta Janßen, Tobias Jung, Paul Williams (Univer-

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Preface vii

sity of Augsburg) and Lakshmi Narayan (World Scientiﬁc Publish-

ing) for preparing the publication.

Augsburg and Munich, September 2004 Klaus Mainzer

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Contents

Preface v

Introduction 1

1. Symmetry and Complexity in Early Culture and Philosophy 23

1.1 Cultural and Cosmic Harmony . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23

1.2 Cultural and Cosmic Diversity . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48

2. Symmetry and Complexity in Mathematics 63

2.1 Symmetry and Group Theory . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64

2.2 Symmetry Breaking and Bifurcation Theory . . . . . . 83

2.3 Complexity, Nonlinearity and Fractals . . . . . . . . . 99

3. Symmetry and Complexity in Physical Sciences 107

3.1 Symmetry in Physics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 110

3.2 Symmetry Breaking and Phase Transitions . . . . . . 147

3.3 Complexity, Attractors and Dynamical Systems . . . . 158

4. Symmetry and Complexity in Chemical Sciences 171

4.1 Symmetry in Chemistry . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 171

4.2 Symmetry Breaking and Chirality . . . . . . . . . . . 184

4.3 Complexity, Dissipation and Nanosystems . . . . . . . 190

ix

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x Symmetry and Complexity

5. Symmetry and Complexity in Life Sciences 199

5.1 Symmetry in Biology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 199

5.2 Symmetry Breaking and Evolution . . . . . . . . . . . 210

5.3 Complexity and Biodiversity of Life . . . . . . . . . . 223

6. Symmetry and Complexity in Economic and

Social Sciences 239

6.1 Symmetry, Social Balance and Economic

Equilibrium . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 239

6.2 Symmetry Breaking and Socio-economic

Transitions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 248

6.3 Complexity and Sociodiversity of Globalization . . . . 259

7. Symmetry and Complexity in Computer Science 273

7.1 Symmetry and Complexity in Information

Dynamics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 273

7.2 Symmetry and Complexity in Computational

Dynamics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 284

8. Symmetry and Complexity in Philosophy and Arts 329

8.1 The Philosophy of Symmetry and Complexity . . . . . 329

8.2 The Beauty of Symmetry and Complexity . . . . . . . 357

References 389

Subject Index 425

Name Index 435

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Introduction

Long before any science, man was fascinated by symmetry. Symmet-

ric ornaments seem to represent perfect order, beauty, and divine

harmony. Symmetrical forms and symbols are to be found in art and

architecture as well as in everyday useful objects and in the mytholo-

gies of religions. Symmetry is a multi-cultural phenomenon. It spans

the human life world, technology, culture and nature, and thereby

searches out a unity of the natural and human sciences. Until today,

symmetries have been a theme of current interest in the natural sci-

ences. Nobel prizes in physics have been awarded for research into

the symmetry of the elementary particles and the universe. Ques-

tions of symmetry are discussed in chemistry and biology as well.

The various basic laws of natural sciences are derivable from unitary

mathematical structures of symmetry. Modern scientists often share

with the Pythagoreans of Antiquity the belief in a cosmos ordered

and in balance by the highest and most perfectly mathematical laws:

in the beginning, there was symmetry and simplicity.

But, actually, the world is neither always simple nor in static bal-

ance and harmony. There is also steady change, dynamics, random

and chaos. Symmetry is locally and globally broken by phase tran-

sitions of instability in dynamical systems generating a variety of

new order and partial symmetries with increasing complexity. The

states of complex dynamical systems can refer to, e.g., atomic clus-

ters, crystals, biomolecules, organisms and brains, social and eco-

nomic systems. This book analyzes dynamical balance as dynamical

1

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2 Symmetry and Complexity

symmetry in dynamical systems. Their beauty can be visualized by

computer simulations of computational systems.

Symmetry breaking and the emergence of new order and chaos

is an interdisciplinary challenge of nonlinear science. Linear systems

are simple and can be resolved into more simple components, the

eﬀects of which are treated separately: the whole is the sum of its

parts. Nonlinear systems are complex with several interacting eﬀects

of their components: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,

leading to the emergence of new structures and sometimes chaos.

What is the common link between symmetry and complexity? It is

symmetry breaking as the origin of dynamics and variety of forms

and systems in the world. Thus, symmetry and complexity are the

spirit of nonlinear science.

The ﬁrst chapter deals with symmetry and complexity in early

culture and philosophy up to the beginning of the modern natural

sciences in the Renaissance. The ﬁrst section directs the reader to

the use of symmetry patterns in early cultures. In the mythologies

of the nature religions, gods and goddesses determine natural forces.

These are replaced in the Greek natural philosophy by symmetry

models for the rational explanation of nature. The mathematical

formulation of the concept of symmetry was a decisive prerequisite.

In the Pythagorean quadrivium — geometry, arithmetic, music and

astronomy — the harmony and proportionality (1#02!. of nature

became the central concern of a mathematical philosophy. Animated

by technical, aesthetic or religious motives, symmetry remains a fa-

vorite theme of Antique-Medieval mathematics. In geometry, the-

orems about regular plane ﬁgures and regular solids of Euclidean

space are proven. In arithmetic and music, laws of proportion and

harmony are explored. In astronomy, spherical models are used to

explain the phenomena of the heavens.

But what would harmony be without dissonance and violation of

symmetry? Presumably, without charm, and boring, since it would

be the everyday, the normal. But in fact we are ﬂooded with infor-

mation from the outer world in which chaotic multiplicity and change

are the probable. Order and lasting symmetries seem to be the im-

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Introduction 3

probable. The centro-symmetric spherical models of Eudoxus and

Aristotle soon come into conﬂict with discrepant observations of the

sky, which right up to N. Copernicus require increasingly elaborate

geometrical and kinematic assumptions in order to save the symme-

try of the model. What remains are artiﬁcial and complicated models

of planets which lose their credibility because — as Copernicus in his

Platonic tradition still believes — only the simple can be real, the

simple which underlies the multiplicity of phenomena. The history

of Antique-Medieval astronomy oﬀers a convincing case study for in-

vestigating the interplay of original assumptions of symmetry on the

one hand, and the breaks of symmetry on the basis of new realiza-

tions on the other hand, as a basic pattern of the development of

research, which will be repeated on into modern physics.

But not only the Greek macrocosm is determined by symmetries.

The Greek atomists form a contrast to the organic conception of

nature, not even comprehending life as it is holistically given, but

instead wanting to trace all existent things back to the aimless col-

lision of the smallest indivisible building blockss (x-##+) in empty

space. They design a simple and linear world. Plato’s natural philos-

ophy introduces a mathematical model of the microcosm for the ﬁrst

time, explaining the elements by means of the geometric symmetry

of regular bodies. Modern physicists feel in the Platonic tradition,

when they try to explain the world’s fundamental equations by more

sophisticated mathematical principles of symmetry.

Contrary to the eternal symmetries of macro- and microcosm,

the mesocosm of the human world seems to be characterized by

steady change, development, growth and decay, birth and death.

In Antiquity, the mesoworld between the celestial spheres and atoms

remains extensively separate from mathematics, since, as Aristotle

says, physics deals with motion and change; mathematics with the

unchanging. Therefore only the eternally recurring circular motions

of the heavens are formulated mathematically and are considered di-

vine. Only simplicity can be mathematized. The complexity and

variability of nature on earth is collected, ordered, and explained by

means of various qualitative principles of the natural philosophy from

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4 Symmetry and Complexity

the time of the Presocratics. Examples are the change from ﬂuid to

solid states, from cold to heat as well as the organic developments

and the life of humans and animals from birth to death, or the growth

and decay of plants, which are understood to be goal-directed pro-

cesses. Obviously, Aristotle explains change and process in nature as

state transitions leading to ﬁnal attractors of development. Nature

is seen as a great organism whose processes are tuned to each other

in balance, but which can be destabilized by catastrophes. It is a

holistic and qualitative view of a dynamical world that is later on

mathematized by nonlinear science.

Symmetry assumptions in the astronomy and natural philosophy

of Antiquity were founded on plane and solid ﬁgure symmetries of

Euclidean geometry: the circle, the sphere, and regular solids. But

in order to understand the laws of nature of modern physics as as-

sumptions of symmetry, it is necessary to investigate symmetry and

complexity in modern mathematics (second chapter). It was ﬁrst of

all algebra and group theory from the end of the 18th century that

created the basis for the rigorous, general mathematical deﬁnition of

the concept of symmetry (the “automorphism group”), which found

its ﬁrst application in the crystallography and stereochemistry of the

19th century and then in almost all parts of modern natural science.

The second chapter treats the discrete symmetries of the ornaments

and crystals from the point of view of group theory. But historically

the group concept was ﬁrst applied in the algebraic theory of equa-

tions (“Galois theory”), which can also be used to solve construction

problems of symmetries from Antiquity. The continuous groups of

diﬀerential geometry (“Lie groups”) became important for modern

physics.

Mathematically, symmetry is characterized by a group of trans-

formations that leave certain features of a system unchanged. A

system characterized by a larger group of transformations has higher

symmetry. For example, a circle has more rotational transformations

bringing it back into itself than a regular polygon. The symmetry

of a system is broken when new features emerge that are not in-

variant under at least some of its transformations. An example is

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Introduction 5

a corner appearing on a circle. Broken symmetry is a crucial con-

cept to understand emergent phenomena of dynamical systems. If

dynamical systems become unstable, they can jump from one state

to another one with a completely diﬀerent pattern of behavior. Such

instabilities in behavioral patterns are called bifurcations. A cascade

of bifurcations can lead from order to chaos which involves broken

symmetries.

Since Poincar´e’s discovery of deterministic chaos, the mathemat-

ical theory of bifurcation had been a basic topic of nonlinear science.

The transition from order to chaos is connected with the emergence

of fractals. They opened new avenues to the nonlinear world of our

everyday life, which Aristotle strictly excluded from mathematiza-

tion. Obviously, Euclidean geometry is unable to describe the shape

of a cloud, a mountain, a coastline or a tree, because they are no

spheres, cones, or circles. B.B. Mandelbrot introduced the notion

of a fractal to describe these bizarre shapes with a new geometry of

nature. Fractals are characterized by structures that are self-similar

on various scales. They do not change their appearance when they

are enlarged or diminished to arbitrary size. Self-similarity is a kind

of symmetry. Therefore, fractal geometry reveals the mathematical

beauty of symmetries even behind the nonlinear world of change and

chaos.

In the third chapter symmetry and complexity are examined in

physical sciences. In classical physics, symmetry is understood to

be invariance of natural laws or physical equations with respect to

continuous transformation groups. This establishes that a natural

law is objectively valid — independently of changes in the position

or the point in time of its examination by an experimenter or ob-

server. Symmetries correspond to the freedom to choose the system

of coordinates of the observer. All natural laws are invariant with

respect to translation, rotation and reﬂection of the system of coor-

dinates. The symmetries are global in the sense that natural laws are

invariant with respect to equivalent transformations for all points in

the space. With the concept of an inertial system, the principle of

relativity in classical physics is deﬁned by Galilean invariance.

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6 Symmetry and Complexity

The joining of electricity, magnetism and optics succeeds math-

ematically in electrodynamics, which can be formulated invariantly

to the Lorentz group. J.C. Maxwell had already predicted that light

could be reduced to the electromagnetic ﬁeld. In fact, the wave

equations for the phase velocity of light were derived from Maxwell’s

equations and conﬁrmed experimentally by H. Hertz. This brought

about, for the ﬁrst time, a uniﬁcation of the phenomena of nature

in mathematical physics. Further, Maxwell’s electrodynamics con-

stituted, for the ﬁrst time, a physical theory for which the modern

physical concept of symmetry could be expressed with precision. The

electromagnetic ﬁeld has both “global” symmetry in accordance with

the Lorentz invariance — in which all space-time coordinates can be

altered — and also “local” symmetry in the sense of a gauge ﬁeld.

Even in 1923 H. Weyl characterized the theory of the electromagnetic

ﬁeld as “the most perfect piece of physics that we know today.”

The application of physical symmetry concepts is closely con-

nected with mathematical developments in algebra and geometry

in the 19th century. In 1872, F. Klein, in his well-known “Erlanger

Program”, had characterized and classiﬁed various geometric theo-

ries by means of continuous transformation groups. Under the direct

inﬂuence of F. Klein, E. Noether in 1918 expanded this program

for physics and showed how physical conservation principles can be

characterized by means of transformation groups and traced back to

space-time symmetries.

The mathematical variational and extremal principles are of cen-

tral signiﬁcance for the physical concept of symmetry. Historically

they arise out of the background of Leibniz’s natural philosophy of

pre-established harmony and are determined by the search for a co-

herent basic principle of nature.

For the symmetry concepts of modern physics, ﬁrst to be dis-

cussed is the Lorentz invariance of the force-free 4-dimensional

Minkowski space of the special relativity theory, in which two ob-

servers have constant velocity relative to each other. It is a matter

of global symmetry, since the transformations refer to all space-time

coordinates. The local Lorentz invariance of the general theory of

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Introduction 7

relativity has to fulﬁll much stricter requirements. Now the physi-

cal laws have to keep the same form even when every single point

is transformed independently of all the others. This mathematical

sharpening has the same signiﬁcance as the physical postulate that

two observers may also increase their speed relative to each other,

that is, that gravitational forces come into play. A key concept of

modern physics is to describe the introduction of fundamental forces

mathematically by means of the transition from a global symmetry

to a local symmetry. Relativistic cosmology applies the diﬀerential-

geometric theory of symmetrical spaces, which E. Cartan had devel-

oped in the twenties of the last century from the theory of spaces

with constant curvature (B. Riemann, S. Lie, H. von Helmholtz

et al.). The solutions to Einstein’s gravitation equation allow for

varying symmetrical models, e.g. that the spatially homogeneous uni-

verse expands isotropically, or collapses, or oscillates. The Platonic

belief in a macroscopically symmetrical cosmos on the whole is once

more urgent, even if mathematically more complicated and no longer

in the form of the ancient harmony of the spheres.

In this context it is noteworthy that D. Hilbert derived the rela-

tivistic equations together with Mie’s electrodynamic equations from

a variation principle independently of A. Einstein. This was the

ﬁrst attempt at a uniﬁcation of the fundamental forces in modern

physics, which, however, succeeded only later under the conditions

of quantum mechanics. Mie’s “theory of matter” from 1912 is also an

important document of nonlinear science. He suggested a nonlinear

augmentation of Maxwell’s electromagnetic equations out of which

elementary particles (e.g. the electron) would arise in a natural way.

Although Mie’s theory was later on refuted by experiments, Einstein

was deeply convinced that elementary particles must be represented

by exact solutions of nonlinear partial diﬀerential equations founding

a uniﬁed ﬁeld theory of matter. Therefore, Einstein never accepted

the quantum mechanical approach.

Next to the relativity theory, quantum mechanics is the frame-

work theory of modern physics. Recall ﬁrst, the spherically sym-

metrical characteristics of the early atom models by which N. Bohr

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8 Symmetry and Complexity

explained the discontinuous spectral lines of the chemical elements.

According to these models the electrons move on ﬁxed paths around

the nucleus, like the ancient planets. By analogy to the develop-

ment of the Aristotelian planet models, Bohr’s originally simple atom

model must also be assimilated by means of certain artiﬁces (in this

case the quantum numbers) to the complicated relationships that re-

veal themselves for various elements in the laboratory. Thus the basic

equation of quantum mechanics, the Schr¨ odinger equation, exhibits

two kinds of symmetry. It can be assumed, at least approximately,

that the electrons have a spherically-symmetrical potential energy

for which no direction is distinguished, so that the corresponding

Hamiltonian function is invariant towards the symmetry operations

of the sphere. Further, electrons are indistinguishable (G.W. Leib-

niz: “indiscernibiles”) in the sense that it makes no diﬀerence for

the Hamiltonian function whether the positions of the electrons are

exchanged and permuted. This permutation symmetry is closely

connected to Pauli’s principle of exclusion, according to which two

electrons do not have the same quantum number. With reference

to Leibniz’s principle of indistinguishability, Weyl also speaks of the

Leibniz-Pauli-principle of symmetry.

Mathematically, the states of quantum systems (atoms, electrons,

etc.) can be represented by vectors of a Hilbert space. The symmetry

(automorphism group) of the Hilbert space formalism of von Neu-

mann’s quantum mechanics has been investigated especially by Weyl,

E.P. Wigner et al. since the end of the twenties of the last century,

and related to the unitary transformations of the Hilbert space. The

space-time symmetries are determined by a subgroup that can be rep-

resented by the Galileo group of classical physics. But the decisive

distinction from classical physics (and from the relativity theory) is

that quantities in (von Neumann’s) quantum mechanics that can be

used as measuring quantities (“observables”), are not exchangeable

(“commutative”). This group-theoretic characteristic of quantum

systems comes to expression in terms of measurement technique in

that it makes a diﬀerence in what sequence quantities are measured.

There is an aggravating disadvantage in von Neumann’s quantum

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Introduction 9

mechanics in that no classical (“commutative”) observables are al-

lowable. But how can the demonstrable existence of commutative

quantities in the quantum realm, e.g. spin or rest masses, be under-

stood (the problem of “superselection rules”, respectively “violation

of the principle of superposition”)? How can the measuring process

of quantum mechanics be described? It is an interaction between a

classical measuring instrument and a quantum system. Hence, gener-

alized formalisms of quantum mechanics (e.g. C

∗

-algebra, quantum

logic) have been developed which also admit classical observables

and are determined by symmetry groups. Thereby, from the per-

spective of uniting natural-science theories, a framework is built in

which classical systems, quantum systems (in von Neumann’s sense),

generalized quantum systems and thermodynamic systems can be

examined.

The historical development of physical theories is deﬁned by a

step-by-step uniﬁcation. I. Newton achieved the ﬁrst great uniﬁ-

cation when he traced trajectories of free-falling or projected ter-

restrial bodies to the same conformity with celestial bodies. Next

came Maxwell who based electricity, magnetism and optics on elec-

trodynamics. Newton’s gravitation theory had to be replaced by

Einstein’s general relativity theory, and Maxwell’s electrodynam-

ics had to be enlarged by special relativity theory, and quantum

mechanics by quantum ﬁeld theories, especially quantum electro-

dynamics. The ﬁrst step in that direction was made, already in

1928, by P.A.M. Dirac, when he predicted — with a relativistic

quantum mechanical wave equation — an anti-particle to the elec-

tron (“positron”), which in fact was discovered in 1932. The break-

through for the theory of the electromagnetic interaction of electrons,

positrons and photons came at the end of the forties with the work

of R.P. Feynman, J.S. Schwinger et al. The group of (unitary) trans-

formations, which leaves the laws of this theory invariant, has the

so-called U(l) symmetry. Physically these transformations corre-

spond to a process in which a particle is transformed from one state

into another without changing its identity. Thus an electron can go

to another energy state by sending out a photon. The initial state

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10 Symmetry and Complexity

and the ﬁnal state do not diﬀer in electrical charge, and the tran-

sitions between the two states by means of the emission of photons

can be represented by an 1 × 1 matrix. Here we encounter an en-

tirely new kind of symmetry that is no longer a matter of “external”

space-time symmetries such as reﬂections, rotations, translations,

etc. but instead of “inner” (intrinsic) symmetries of transformations

of matter.

Another inner symmetry is isospin symmetry establishing a con-

nection between the nuclear particles proton and neutron and the

nuclear forces. Both particles possess the same spin and almost the

same mass, so that they — as W. Heisenberg recommended — can

be conceived of as two possible states of a particle, the nucleon.

Transitions from one state to another are described by means of the

so-called SU(2) group. While neutrons and protons are the only

particles with strong interaction which are stable for a long time,

with today’s high-energy technology a multiplicity of very short-

lived particles with strong interactions (“hadrons”) can be produced.

This “zoo” of hadrons, which was discovered in the ﬁfties of the last

century more or less by chance, was ﬁnally derived from a unitary

symmetry structure. Since then all hadrons are built up out of sub-

elemental “quarks”. Their strong interaction can be described by

means of a SU(3) symmetry. This theory is built up according to

the model of quantum electrodynamics and is called quantum chro-

modynamics since the strong force does not come into play between

electric charges but between so-called color charges of the quark.

Today a fourth fundamental force of nature, weak interaction,

is distinguished from gravitational energy and the electromagnetic

and strong interactions. While gravitational energy and electric and

magnetic phenomena are well-known through everyday experience,

nuclear forces and weak interactions can be observed only by means

of the modern technologies. Thus the weak interaction is responsible

for the β-decay. This force proves to be especially critical for the

discussion of left-right symmetry (“parity”) in nature. Namely, ex-

periments at the end of the ﬁfties of the last century conﬁrm that

for the weak interaction in the case of β-decay of

60

Co — in contrast

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Introduction 11

to the other three basic forces — neither parity (P) nor reversal of

charge (C = charge) is a symmetry operation; rather, it is only the

combination CPT with the operation T (T = time) for reversal of

time (CPT theorem). After Weyl, already in 1918, had attempted

a uniﬁcation of the electromagnetic forces with gravitation, S. Wein-

berg, A. Salam, S. Glashow et al. succeeded in 1967 at uniting the

electromagnetic and the weak interactions. Both forces derive from

the so-called SU(2) × U(1) symmetry, which nevertheless is present

only in extremely small spatial ranges and is broken already in spac-

ings in the size range of the nuclear radii. While the interactions of

gravitation and electromagnetism are spatially limitless and there-

fore are transmitted by massless particles (graviton, photon), the

weak interaction (as well as the strong one) extends only for short

distances. Therefore the breaking of the SU(2) × U(1) symmetry

becomes observable when the intermediary particles (except for the

photon) suddenly take on large masses.

So far, the uniting of all four fundamental forces in one symmetry

group has only been carried by assumption in mathematical models.

Thus the SU(5) group, which is the smallest simple group which com-

bines the SU(3) symmetry and SU(2) ×U(1) symmetry, proves to be

especially interesting for describing strong, weak and electromagnetic

interaction. This theory predicts a tiny extension in which there are

no fundamental diﬀerences between quarks and leptons or between

the strong, weak and electromagnetic interactions, but instead only

one kind of matter and only one fundamental force.

In cosmic evolution the SU(5) symmetry would have existed a

fraction of the ﬁrst second after the big bang. The rest of the spatio-

temporal evolution of matter consists of breaking of the basic symme-

try and the appearance of partial symmetries with varying particles

and fundamental forces — a cosmic kaleidoscope whose symmetries

depend on spatial orders of magnitude and temporal developmental

phases. Certain rules of conservation then become time-dependent,

so that the decay of the proton is among the most spectacular prog-

noses of this theory and is sought after in expensive experiments.

Finally, the superstring theory strives for a modern theory of the

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12 Symmetry and Complexity

Platonic supersymmetry, in which all four fundamental forces are

indistinguishable.

The cosmic steps of symmetry breaking initiate the expansion of

the universe. Thus, they determine the cosmic arrow of time break-

ing the symmetry of time. The cosmic distinction of a time direction

seems to correspond to the second law of thermodynamics demand-

ing increasing entropy for (isolated) dynamical systems until a max-

imal value of thermal equilibrium is reached. On the other hand, all

fundamental laws of classical, relativistic, and quantum physics are

invariant with respect to the reversal of time. But there is no contra-

diction: The thermodynamical arrow of time is a macroscopic feature

of complex ensembles (e.g. gas) with elements (e.g. molecules) which

still obey laws of interaction with invariance of time on the micro-

level (microreversibility). Nevertheless, according to L. Boltzmann,

the second law of thermodynamics indicates a direction of time from

order to chaos, noise and decay of order.

But there are not only collapses of stars to black holes, death of

organisms, and dissolution of energy in the expanding universe, but

also the birth of new stars and life. Since the ancient philosophers

it has been a fundamental problem to understand how order arises

from complex, irregular, and chaotic states of matter. There is no

contradiction to the second law of thermodynamics that is restricted

to isolated systems without any interaction with their environment.

Modern thermodynamics describes the emergence of order by the

mathematical concepts of nonlinear science. New dynamic entities

emerge from phase transitions of complex dynamical systems with

underlying partial diﬀerential equations (PDE). We distinguish two

kinds of phase transition (self-organization) for order states: con-

servative self-organization means the phase transition of reversible

structures in thermal equilibrium. Typical examples are the growth

of snow crystals or the emergence of magnetization in a ferromag-

net by annealing the system to a critical value of temperature.

Conservative self-organization mainly creates order structures with

low energy at low temperatures that are described by a Boltzmann

distribution.

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Introduction 13

Dissipative self-organization is the phase transition of irreversible

structures far from thermal equilibrium. Macroscopic patterns arise

from the complex nonlinear cooperation of microscopic elements

when the energetic interaction of the dissipative (“open”) system

with its environment reaches some critical value. The stability of

the emergent structures is guaranteed by dynamical balance of non-

linearity and dissipation. Too much nonlinear interaction or dissi-

pation would destroy the structures. A typical example is the laser

light emerging from a complex system of nonlinearly interacting pho-

tons at a critical value of energy pumping. But even the ﬂame of

an ordinary candle is a simple example of nonlinear dissipative self-

organization. The heat from the ﬂame diﬀuses into the wax, vapor-

izing it at a rate required to provide fuel for the ﬂame. The stability

of the ﬂame is being enabled by the dynamical balance of thermal

diﬀusion and nonlinear energy release.

The phase transitions of dissipative complex systems are mathe-

matically described by nonlinear partial diﬀerential equations. The

emergent structures are their solutions. In a more qualitative way

we may say that old structures become unstable and break down

by changing conditions (“control parameters”). On the microscopic

level, the stable modes of the old states are dominated by unstable

modes. They determine the macroscopic order and pattern of the sys-

tem (“order parameter”). There are diﬀerent ﬁnal patterns of phase

transitions corresponding to diﬀerent attractors. Diﬀerent attractors

may be pictured with a stream, the velocity of which is accelerated

step by step. A stream is a complex system of nonlinearly interact-

ing molecules on the microscopic level, generating ﬂuid patterns on

the macroscopic surface. At a low degree of velocity a homogeneous

state of equilibrium is shown (“ﬁxed point”). At a higher degree the

bifurcation of two or more vortices can be observed corresponding to

periodic and quasi-periodic attractors. With increasing velocity we

get a bifurcation tree of increasing complexity. Finally the complex

order decays into chaos as ﬁnal attractor of the ﬂuid dynamics. These

steps of phase transition mostly involve broken symmetries. Thus,

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14 Symmetry and Complexity

generally speaking, the evolution of matter is caused by symmetry

breaking.

In a more mathematical way, the microscopic view of a complex

system is described by the nonlinear partial diﬀerential equation of

a state vector where each component depends on space and time

and where the components may denote, e.g. the velocity components

of a ﬂuid or a temperature ﬁeld. In a linear-stability analysis, we

can distinguish the stable and unstable modes by eigensolutions of

a corresponding eigenvalue equation. At critical values of a control

parameter, the unstable modes of some few components can increase

exponentially to macroscopic scale and dominate all the other sta-

ble ones. Thus, they become order parameters. The adaptation of

the stable modes to the dominating unstable behavior is mathemat-

ically described by the fact that all terms of stable modes can be

expressed by the few terms of unstable ones. Consequently, the mil-

lions of equations determining the single components of a gas, ﬂuid

or light on the microscopic level can be eliminated and replaced by

some few macroscopic equations of order parameters: it is not nec-

essary to know all microscopic states of a complex system, in order

to understand its dynamics.

Chemistry is the bridge between the microworld of atoms and the

mesoworld of living organisms. The fourth chapter analyzes symme-

try and complexity in chemical sciences. Symmetries, dissymmetries

and asymmetries of molecular structures, orbits and crystals can be

explained, using the methods of group theory. Chemical structures

fascinate us with the beauty of their symmetries. Again, molecules

can be considered as emergent entities, generated by the underlying

rules of nonlinear partial diﬀerential equations. In this case, atomic

elements organize themselves into molecules according to the laws of

quantum chemistry. It thus becomes clear how, at a certain stage

of development of matter, new structures of symmetry, dissymmetry

and asymmetry occur which do not yet exist on the level of the ele-

mentary particles. For example, if one views a crystal in the atomic

size realm, only the symmetry of the individual atoms becomes dis-

tinct. On the larger scale, the binding forces appear, breaking atomic

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Introduction 15

symmetry but building up the new molecular symmetry of the crystal

lattice. The old problem of left-right symmetry was already investi-

gated in the 19th century for crystals in relation to polarized light,

and led to stereochemistry. Chirality means molecular symmetry

breaking of left–right with sometimes dramatic consequences for liv-

ing organisms. The question arises if chirality is caused by a deeper

cosmic symmetry breaking of parity violation with the emergence of

weak forces or if it is a new phenomenon on the molecular level. On

the level of nanomolecules, chemistry becomes a nonlinear complex

science. These macromolecules are the building blocks of new materi-

als. Gigantic chemical structures with beautiful symmetries emerge

from the underlying rules of nonlinear interactions. Complex sys-

tems of the nanoworld and self-constructing materials are challenges

of key technologies in the future.

In the ﬁfth chapter we consider symmetry and complexity in life

sciences. In biochemistry the symmetry principles and their viola-

tions are today a widespread research ﬁeld. The determination of a

molecular chain direction is often important, for example, to reach

an unequivocal gene coding for the DNA molecules. It seems to be

characteristic that organisms prefer the middle realm of the transi-

tion from highest symmetry (e.g. crystal) to perfect chaos and ran-

domness (e.g. gases). In the 19th century, L. Pasteur had advanced

the thesis that dissymmetry was typical for life. We ﬁnd this opinion

reﬂected in literature in Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain”:

Hans Castorp, gazing at snow crystals, surmises: “Life shuddered

before this exact correctness.” Indeed the dynamics of life processes

can be described by means of symmetry breakings, as in the case of

cell division.

On the other hand, it is precisely living creatures, as self-

reproducing systems, that display particular temporal developmental

symmetries, which show themselves in the course of generations as

the periodic recurrence of the cyclical course of growth of individu-

als. In today’s biology one also speaks of the “cell cycle” and the

“hypercycle”.

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16 Symmetry and Complexity

Morphological symmetries of plants and trees are striking to any-

one. Movement in all directions in the isotropic medium of water is

made possible by the central symmetry of many sea organisms, while

the arrow form of the ﬁsh is expedient for a goal-oriented movement.

Under speciﬁc environmental conditions symmetrical forms oﬀer se-

lective advantages, which have been imitated and further developed

by modern technology (e.g. in building cars, airplanes and rockets).

The bilateral symmetry of higher animals seems to solve the problem

of optimal mobility with simultaneous balance of forces, while this

organizational principle is followed only partially in the anatomy of

the inner organs. Thus, although we have two lungs, we have only

one left-leaning heart. In the macroscopic realm also it comes down

to a layering and breaking of varying symmetries. The human brain

is a remarkable complex organ with bilateral symmetry, but also local

symmetry breaking.

In the framework of complex systems the emergence of life is law-

ful in the sense of dissipative self-organization. Only the conditions

for the emergence of life (for instance on the planet earth) may be

contingent in the universe. In general, biology distinguishes ontoge-

nesis (the growth of organisms) from phylogenesis (the evolution of

species). In any case we have complex dissipative systems the devel-

opment of which can be explained by the evolution of (macroscopic)

order parameters caused by nonlinear (microscopic) interactions of

molecules, cells, etc., in phase transitions far from thermal equilib-

rium. Forms of biological systems (plants, animals, etc.) are de-

scribed by order parameters. Aristotle’s teleology of goals in nature

is interpreted in terms of attractors in phase transitions.

Phase transitions often involve broken symmetries and the emer-

gence of new entities. Spencer’s idea that the evolution of life is char-

acterized by increasing complexity can be made precise in the context

of dissipative self-organization. It is well known that A.M. Turing

analyzed a mathematical model of organisms represented as com-

plex cellular systems. G. Gerisch, H. Meinhardt et al. described the

growth of an organism (e.g. a slime mould) by evolution equations for

the aggregation of cells. The nonlinear interactions of amoebas cause

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Introduction 17

the emergence of a macroscopic organism like a slime mould when

some critical value of cellular nutrition in the environment is reached.

The evolution of the order parameter corresponds to the aggrega-

tion forms during the phase transition of the macroscopic organism.

The mature multicellular body can be interpreted as the “goal” or

(better) “attractor” of organic growth. Multicellular bodies, like ge-

netic systems, nervous systems, immune systems, and ecosystems,

are examples of complex dynamical systems, which are composed of

a network of many interacting elements.

Even the ecological growth of biological populations may be sim-

ulated using the concepts of nonlinear science. Ecological systems

are complex dissipative systems of plants or animals with mutual

nonlinear metabolic interactions with each other and with their en-

vironment. The symbiosis of two populations with their source of

nutrition can be described by three coupled diﬀerential equations

which were already used by E. Lorenz to describe the development

of weather in meteorology. In the 19th century the Italian mathe-

maticians A.J. Lotka und V. Volterra described the development of

two populations in ecological competition. The nonlinear interac-

tions of the two complex populations are determined by two coupled

diﬀerential equations of prey and predator species. The evolution

of the coupled systems has stationary points of equilibrium. The

attractors of evolution are periodic oscillations (limit cycles).

Evolution is obviously a process of phase transitions with sym-

metry breaking and the emergence of new molecular structures, or-

ganisms, species, and populations. Atomic elements organize them-

selves into molecules. Out of the nonlinear interactions of chemical

molecules emerge the proteins acting as catalysts and enzymes in

biochemical cycles. Biochemical cycles support the replications of

biomolecules, underlying cellular reproduction. Cellular bodies are

arranged as organs, which join together to form organisms. They go

on to interact nonlinearly with each other to become components of

species and the biosphere. Nervous systems and brains generate new

patterns of behavior by learning and adapting to changing conditions

of environment. Each of these hierarchical levels from molecules to

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18 Symmetry and Complexity

the human mind is thought to be characterized by some order param-

eters obeying nonlinear rules. In this sense new locally stable entities

emerge as solutions from nonlinear diﬀerential equations underlying

each level in a dynamical hierarchy of life.

In the sixth chapter we discuss symmetry and complexity in eco-

nomic and social sciences. In the framework of complex systems the

behavior of human populations is, again, explained by the emergence

of order parameters generated by nonlinear interactions of human

beings or human subgroups (states, institutions, etc.). Social or eco-

nomic order is interpreted via attractors of phase transitions involv-

ing broken symmetries. Symmetry is understood as social balance

and economic equilibrium. We distinguish the microlevel of individ-

ual decisions and the macrolevel of dynamical collective processes in a

society. But people are not atoms or molecules determined by well-

known microscopic equations of nonlinear interactions. People are

guided by their individual intentions, feeling, and thinking. In prin-

ciple, we could consider their individual brain dynamics determined

by some nonlinear partial diﬀerential equations. Intentions, feelings,

and thoughts are new states (order parameters) of the brains, emerg-

ing from their nonlinear dynamics. But, until today, we have only

had some very rough ideas of their underlying equations. Even if

we had them, then their complexity would prevent us computing

solutions for predicting individual behavior in the future.

For practical reasons, a probabilistic description of the individual

decision processes is preferred, neglecting individual details of be-

havior. It takes into account the trend forming inﬂuence of social

macrovariables on the decision making of individuals. Examples are

stock and ﬂow variables in economy, social attitudes in sociology,

or political opinions in politics. They are comprehended in socio-

conﬁgurations representing the collective macrostate of the whole

social system at a certain time. Individual decisions and actions are

considered as individual transitions of microstates (e.g. change of a

political opinion before an election) that are described by probabilis-

tic processes. So the individual freedom of decision and action is

not restricted. The dynamics of a social system is modeled by the

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Introduction 19

probabilistic transition rates of its social macrovariables. They are

the constitutive elements for setting up a macroscopic equation of so-

ciodynamics. It is a stochastic partial diﬀerential equation (master

equation) describing the time-depending evolution of a probabilistic

distribution function over the socioconﬁgurations of a social system.

An example of application is symmetry and complexity of migra-

tion in a society. We can distinguish typical scenarios of migration

like, for example, stable balance of ethnic groups in a society or iso-

lation in ghettos with dangerous instabilities. Social symmetry is

a basis for social peace. In the framework of complexity, scenarios

of migration are new macrostates of sociodynamics, emerging from

social phase transitions. They correspond to attractors of nonlinear

sociodynamics such as stable ﬁxed points, oscillations or chaos that

are well-known from other applications of nonlinear dynamics.

Economy opens deep insights into symmetry and complexity of

sociodynamics. From a qualitative point of view, Smith’s model of a

free market was already an example of a dynamical symmetry, emerg-

ing from phase transitions of economic self-organization. A. Smith

underlined that the good or bad intentions of individuals are not

essential. In contrast to a centralized economical system, the bal-

ance of supply and demand is not directed by a leader, but is the

eﬀect of an “invisible hand” (Smith), i.e. nothing but the nonlinear

interaction of consumers and processors. Later on, the Lausanne

school explicitly used mathematical terms of thermodynamics like,

for example, equilibrium to describe economic balance. The recent

interest of economists in nonlinear dynamics is inspired by the dy-

namics of globalization and the unstable attractors of oscillation and

even chaos.

Symmetry and complexity are not always obvious in the dynamic

processes of the universe, life, and human society. During the last

years, they could only be detected, computed, and visualized by

the increasing power of high-speed computers. Thus, in the seventh

chapter, we consider symmetry and complexity in computer science.

Fractal geometry was a ﬁrst example of computational application.

Mandelbrot’s detection of the Mandelbrot set was a historical mile-

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20 Symmetry and Complexity

stone in the history of computational mathematics. Its self-similar

symmetries of complex fractals could only be illustrated in computer

graphics. They reveal a hidden virtual world of mathematical beauty

behind chaos. Phase transitions of nonlinear dynamics can be ani-

mated in visual computational processes. Sometimes their features

were detected in computer experiments before they were analytically

proved from the underlying equations. Computer experiments en-

large mathematical imagination and thought experiments with high

technology. Multimedia and Internet deliver new tools of mathemat-

ical exploration. The traditional analytical approach of nonlinear

science is sometimes replaced by computer experiments, because it

is easier to ﬁnd features of complex dynamical systems by compu-

tational visualization than by analytical solution of the underlying

nonlinear equations.

According to the principle of computational equivalence, every

nonlinear dynamical system corresponds to an appropriate compu-

tational system. Prominent examples are cellular automata which, in

principle, can simulate all kind of symmetries and complexities which

have been considered in this book. Nevertheless, computer experi-

ments are not mathematical proofs. The standards of mathematical

rigor have not been changed since the days of Euclid and Plato.

Cellular Nonlinear Networks (CNN) make it possible to prove exact

indices of symmetry and complexity in nonlinear science. Further-

more, they are no longer only simulations on standard computers like

cellular automata. In the age of miniaturization, they can be built

as high-speed chips.

Computational systems are not restricted to human technology.

According to the principle of computational equivalence, any nonlin-

ear dynamical system can be understood as a computational system.

In this sense, atomic, molecular or cellular systems are computational

systems with phase transitions as computational processes. They are

coded by the rules of atomic, molecular or cellular interaction. Like

all nonlinear complex systems, they can have chaotic or even ran-

dom dynamics that cannot be forecast in the long run. In short,

complex computational systems may not be computable, although

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Introduction 21

we know all the basic laws of their locally interacting elements. Is

the universe in the end nothing more than an expanding complex

quantum computer, generating symmetries and symmetry breaking?

In this case, phase transitions of matter are coding transformations

of quantum information that is reduced to quantum bits as digital

building blocks. Symmetry and complexity are explained by an ul-

timate duality of binary units and their superpositions — the yang

and yin of the quantum universe.

In the last eighth chapter we discuss symmetry and complexity in

arts and philosophy. What means beauty of symmetry and complex-

ity today? It means the beauty of a nonlinear world. The unity of

the experience of nature, art and religion in the myths of early peo-

ples is surely lost. The Antique unity of the mathematical teaching

of harmony, natural philosophy and art has also dissolved since the

Renaissance. In art history (e.g. in Classicism), to be sure, there was

always resonance to the Antique conception of art. But it has the

eﬀect of reciting old texts; it reﬂects a merely partial taste, and it no

longer mirrors the cosmos and its laws.

Art and science in modern times have diﬀerentiated themselves

from each other into distinct media of life experience. The var-

ied multiplicity of contemporary artistic attempts corresponds en-

tirely to the complexity of the modern life world. In contrast to the

Antique-Medieval life world, whose aesthetic forms depended on the

potentialities of their handwork, we live today in a civilization that is

determined by industry, technology and science, which co-determine

our action, thinking and sensibility.

The “Bauhaus” of the twenties of the last century was an artistic

movement of modernity that tried to develop a new world of form

under the conditions of technology and industry. The community of

handworkers and artisans in the cathedral associations of builders

and artisans of the Middle Ages and the artist engineers of the Re-

naissance led W. Gropius to the thought of uniting art and technol-

ogy again under the conditions of modern industrial society. Archi-

tects, painters, graphic artists, sculptors, form designers, etc. were

to work in coordination and by division of labor, seeking forms that

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22 Symmetry and Complexity

would provide practical and functional solutions to people’s needs,

whether it was a matter of furniture, dishes, homes, oﬃce buildings,

factories, streets or leisure facilities. The measure, the “logos,” of

this art is the human being with his needs in the technical-industrial

life world. In the age of globalization mankind is growing together

under new technological, social and economic conditions. Cultural

symmetry is a challenge in a world of cultural diversity. Cultural

asymmetries are dangerous for a peaceful balance in the world.

Symmetry means unity. In science uniﬁed theories are explained

by mathematical symmetries. Are they only theoretical tools used

in order to reduce the diversity of observations and measurements

to some useful schemes of research or do they represent fundamental

structures of reality? This has been a basic question of philosophy

since the Antiquity. Empirical results of modern science conﬁrm that

symmetries are not only mathematical imaginations of our mind.

They dominated the universe long before mankind came into exis-

tence: in the beginning there was a dynamical symmetry expanding

to the complex diversity of broken symmetries. Phase transitions

involve the emergence of new phenomena on hierarchical levels of

atoms, molecules, life, and mankind. They have not been deter-

mined from the beginning, but depend on changing conditions that

happen more or less randomly. It is a challenge of nonlinear science

to explore their fascinating symmetry and complexity.

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Chapter 1

Symmetry and Complexity in Early

Culture and Philosophy

Regular patterns and symmetries are used in all known cultures.

They recur continually as ornaments on ﬁnery, cult objects, and ev-

eryday objects. Regular forms in crafts and architecture prove to be

more stable, more economical in the use of materials, more distinct,

simpler, easier to reproduce and to hand down to succeeding genera-

tions and — not least — of great aesthetic charm. Since the earliest

times nature itself has manifestly been a model, evincing regularity

in sundry forms and occurrences — from the minerals and plants, to

the anatomy of living beings, to the regularly recurring stellar con-

stellations. The old high cultures, as well as the still extant cultures

of various ethnic groups, e.g. Asia, Africa, North and South America,

use certain symmetrical patterns to give order to nature and their

life-world. Modern natural science and technology were not the ﬁrst

to achieve this.

1.1 Cultural and Cosmic Harmony

Anyone who seeks out the Navajo Indians in the North American

Southwest is astonished by the symmetry forms that govern their

culture [1.1]. What is so striking, is not so much the regular pat-

terns and ornamentations of their artful textiles or ceramics, but

rather the Navajo’s use of symmetries in the ordering of their rituals

and myths, in short, their “Weltbild” (image of the world). In this

context “Weltbild” is to be understood literally, as the representation

23

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24 Symmetry and Complexity

of their life-world and mythologies of nature, not as a philosophical

doctrine that has been derived from particular principles. Here we

have in mind the sand paintings of the Navajo, which represent a

“Weltbild” that has a particular ceremonial intention. These paint-

ings are produced from pulverized sandstone in red, yellow or white,

the pigments of cornmeal, plant pollens or ﬂower petals.

Fig. 1 shows the sandpainting of the “rainbow people” who are

meant to be mythological representations of rain and light. In the

centrally-symmetric hub of the cosmos there is the source of life —

water, bordered by four rainbow bands in the four directions of the

heavens or the four directions of the wind. The four sacred plants

— maize, beans, pumpkin and tobacco — grow out of the cen-

ter. Two masculine (round-headed) and two female (angular-headed)

rainbow people are situated behind each of the four rainbow bands.

The enclosing circle represents the goddess of the rainbow who pro-

tects the life-world of the Navajo. Two ﬂies serve as messengers

or sentinels.

This sandpainting displays an abundance of superimposed sym-

metries. The centrally-symmetric square has all the reﬂection sym-

metries of the diagonals and lateral bisectors. Therefore the center,

with water as the basis of life, produces a statically resting eﬀect,

which is emphasized by its black color. However, the surroundings

of this center display only rotational symmetries. Thus the foursome

groups of rainbow people in the four directions of the sky can be

joined to each other by quarter-turns of the circle around the center.

The feather decorations and the outstretched arms have the eﬀect

of small directional arrows and provide an impediment to reﬂection

symmetry at the diagonals and lateral bisectors of the square, which

would otherwise convey an impression of resting stasis. Therefore

the rainbow people travel around the center in the direction of the

sun. This dynamic impression is further underscored by the rainbow

goddess, whose arc, with its inscribed head and feet, has the eﬀect of

a torque vector. Therefore the message of this world picture is clear:

the element water is at the center, and all natural and life processes

revolve around it.

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Symmetry and Complexity in Early Culture and Philosophy 25

Fig. 1. Symmetric sandpainting of the Navajo Indians [1.2]

In the world of the Navajo, symmetry does not have a separate

aesthetic, religious or technical purpose. Their central concept is

called “h´ ozh´o,” which is often translated as beauty, but cannot be

separated from health, happiness and harmony [1.3]. The life and

culture of the Navajo is based on a unity of experience that is ex-

pressed as “h´ozh´o.” “H´ ozh´o” is the intellectual concept of order, the

emotional state of happiness, the moral value of the good, the bio-

logical condition of health and well-being and the aesthetic charm of

balance, harmony and beauty — a projection of wishes, ideas and ex-

periences which is found also in other cultures of America (e.g. Aztec

world map).

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26 Symmetry and Complexity

An Asian example is the “Weltbild” of the Jaina from the Indian

sphere of inﬂuence. In addition there are miniatures of the Jaina

K¯ alpasutra, which were not documented until the 15th and 16th

century, but go back to very old sources. Represented here is the

Samavasarana that the gods erect for every Jina [1.4]. It is a round

or square space, surrounded by three circular walls with four gates

to the regions of the world. The Jina sits in the center and meditates

or preaches, magically quadrupled on lion thrones under a tree. The

tranquility and composure that these images radiate is achieved for-

mally by means of central symmetry and reﬂection symmetry. This

impression is strengthened by the fourfold point reﬂection of the Jina

at the midpoint of the four corners of the miniature. The inner wall

consists of jewels and is decorated with pinnacles of rubies; the mid-

dle one is made of gold.

In various cultures symmetry characteristics are used cabbalisti-

cally, i.e. with words or letters, in order to gain insights by means of

geometrical arrangements and combinations. A noteworthy exam-

ple of Indian cabbalistics is the Scr¯ıcakra. It consists of a diagram

made of 43 triangles, called Meru (Fig. 2). It is surrounded by an

8-petaled lotus and a 12-petaled lotus, which are again enclosed by

four circles. It is characterized by four T-formed structures at the

sides of the outer square frame. Instructions are indicated for the

two lotus blossoms, and most especially for the potential combina-

tions inherent in the Meru diagram. Proceeding from the outside to

the inside, one distinguishes a 14-pointed star, an outer 10-pointed

star and an inner 10-pointed star. The center is a triangle which

is also the structural principle of the diagram. It is interpreted ei-

ther according to the nature mythology of the three Vedic lights —

the moon, the sun and ﬁre; or linguistically in accordance with the

sounds of various syllables; or anthropologically in accordance with

the trinity of thought, voice and body.

Although no historical explanation can be cited, the Buddhist di-

agrams from India show a strong similarity to Chinese mirrors from

the early Han period. These mirrors with their characteristic T-, L-

and V-formed corners (“TLV mirrors”) are interpreted unequivocally

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Symmetry and Complexity in Early Culture and Philosophy 27

Fig. 2. Symmetric Meru diagram from India [1.5]

as cosmological. The animals of the wind directions (dragon, bird,

tiger and a turtle with snakes twisted around it) are frequently por-

trayed with a swarm of legendary animals and demons. Later these

mirrors are further developed into compass cards, which employ —

along with the four cosmic animals — 12 cyclical animals (in analogy

to the l2-day week), 28 star pictures as constellation ﬁgures, etc.

The use of symmetries in China has a special charm. Very early

on, they were interpreted in the framework of philosophy of nature.

In the “Book of Changes” (the I Ching), from the 8th century B.C.,

four pairs of natural opposites — forces and elements such as heaven-

earth, ﬁre-water, lake-mountain and thunder-wind — were symbol-

ized by eight triagrams arranged according to reﬂection symmetry

(Fig. 3a). They were also represented on coins (Fig. 3b). According

to a later interpretation in the “Great Treatise” (Ta Chuan), these

symmetries derive from the duality of light (—) and dark (– –), yang

and yin. The use of it as an oracle book for divining decisions by

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28 Symmetry and Complexity

Fig. 3a. Chinese symmetries of the I Ching [1.6]

Fig. 3b. Chinese symmetries on coins [1.6]

combinations of yes (—) and no (– –) approaches contemporary ideas

of information theory, but remains hypothesis.

According to the Chinese conception, symmetry also had to do

with rightful proportional relationships, which in a large central

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Symmetry and Complexity in Early Culture and Philosophy 29

apparatus of state and government like the Chinese imperial realm

had to be regulated in detail. There is much similarity here to the

known mathematical documents from Babylon. Particular forms and

proportional relationships are designated for cultic and ritual pur-

poses. In Egypt pyramids served as monuments to the dead. In

the Indian Salvasutras the symmetry of the Hindu altars was calcu-

lated with the use of Pythagorean number triads. In the astronomy

of these cultures periodic celestial motions were registered and then

viewed astrologically in connection to the course of lives on earth.

But in Greek mathematics something happened that was com-

pletely new. Symmetries were made the systematic object of mathe-

matical research. It is probable, to be sure, that the early Pythagore-

ans drew their basic mathematical knowledge from Egyptian and

Babylonian sources. There, however, individual proportions re-

mained related to technical-practical purposes. They were not based

on proofs but, at best, determined by approximate reckoning pro-

cedures. Yet the Pythagoreans made the mathematical concept of

harmony the central theme of their philosophy, which is based on

geometry, arithmetic, music and astronomy. In Plato’s time a gen-

eral mathematical doctrine of proportions was developed, and it re-

mained the mathematical basis of the concept of symmetry until the

beginning of the modern era.

In all known cultures the circle is the symbol of perfection or of

eternal recurrence. While it displays inﬁnitely many symmetries re-

sulting from random rotations and reﬂections at the diameters, the

regular polygons inscribed in it possess a ﬁnite number of symme-

tries. If one connects the vertices of regular polygons with the center,

one derives directional indicators that are useful for geodetic and as-

tronomical orientation. The technical application as wheel was an

important innovation of mankind. Appropriate connections of the

vertices render aesthetically charming star patterns that are also of-

ten used as ritual symbols. In architecture, centrally symmetrical

ediﬁces still play a great role.

Accordingly, the Pythagoreans set themselves the objective of

constructing regular polygons with mathematical precision using the

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30 Symmetry and Complexity

Fig. 4. Euclid’s construction of the 15-angled polygram [1.7]

compass and the ruler. This, then, is not only a matter of near-

regularities which are found approximately by trial and error and

which could be altogether adequate for technical purposes. It has

come to be a matter of mathematical symmetry, which is provable

and exists independently of technical application and perception, as

an ideal form, as Plato will later say. The Pythagorean doctrine of

the regular polygons has been handed down in Book IV of Euclid’s

“Elements”. It deals with the construction of the 3-, 4-, 5-, 6- and

15-angled polygons (Fig. 4).

The symmetries of regular polygons were clearly of considerable

practical interest. That is documented by the practical geometry of

Medieval Arab mathematicians for craftsmen. The great astronomer

Ptolemy recognized trigonometric signiﬁcance of certain polygons

and applied their construction for chord tables in astronomical cal-

culations. The mathematical question: which regular polygons can

be constructed with the compass and the ruler, was answered fully

by the young C.F. Gauss at the end of the 18th century. He found

that a regular n-sided polygon can be constructed with a compass

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Symmetry and Complexity in Early Culture and Philosophy 31

and a ruler if, and only if, the uneven prime factors of n are diﬀering

Fermat prime numbers p

k

= 2

2

k

+ 1.

Fermat’s prime numbers are p

o

= 2

1

+1 = 3, p

1

= 2

2

+1 = 5, p

2

= 2

4

+1 = 17,

p

3

= 2

8

+ 1 = 257, p

4

= 2

16

+ 1 = 65 537. Since 7 is not one of Fermat’s prime

numbers, in principle a heptagon cannot be constructed with a compass and a

ruler. Since the prime factors of 9 are not diﬀerent, the same conclusion holds for

the regular nonagon. This negative argument was absolutely new compared with

the geometry of Antiquity. New also was Gauss’ positive deduction that it must

be possible in principle to construct the regular 17-sided polygon with a compass

and a ruler. But this conclusion was not reached by means of experimenting.

Instead, the constructibility of the regular 17-sided polygon was predicted on the

basis of the algebraic analysis of the problem. In 1832 F.J. Richelot constructed

the regular 257-sided polygon. J. Hermes worked for ten years on the construction

of the 65 537-sided polygon.

The geometric constructability of regular polygons is now reduced

to the number-theoretical question of whether Fermat p

k

numbers

can also be prime numbers for certain greater values of k. Such prob-

lems in number theory today depend extensively on the eﬃciency of

modern computers. Therefore the symmetry of regular polygons is

an “evergreen” which has been newly investigated in every phase of

mathematical history — from the elementary constructions with a

compass and ruler in Antiquity, via algebraic number — theoretical

analyzes in modern times to the calculability problems of modern

computers [1.8].

The star polygons, derived from the regular polygons, were in-

vestigated in the High Middle Ages, possibly reﬂecting a special aes-

thetic interest, such as that expressed in the lovely rosette windows

of Medieval cathedrals. Especially well-known are the pentagram

made from the pentagon as a secret sign of the Pythagoreans, and

the Star of David made from the regular hexagon (Fig. 5). J. Kepler

was also interested in the star polygons [1.9]. Regular polygons and

star polygons can be realized optically by means of the reﬂections

of a kaleidoscope. It is presumed that such an instrument was ﬁrst

described historically in the “Ars magna lucis et umbrae” (1646) of

A. Kirchner, the great Baroque scholar, who tried to ﬁnd the univer-

sal symmetries of the cosmos.

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32 Symmetry and Complexity

Fig. 5. Symmetries of star polygons

Along with the regular symmetry ﬁgures in the plane, the sym-

metrical bodies of space have fascinated human beings from of old. In

pre-Greek times some of these bodies already had cultic and religious

symbolic value because of their regular construction and their crys-

talline structure. The Pythagoreans were acquainted with the regular

tetrahedron composed of four regular triangles, the cube composed

of six regular squares and the dodecahedron composed of twelve reg-

ular pentagons (Fig. 6). A specimen of the dodecahedron made from

steatite is extant from the Etruscan time (500 B.C.). But a com-

plete derivation of all ﬁve possible regular solids was ﬁrst handed

down in the last (XIII) book of Euclid’s “Elements”, which dates

back to the Greek mathematician Theaetetus (415–369 B.C.). There-

fore the octahedron with eight regular triangles and the icosahedron

with twenty regular triangles were probably also ﬁrst constructed

by Theaetetus (Fig. 6). The last theorem of Euclid’s “Elements”:

that these are the only regular solids in Euclidean space, is already

a signiﬁcant mathematical insight.

The proof is this: it is generally required of a regular polyhedron that all its

corners, edges and surfaces be indistinguishable. Further, all surfaces should be

regular polygons. This deﬁnition suﬃces to justify the ﬁve mentioned Platonic

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Symmetry and Complexity in Early Culture and Philosophy 33

Fig. 6. The regular (Platonic) solids of Euclidean space

solids as the only regular bodies. First, a regular polyhedron will not possess any

invaginated corners and edges. Since not all corners and edges could invaginate,

some corners or edges would be distinctive — contrary to the deﬁnition. There-

fore, also, the sum of the polygonal angles that come together at one corner must

be smaller than 2π. Otherwise these polygons would lie in one surface and invagi-

nating edges would go out from this corner. Further, at least three polygons must

come together in one corner. Beyond that, for the sake of regularity all angles

of the polygon must be equal. Therefore they must all be smaller than 2π/3.

In the regular hexagon the polygonal angle amounts to an even 2π/3. Since the

angles for n ≥ 3 increase in the regular n-angled polygon, only regular 3-, 4- and

5-angled polygons can be chosen as surfaces of regular polyhedra. In the case of

the regular 4-angled polygon, the square, which has only right angles, no more

than three squares can come together in a corner without exceeding the angle

sum of 2π. In the case of the regular pentagon, no more than three pentagons

can meet in a corner. A regular body is by deﬁnition already completely deter-

mined if the number of surfaces abutting in a corner and their number of corners

is known. Therefore there can be, at the most, only a single regular polyhedron

that is bordered by squares and similarly only one bordered by regular pentagons.

By contrast, three, four or ﬁve equilateral triangles can come together in a cor-

ner since it takes six triangles to yield the corner angle sum 2π. The regular

(equilateral) triangle can thus appear as a surface in three diﬀerent polyhedra.

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34 Symmetry and Complexity

Altogether, therefore, ﬁve possible regular polyhedra emerge:

number of

surfaces

bordering meeting at

polyhedron polygon corners edges surfaces a corner

tetrahedron triangle 4 6 4 3

octahedron triangle 6 12 8 4

icosahedron triangle 12 30 20 5

cube square 8 12 6 3

dodecahedron pentagon 20 30 12 3

Solid stars are examined by analogy to the star ﬁgures in the

plane. To every regular solid a reciprocal one can be assigned which

is enclosed by the planes of the polygon at every corner of the original

polyhedron. For that reason the edges of the reciprocal polyhedron

are centrally perpendicular to those of the original. Fig. 7 shows the

octahedron as a reciprocal polyhedron to the cube and vice versa,

and the reciprocal polyhedron of the regular tetrahedron as an equal

tetrahedron. In nature the combination of the two reciprocal tetra-

hedra appears as the twin crystal. The semi-regular polyhedra do

exhibit forms of solid bodies that were already familiar in the ev-

eryday as crystals, precious stones or building stones. These poly-

gons are called semi-regular since each is bounded by various regular

polygons. Systematic constructions of the solids were indicated by

Kepler in his work “Harmonice mundi.”

In many early cultures proportional relationships are described by

means of numbers. But the Pythagoreans, as far as we know, were

the ﬁrst to want to base characteristics of harmony and symmetry on

speciﬁc numerical relationships. With the Pythagoreans the tetrak-

tys (quaternity) of the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 occupies a special position

since it “begets the number ten” arithmetically, forms a regular tri-

angle geometrically, is assigned musically to the four strings of the

lyre, namely Hypate, Mese, Paramese, and Nete, and their properties

correspond to the harmonious sounds of the musical fourth (4:3), the

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Symmetry and Complexity in Early Culture and Philosophy 35

Fig. 7. Regular solid (octahedron) and its reciprocal one

ﬁfth (3:2) and the octave (2:1) [1.10]. In the Pythagorean concep-

tion, the harmony of nature is expressed in the unity of arithmetical,

geometrical and musical proportions. Euclid calls such proportions

“logos”” (λ ). In this sense the logos is the measure of all being.

Pythagoras demonstrates in his music theory why the numbers 12,

9, 8, 6 are excellent. To that purpose he uses the monochord, an

instrument with only one string, which is divided into twelve equally

large intervals. It is possible, namely, to express in whole numbers

half, two-thirds and three-quarters of the number 12, thus the short-

ened lengths 6, 8, 9 of the whole string 12, which correspond to the

octave, ﬁfth and fourth.

The arithmetic, geometric and harmonic means constitute the

three Pythagorean ratios called

)"

i.e. proportional ratios of

three magnitudes, the middle one being determined by the other

two on the basis of proportion. At a later time further ratios are

added, by means of equivalent formulations of the Pythagorean ratios

and exchange of the component parts. The famous Golden Section,

which Pythagoras is said to have taken over from the Babylonians or

Zarathustra, and which was considered for centuries to be simply the

aesthetic standard, came to our attention earlier in the pentagram

of the Pythagoreans (Fig. 5). Each of its ﬁve lines divides each

other one according to the Golden Section, i.e. the ratio of the whole

line to the greater part is equal to the ratio of the greater part to

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36 Symmetry and Complexity

the smaller part. The proof is an immediate consequence of similar

triangles.

There are many indications that precisely this symbol of the order

of the Pythagoreans made their philosophy fundamentally question-

able. What is under consideration here is the discovery of incommen-

surable straight-line proportions — presumably by the Pythagorean

Hippasus of Metapontum in the 5th century B.C. — which is said

to have set oﬀ a shock in Pythagorean circles. Ultimately this dis-

covery called into question the assumption on which the philosophy

of the Pythagoreans was originally based, namely that all propor-

tions of magnitude could be expressed in ratios of whole numbers

— like the harmonies on the monochord [1.11]. In this sense har-

mony and whole-number rationality coincide in the philosophy of

the Pythagoreans. For that reason the discovery of proportions of

magnitude that are not in the ratio of whole numbers also seemed to

them to be an incursion of the irrational, which according to legend

brought the punishment of the gods upon the discoverer.

Fig. 8. Symmetry of the Golden Spiral [1.12]

Another application of the Golden Section is the Golden Rect-

angle being used for constructing the Golden Spiral (Fig. 8): in a

Golden Rectangle the longer side is divided according to the Golden

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Symmetry and Complexity in Early Culture and Philosophy 37

Section. We get a square that is separated from the Golden Rect-

angle and the remaining rectangle is again “golden,” and once more

a square is separated oﬀ, etc. Two opposite corner points of the

squares form points of intersection of the spiral in the manner of a

clock dial.

In fact, already in 1202 Leonardo of Pisa (“Fibonacci”) gave a

number sequence whose values correspond to the rotation angles of

the spiral and behind which, Leonardo conjectured, must lie a law of

biological proliferation. He imagined that rabbits live as long as they

like and that every pair produces a new pair every month, which in

a month produces its ﬁrst pair. The experiment begins, at the start

of the ﬁrst month, with a new-born pair. In the second month the

same pair exists. In the third month there are 2 pairs, in the fourth 3

pairs, in the ﬁfth 5 pairs, etc. If one designates the number of rabbit

pairs in the n-th month as f

n

, one obtains the following table:

n f

n

f

n+1

/f

n

0 0 ∞

1 1 1

2 1 2

3 2 1, 5

4 3 1, 6667

5 5 1, 6

6 8 1, 625

7 13 1, 6154

8 21 1, 6190

9 34 1, 6176

10 55 1, 6182

Later Kepler expressed the general law of this sequence, namely,

f

0

= 0, f

1

= 1, f

n

+ f

n+1

= f

n+2

. Kepler also noted that the quo-

tients f

n+1

/f

n

approach the Golden Section as n increases. How-

ever, this was ﬁrst actually proven in the 18th century by R. Simon.

J.W. von Goethe was yet to speak of the spiral eﬀect in nature.

Eighteenth-century biologists such as C. Bonnet (1754) were to try

to identify the developmental law of the Fibonacci sequence in the

coiling arrangement of blossoms and leaves (phyllotaxis) or in snail

shells, leading up to the preoccupation of contemporary mathemati-

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38 Symmetry and Complexity

cians with the computer-assisted computability of this (recursive)

number sequence. This modern application reﬂects the age-old in-

terest in a universal law of harmony and development stemming from

the Pythagorean time and continuing into the present.

Retroactively it is remarkable that the Antique doctrine of pro-

portions provided not only the bases for laws of harmony of nature

and aesthetics, but also for jurisprudence in human communities.

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics states: “This, therefore, is what is

just: the proportional. And the unjust is the oﬀence against the

proportional. But the proportional is a middle way [1.13].”

On the basis of the mathematical doctrine of proportions Aristotle

made a thoroughly modern juridical distinction between distributive

justice in public law and compensatory justice in civil law. When it

is a matter of distribution of a common good — honors, oﬃces, sums

of money, etc. (today one would add the distribution of the tax bur-

den) — the “commensurability” of the distributions and awards is

determined by the proportions of the achievements, merits, diligence,

etc., of the individual person. However, if it is a matter of compen-

sating for damages in the contractual relations between people, “the

law regards only diﬀerences in the degree of damages; it views the

partners as equal.” Therefore Person a and Person b count as equal,

i.e. a = b. The injustice that b exercises against a, e.g., by taking

away good c, damages the equality, i.e. a − c < b + c. The compen-

sation consists of the return of c, thus (a −c) +c = (b +c) −c. But

that is nothing other than an arithmetical mediation that is generally

provided by civil law.

On the basis of the doctrine of proportion, therefore, there arises

a unitary image of a proportionally well-ordered world of numbers,

geometric magnitudes, musical harmonies and law. A question arises

as to whether these mathematical harmonies ﬁt the reality of nature.

To answer that, we begin with a look at Antique-Medieval astronomy,

which historically was the ﬁrst discipline in the physical sciences

to be mathematical and which constituted the fourth mathematical

discipline of the Pythagorean quadrivium — along with arithmetic,

geometry and music (the doctrine of harmony).

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Symmetry and Complexity in Early Culture and Philosophy 39

In all early cultures we ﬁnd astronomical knowledge that con-

tributes to temporal and spatial orientation but is also meant to sup-

port astrological and religious interpretations of the world. Technical

methods are developed for describing certain celestial phenomena in

relation to the position of the observer. Among these are the rising

and setting of the sun, moon and stars. Beginning ca. two millenia

B.C., for example, Egyptian star calendars documented the heliacal

rise of Sirius. The periodic celestial cycles helped determine the cal-

endar and were brought into synchrony with annual occurrences in

nature as, for example, the ﬂooding of the Nile which insures the

fruitfulness of the ﬁelds and thereby the basis for human life. The

Oriental cult of resurrection and rebirth has its origin in the rising

and setting of the stars and the fruitful periods on the earth that are

linked to them, as well as the star mythology of the love and death of

the gods Osiris (Orion) and Isis (Sirius). The Babylonian moon ta-

bles have an admirable exactitude, allowing laws of periodic courses

to be inferred from them [1.14]. Along with determining the time by

calendars, the Babylonian rulers were interested in horoscopes that

were meant to determine their souls’ passage through life in the signs

of the zodiac. This is not to be mistaken for the privatistic curios-

ity and horoscope credulity found among our contemporaries. The

horoscope of the ruler was a matter of political interest: the stabil-

ity and crises of the ruler, who represented the state, needed to be

predictable and calculable. In the astronomy of the Maya, as well,

exact observational tables were of primary interest, but so were the

prophecies drawn from solar eclipses.

In Chinese astronomy, spherical models of the celestial globes

were developed very early. They were copied in mechanical models

before the time of the Occidental celestial globes. Here too, astron-

omy was a matter of the national political interest, evidenced by the

artful sundials and celestial globes in the Imperial Palace in Beijing

or elsewhere. It was not priests or independent scientists, but high

government oﬃcials in the imperial bureaucracy, who for centuries

registered all celestial movements with painful exactitude [1.15]. The

starry sky as image of the hierarchy of the imperial realm: in the

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40 Symmetry and Complexity

center the pole of the sky like the emperor around whom everything

turns. However, the Chinese possessed no mathematical theory like

Euclid’s geometry, with its proofs, to give them a geometrical model

for the exact explanation and derivation of their observations. It was

Greek astronomy that ﬁrst succeeded at that.

There the movements of the planets were reconstructed in the

movements of spheres, which were tuned to each other in art-

ful proportions. The celestial harmony was the central theme of

Pythagorean astronomy. It taught that each planet in its circular

motion generates musical notes and that these sounds express a har-

mony of the spheres. Later the seven recognized planets were as-

signed to the seven strings of the lyre: “The heavens are harmony

and number.”

By the time of Plato the conviction prevailed that the cosmos

is ordered in a centrally symmetrical manner, with the earth as a

sphere in the center. Around it the whole sky turns to the right

around the celestial axis, which goes through the earth. Sun, moon

and planets turn to the left on spheres that have diﬀerent distances

from the earth in the sequence of moon, Mercury, Venus, sun, Mars,

Jupiter, Saturn. The most external shell carries the sphere of the

ﬁxed stars. According to the Platonic-Pythagorean conception, the

rotational periods are related to each other by whole numbers. There

is a common multiple of all rotational times, at the end of which

all the planets are exactly in the same place again. The motion

of each one produces a sound so that the tones of the movements

of the spheres jointly form a harmony of the spheres in the sense

of a well-ordered musical scale. Geometry, arithmetic and aesthetic

symmetries of the cosmos ring through the universe in a harmonious

music of the spheres.

Soon this emphatically symmetrical model of the cosmos was

called into question by exact observations. A diﬃcult problem was

presented by the irregular planetary orbits, especially their retro-

grade movements. The irregularities in the sky were disquieting,

especially for philosophers in the Pythagorean tradition, who were

accustomed to comprehending the heavens — in contrast to the earth

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Symmetry and Complexity in Early Culture and Philosophy 41

— as the realm of eternal symmetry and harmony. At this point

the mathematician Eudoxus of Knidos suggested an ingenious so-

lution. Namely, according to Eudemus, Plato posed this question

to Eudoxus: By means of what regular, ordered circular movements

could the phenomena of the planets be “saved,” i.e. kinematically ex-

plained [1.16]? This report formulated a new astronomical research

program with the goal of a kinematic explanation for empirical data

in a centrally-symmetrical model of the spheres that is presupposed

a priori.

Eudoxos suggested a planetary model with its spheres still posi-

tioned centrally around the earth. The retrograde movement of a

planet is generated on the surface of an outer sphere by a combina-

tion with moving inner spheres of diﬀerently inclined axes. Because

of the constant spacing of the spheres, the changing brightness of the

planets could not be explained by Eudoxos. A greater exactitude in

the reconstruction of observed curves was achieved when Apollonius

of Perga (ca. 210 B.C.) recommended that the common center of the

spheres be given up. But the spherical form of planetary movement

and the equal speed of the spheres were to be retained. According

to this proposal, the planets rotate uniformly on spheres (epicycles),

whose imagined centers move uniformly on great circles (deferents)

around the centerpoint (earth). By appropriately proportioning the

speed and diameter of the two circular motions and by varying their

directions of motion, it was possible to produce an unanticipated

potential for curves, and these found partial application in astron-

omy from Ptolemy to Kepler also. The constant spherical symme-

try of the models was therefore preserved, even if they no longer

had a common center, but were distributed among various circle

centers.

The following examples from the epicycle-deferent technique show

what a multiplicity of apparent forms of motion can be created by

appropriately combining uniform circular motions [1.17]. This makes

the Platonic philosophy more comprehensible in its view that behind

the changes in “phenomena” there are the eternal and unchangeable

forms. In Fig. 9 an elliptical orbit is produced by combining a defer-

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42 Symmetry and Complexity

ent motion and an epicycle motion. Fig. 10 shows a closed cycloid.

In this way, changing distances between planets and the earth can

also be represented.

In principle, even angular ﬁgures can be produced. In Fig. 11, when the

epicycle diameter approaches the deferent diameter, an exact straight line results.

Copernicus mentioned this construction in his book “De Revolutionibus.” Even

regular triangles and rectangles (Figs. 12 and 13) can be produced by means

of appropriate combinations of an epicycle motion and a deferent motion, if one

changes the speed of the east-west motion of a planet that is moving on an epicycle

with a west-east motion.

If one lets the celestial body circle on a second epicycle whose midpoint moves

on the ﬁrst epicycle, one can produce a multiplicity of elliptical orbits, reﬂection-

symmetry curves, periodic curves (Fig. 14), and also nonperiodic and asymmetri-

cal curves (Fig. 15). From a purely mathematical and kinetic standpoint, Plato’s

problem of “saving the phenomena” is completely solved. There is no curve in

observational astronomy that cannot be produced with almost any desired ex-

actitude whatever, as a result of a combined epicycle-deferent motion. Indeed,

looking at asymmetrical curves such as those in Fig. 15 leads one to add that even

the trajectories of elementary particles that are captured on the photographic

plates of contemporary high-energy physicists can be extensively reconstructed

by the epicycle-deferent technique. In principle, therefore, Plato’s paradigm of

symmetry in the sense of uniform circular motion (modiﬁed by Apollonius and

Fig. 9. Elliptical orbit

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Symmetry and Complexity in Early Culture and Philosophy 43

Fig. 10. Closed cycloid

Fig. 11. Straight line produced by epicycle-deferent technique

Ptolemy) could inﬂuence the sciences right up until today. In any case it can-

not be disproved by phenomenological description of curved paths. In particular,

from this standpoint not only the reversal of the earth and the sun in the so-called

Copernican revolution, but also Kepler’s change from circular to elliptical orbits,

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44 Symmetry and Complexity

Fig. 12. Regular triangle produced by epicycle-deferent technique

Fig. 13. Rectangle produced by epicycle-deferent technique

seem secondary, since both initiatives can be traced back to the combination of

circular motions in accordance with the epicycle-deferent technique.

The decisive question in this case is, instead, which motions the

planets “really” carry out, whether they are, in fact, combined,

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Symmetry and Complexity in Early Culture and Philosophy 45

Fig. 14. Periodic curve produced by epicycle-deferent technique

Fig. 15. Nonperiodic and asymmetrical curve produced by epicycle-deferent

technique

uniform and unforced circular motions that seem to us on earth to

be elliptical paths, or whether they are in fact compelled to fol-

low elliptical paths by forces. This determination, however, can-

not be made geometrically and kinematically, but only dynamically,

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46 Symmetry and Complexity

i.e. by means of a corresponding theory of forces, hence, by means

of physics. But Antique-Medieval astronomy as the fourth discipline

of the Pythagorean quadrivium is a purely geometric-kinematic dis-

cipline. The reasons that led to the abandonment of the Platonic

symmetry program could, therefore, be understood only in connec-

tion with the Antique-Medieval philosophy of nature and the begin-

ning of modern physics.

Plato did not only propose a research plan for the macrocosm ac-

cording to which the apparently irregular celestial phenomena were

to be traced to unchangeable mathematical regularities and sym-

metries. In his dialogue “Timaeus,” he introduced the ﬁrst synthe-

sis of atomism and mathematical symmetry. The changes, mixings

and separations on earth were traced to unchangeable mathemati-

cal regularities and symmetries of an atomic microcosm. The Dem-

ocritean atoms were mathematically too unspeciﬁc and structureless

for that. Moreover, in Empedocles’ four elements, namely ﬁre, air,

water, earth, a classiﬁcation was at hand that was immediately ac-

cessible to experience.

All the regular solids of Euclidean geometry (Fig. 6) were joined

to the natural elements then on the basis of external features that

seem arbitrary to us today: Fire was composed of the smallest and

most pointed bodies, the tetrahedra; earth was composed of the most

stable ones, the cubes. Air, composed of octahedra, and water of

icosahedra, were assumed to be like two intermediate proportionals.

The dodecahedron was used for the celestial sphere because of its sim-

ilarity to the cube; therefore in the narrow sense it did not belong in

Plato’s earth physics. In fact the dodecahedron, with its character-

istic of the Golden Section, met the highest Greek requirements for

symmetry and thus may have seemed especially appropriate as the

celestial symbol.

The regular bodies can be cut open along appropriate edges, and

their surface elements can be unfolded as nets (Fig. 16). One can

easily see how two tetrahedra with a common edge can be formed

from the net of the octahedron, and two octahedra and a tetrahedron

or ﬁve tetrahedra can be formed from the net of the icosahedron.

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Symmetry and Complexity in Early Culture and Philosophy 47

Fig. 16. Symmetries of Platonic physics

From the point of view of philosophy of nature one could speak here of

a kind of chemical analysis and synthesis [1.18]. If one characterizes

the Platonic elements as F (ﬁre), A (air), W (water), E (earth), then

the obvious “chemical formulas” are 1 A = 2 F and 1 W = 2 A +

1 F = 5 F.

Plato consciously avoided the Democritean designation “atom”

for his elements, since they can, after all, be decomposed into

separate plane ﬁgures. Thus tetrahedra, octahedra and icosahedra

consist of equilateral triangles with sides 1, 2 and

√

3, while the regu-

lar rectangles of the cubes, when they are bisected, yield right-angled

triangles with side lengths 1, 1 and

√

2 (Fig. 16). A consequence is

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48 Symmetry and Complexity

that “ﬂuida” like water, air and ﬁre can combine with each other

whereas a solid made of earth building blocks, because of its diﬀer-

ent triangles, can only be converted into another solid.

However, the signiﬁcance of this initiative was essentially unap-

preciated until modern times, if one disregards sporadic mention by

a few Neoplatonists. With the rise of crystallography and stereo-

chemistry, the Platonic core idea became a successful mathematical

research program for explaining crystals and atomic and molecular

compounds by means of a concept of symmetry (an expanded one)

and for making new phenomena predictable and subject to empirical

re-examination. A high point up to now in this development is mod-

ern elementary particle physics. Heisenberg made this observation

about it: “. . . The elementary particles have the form Plato ascribed

to them because it is the mathematically most beautiful and simplest

form. Therefore the ultimate foot of phenomena is not matter, but

instead mathematical law, symmetry, mathematical form.”

In Antiquity and the Middle Ages Plato’s mathematical atom-

ism gained little reception. The basic problem, for his successors, in

his geometric theory of matter was already evident in the dialogue

Timaeus. How are the functions of living organisms to be explained?

The suggestion that certain corporeal forms are as they are in order

to fulﬁll certain physiological purposes (e.g. the tunnel shape of the

gullet for assimilation of food) cannot, in any case, be derived from

the theory of regular solids. In addition, the idea of explaining the

changing and pulsating processes of life on the basis of the “rigid”

and “dead” ﬁgures of geometry, must have seemed thoroughly unnat-

ural, speculative and far-fetched to the contemporaries of that time.

Contemporaries of our time still have diﬃculties understanding the

detour that today’s scientiﬁc explanations take through complicated

and abstract mathematical theories.

1.2 Cultural and Cosmic Diversity

In our everyday-world we experience complexity and diversity,

change and movement, chaos and random, and no eternal symme-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Early Culture and Philosophy 49

tries. Platonic astronomers tried to reduce the irregular and complex

planetary orbits as they were observed to regular and simple move-

ments of spheres. For our everyday-world, this trial seems to be

hopeless. Since the presocratic philosophers it has been a fundamen-

tal problem of natural philosophy to discover how order arises from

complex, irregular and chaotic states of matter. What the presocratic

philosophers did was to take the complexity of natural phenomena

as it is experienced back to “ﬁrst origins” , “principles” or

a certain order. Let us look at some examples. Thales of Miletus

(625–545 B.C.), who is said to have proven the ﬁrst geometric the-

orems, is also the ﬁrst philosopher of nature to believe that only

material primary causes could be the original causes of all things.

Thales assumes water, or the wet, as the ﬁrst cause. His argument

points to the observation that nourishment and the seeds of all beings

are wet and the natural substratum for wet things is water.

Anaximander (610–545 B.C.), who is characterized as Thales’ stu-

dent and companion, extends Thales’ philosophy of nature. Why

should water be the ﬁrst cause of all this? It is only one of many

forms of matter that exist in uninterrupted tensions and opposites:

heat versus cold and wetness versus dryness . . . Therefore Anaximan-

der assumes that the “origin and ﬁrst cause of the existing things” is a

“boundlessly indeterminable” original matterr (– ) out of which

the opposed forms of matter have arisen. Accordingly we have to

imagine the “boundlessly indeterminable” as the primordial state in

which matter was boundless, without opposites, and, therefore, ev-

erywhere of the same character. Consequently, it was an initial state

of complete homogeneity and symmetry. The condition of symmetry

is followed by symmetry breaking, from which the world arises with

all its observable opposites and tensions:

The everlasting generative matter split apart in the creation of our world and

out of it a sphere of ﬂame grew around the air surrounding the earth like the bark

around a tree; then, when it tore apart and bunched up into deﬁnite circles, the

sun, moon and stars took its place [1.19].

The ensuing states of matter that Anaximander described in his

cosmogeny were therefore by no means chaotic; instead they were

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50 Symmetry and Complexity

determined by new partial orders. The fascination with Anaximan-

der increases when one reads his early ideas of biological evolution.

He assumes that the ﬁrst human beings were born from sea animals

whose young are quickly able to sustain themselves, as he had ob-

served in the case of certain kinds of sharks. A century later searches

were already being made for fossils of sea animals as evidence of the

rise of humans from the sea. The third famous Milesian philosopher

of nature is Anaximenes (†525 B.C.), who is thought to have been a

companion of Anaximander. He regards change as the eﬀect of the

external forces of condensation and rarefaction. In his view, every

form of matter can serve as basic. He chooses air :

And rareﬁed, it became ﬁre; condensed, wind; then cloud; further, by still

stronger condensation, water; then earth; then stones; but everything else origi-

nated by these. He, too, assumed eternal motion as the origin of transformation.

What contracts and condenses matter, he said is (the) cold; by contrast, what

thins and slackens is (the) warm [1.20].

Thus Anaximenes assumes external forces by which the various

states of matter were produced out of a common original matter and

were transformed into each other.

Heraclitus of Ephesus (ca. 500 B.C.), “the dark one”, as he was

often called, is of towering signiﬁcance for our theme. His language

is indeed esoteric, more phrophetic than soberly scientiﬁc, and full

of penetrating metaphors. He took over from Anaximander the doc-

trine of struggle and the tension of opposites in nature. The original

matter, the source of everything, is itself change and therefore is

identiﬁed with ﬁre:

The ray of lightning (i.e. ﬁre) guides the All. This world order which is the

same for all was created neither by one of the gods nor by one of the humans, but it

was always, and is, and will be eternally living ﬁre, glimmering and extinguishing

according to measures [1.21].

Heraclitus elaborated further on how all states of matter can be

understood as distinguishable forms of the original matter, ﬁre. In

our time the physicist Heisenberg declared:

At this point we can interpose that in a certain way modern physics comes

extraordinarily close to the teaching of Heraclitus. If one substitutes the word

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Symmetry and Complexity in Early Culture and Philosophy 51

“ﬁre”, one can view Heraclitus’ pronouncements almost word for word as an

expression of our modern conception. Energy is indeed the material of which all

the elementary particles, all atoms and therefore all things in general are made,

and at the same time energy is also that which is moved . . . Energy can be

transformed into movement, heat, light and tension. Energy can be regarded as

the cause of all changes in the world [1.22].

To be sure, the material world consists of opposite conditions and

tendencies which, nevertheless, are held in unity by hidden harmony:

“What is opposite strives toward union, out of the diverse there

arises the most beautiful harmony , and the struggle makes

everything come about in this way.” [1.23] The hidden harmony

of opposites is thus Heraclitus’ cosmic law, which he called “logos”

” ( ).

What happens when the struggle of opposites comes to an end?

According to Heraclitus, then the world comes to a ﬁnal state of ab-

solute equilibrium. Parmenides of Elea (ca. 500 B.C.) described this

state of matter, in which there are no longer changes and motions

in (empty) spaces. Matter is then distributed everywhere equally

(homogeneously) and without any preferred direction for possible

motion (isotropically). It is noteworthy that inﬁnity is thought to

be imperfection and therefore a ﬁnite distribution of matter is as-

sumed. In this way Parmenides arrived at the image of a world that

represents a solid, ﬁnite, uniform material sphere without time, mo-

tion or change. The Eleatic philosophy of unchanging being was,

indeed, intended as a critique of the Heraclitean philosophy of con-

stant change, which is put aside as mere illusion of the senses. And

the later historical impact of the Eleatic philosophy in Plato appears

in his critique of the deceptive changes that take place in sensory per-

ception in contrast to the true world of unchangeable being of the

ideas. But from the point of view of philosophy of nature, the world

Parmenides described was not necessarily opposite to the teaching

of Heraclitus; in his cosmogeny it can be understood entirely as a

singular end state of the highest symmetry.

After water, air and ﬁre were designated as original elements, it

was easy to conceive of them as raw materials of the world. Empe-

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52 Symmetry and Complexity

docles (492–430 B.C.) took that step and added earth as the fourth

element to ﬁre, water and air. These elements are free to mix and

bind in varying proportions, and to dissolve and separate. What,

now, according to Empedocles, were the enduring principles behind

the constant changes and movements of nature? First there were

the four elements, which he thought arose from nature and chance

e ( ), not from any conscious intention. Changes were caused by

reciprocal eﬀects among these elements, that is, mixing and sepa-

ration: “I shall proclaim to you another thing: there is no birth

with any of the material things, neither there is an ending in ruinous

death. There is only one thing: mixture and exchange of what is

mixed.” [1.24] Two basic energies were responsible for these recip-

rocal eﬀects among the elements; he called them “love”” ( )

ogy in t

for

attraction and “hatred”

” ( )

Chinese

for repulsion. There is an anal-

ogy in the yin-yang dualism of Chinese philosophy. Empedocles

taught a constant process of transformation, i.e., combination and

separation of the elements, in which the elements were preserved.

He did not imagine these transformation processes to be at all me-

chanical (as the later atomists did), but rather physiological, in that

he carried over processes of metabolism in organisms to inanimate

nature.

In his medical theories, equilibrium is understood to be a gen-

uinely proportional relationship. Thus, health means a particular

balance between the opposite components and illness arises as so on

as one of them gets the upper hand. If we think of modern bacteri-

ology with its understanding of the antibodies in the human body,

then this view of Empedocles proves to be surprisingly apt.

Anaxagoras (499–426 B.C.) advocated what was in many regards

a reﬁnement of his predecessors’ teaching. Like Empedocles he devel-

oped a mixing theory of matter. But he replaced Empedocles’ four

elements with an unlimited number of substances that were

composed of seed particles

( )

in their num

or equal-sized particles

. They were unlimited in their number and

smallness, i.e. matter was assumed to be inﬁnitely divisible. The

idea of a granulated continuum comes forceably to mind. Anaxago-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Early Culture and Philosophy 53

ras also tried to explain mixtures of colors in this way, when he said

that snow is, to a certain degree, black, although the whiteness pre-

dominates. Everything was contained in each thing, and there were

only predominances in the mixing relationships.

More distinctly than some of his predecessors, Anaxagoras tried

in his philosophy of nature to give physical explanations for the celes-

tial appearances and motions that were described only kinematically

in the mathematical astronomy of the Greeks. So in his cosmology

he proceeded from a singular initial state: a homogeneous mixture

of matter. An immaterial original power, which Anaxagoras called

“spirit” ” ( ), set this mixture into a whirling motion which brought

about a separation of the various things depending on the speed of

each of them. Earth clumped together in the middle of the vortex,

while heavier pieces of stone were hurled outward and formed the

stars. Their light was explained by the glow of their masses, which

was attributed to their fast speed. Anaxagoras’ vortex theory ap-

pears again in modern times with R. Descartes, and then in more

reﬁned form in the Kant–Laplace theory of the mechanical origin of

the planetary system.

In modern natural sciences atomism has proved to be an ex-

tremely successful research program. In the history of philosophy

the atomic theory of Democritus is often presented as a consequence

of Heraclitus’ philosophy of change and Parmenides’ principle of un-

changing being. The Democritean distinction between the “full” and

the “empty,” the smallest indestructible atoms and empty

space, corresponded to Parmenides’ distinction between “being” and

“not-being.” Heraclitean complexity and change was derived from

distinguishable reconﬁgurations of the atoms. Empty space was sup-

posed to be homogeneous and isotropic.

Atoms diﬀer in their form ( ),

erial combi

their positionn (h ),

configura

and

their diverse conﬁgurations in material combinations. The

conﬁguration of the atoms for the purpose of designation is com-

pared with the sequence of letters in words, which has led to the

presumption that atomistic ideas were developed only in cultures

with phonetic alphabets. In fact, in China, where there was no

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54 Symmetry and Complexity

phonetic alphabet but instead ideographic characters, the particle

idea was unknown and a ﬁeld-and-wave conception of the natural

processes prevailed. The Democritean atoms move according to ne-

cessity in a constant whirl l (* < or * < ). Here, by con-

trast with later Aristotelian notions, motion means only change of

location in empty space. All phenomena, all becoming and perish-

ing, result from combinationn ( ) and separationn ( ).

Aggregate states of matter, such as gaseous, liquid or solid, are

explained by the atoms’ diﬀering densities and potentialities for

motion. In view of today’s crystallography, the Democritean idea

that even atoms in solid bodies carry out oscillations in place is

noteworthy.

Plato developed an internally consistent mathematical model by

which various aggregate states and reciprocal eﬀects of substances

could be explained if one accepted his — albeit more or less arbi-

trary — initial conditions for interpretation of the elements. Nev-

ertheless, as mentioned before in Chapter 1.1, even contemporaries

of our time have diﬃculties to believe in mathematical symmetries

behind the complexity and diversity of the apparent world. This is

where Aristotelean physics begins [1.25]. Aristotle formulated his

concept of a balance or “equilibrium” in nature chieﬂy on the basis

of the ways in which living organisms such as plants and animals

function. The process and courses of life are known from everyday

experience. What is more obvious than to compare and explain the

rest of the world, which is unknown and strange, with the familiar?

According to Aristotle, the task of science is to explain the princi-

ples and functions of nature’s complexity and changes [1.26]. This

was a criticism of those philosophers of nature who identiﬁed their

principles with individual substances. The individual plant or the

individual animal was not simply the sum of its material building

blocks. Aristotle called the general, which made the individual be-

ing what it was, formm ( Í*@H). What was shaped by form was called

matterr (à80). Yet form and matter did not exist in themselves, but

were instead principles of nature derived by abstraction. Therefore,

matter was also characterized as the potentiall (*b<":4H) for being

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Symmetry and Complexity in Early Culture and Philosophy 55

formed. Not until matter is formed does realityy (¦<XD(g4")

es that we ob

come into

being [1.27].

The real living creatures that we observe undergo constant

change. Here Heraclitus was right and Parmenides, for whom

changes were illusory, was wrong. Changes are real. Yet accord-

ing to Aristotle, Heraclitus was wrong in identifying changes with a

particular substance (ﬁre). Aristotle explained those changes by a

third principle along with matter and form, namely, the lack of form,

which was to be nulliﬁed by an adequate change. The young plant

and the child are small, weak and immature. They grow because in

accordance with their natural tendencies (form), they were meant to

become big, strong and mature. Therefore it was determined that

movement in general was change, transition from possibility to real-

ity, “actualization of potential” (as people in the Middle Ages were

to say). The task of physics was to investigate movement in nature

in this comprehensive sense. Nature — in contrast to a work

of art produced by man or a technical tool — was understood to be

everything that carried the principle of movement within itself. If

the Aristotelian designations make us think, ﬁrst of all, of the life

processes of plants, animals and people as they present themselves

to us in everyday experience, these designations seem to us to be

thoroughly plausible and apposite. Nature is not a stone quarry

from which one can break loose individual pieces at will. Nature

itself was imagined to be a rational organism whose movements were

both necessary and purposeful. Aristotle distinguished three sorts

of movement, namely quantitative change by increase or decrease in

magnitude, qualitative change by alteration of characteristics and

spatial change by change of location. Aristotle designated four as-

pects of causality as the causes of changes. Why does a plant grow?

It grows (1) because its material components make growth possible

(causa materialis), (2) because its physiological functions determine

growth (causa formalis), (3) because external circumstances (nutri-

ents in the earth, water, sunlight, etc.) impel growth (causa eﬃciens),

(4) because, in accordance with its ﬁnal purpose, it is meant to ripen

out into the perfect form (causa ﬁnalis) [1.28].

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56 Symmetry and Complexity

Aristotle then employed these same principles, which are obvi-

ously derived from the life cycles of plants, animals and humans, to

explain matter in the narrower sense, that is, what was later called

the inorganic part of nature. Here too Aristotle proceeded from

immediate experience. What we meet with is not so and so many

elements as isolated building blocks of nature. Instead we experience

characteristics such as warmth and cold, wetness and dryness. Com-

binations of these yield the following pairs of characteristics which

determine the elements: warm-dry (ﬁre), warm-wet (air), cold-wet

(water), cold-dry (earth). Warm-cold and wet-dry are excluded as si-

multaneous conditions. Therefore, there are only four elements. This

derivation was later criticized as arbitrary, but it shows the Aris-

totelian method, namely to proceed not from abstract mathematical

models, but instead directly from experience. Fire, air, water and

earth are contained more or less, more intensively or less intensively,

in real bodies and they are involved in constant transformation. Ac-

cording to Aristotle, eliminating the coldness of water by means of

warmth results in air, and eliminating the wetness of the air results

in ﬁre. The changes of nature are interpreted as maturational and

transformational processes.

How could such a predominantly organic philosophy of nature de-

liver physical explanations for mathematical natural science, insofar

as it was extant at that time? There were only two elementary spa-

tial motions — those that proceeded in a straight line and those that

proceeded in a circle. Therefore there had to be certain elements

to which these elementary motions come naturally. The motions of

the other bodies were determined by these elements and their natu-

ral motions, depending on which motion predominated with each of

them. The most perfect motion was circular motion. It alone could

go on without end, which was why it had to be assigned to the im-

perishable element. This was the ﬁfth element (quintessence), which

made up the unchangeable celestial spheres and the stars. The con-

tinual changes within the earthly (sublunar) world were to be set oﬀ

from the unchangeable regularity of the celestial (superlunar) world.

These transformational processes were associated with the four ele-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Early Culture and Philosophy 57

ments to which straight-line motion is peculiar, and speciﬁcally the

straight-line motion toward the center of the world, toward which

the heavy elements earth and water strive as their natural locus, and

the straight-line motion toward the periphery of the lunar sphere,

toward which the light elements air and ﬁre strive upwards as their

natural locus.

Among the natural motions [1.29] there was also free fall. But

Aristotle did not start out from isolated motions in idealized exper-

imental situations as G. Galilei did. A falling body is observed in

its complex environment without abstraction of frictional (“dissipat-

ing”) forces. During its free fall a body is sinking in the medium

of air like a stone in water. Thus, Aristotle imagines free fall as a

hydrodynamical process and not as an acceleration in vacuum. He

assumes a constant speed of falling υ, which was directly propor-

tional to the weight p of the body and inversely to the density d of

the medium (e.g. air), thus in modern notation υ ∼ p/d. This equa-

tion of proportionality at the same time provided Aristotle with an

argument against the void of atomists. In a vacuum with the density

d = 0, all bodies would have to fall inﬁnitely fast, which obviously

did not happen.

A typical example for a (humanly) forced motion is throwing,

which, again, is regarded in its complex environment of “dissipative”

forces. According to Aristotle a nonliving body can move only as

a result of a constant external cause of motion. Think of a cart

on a bumpy road in Greece, which comes to a stop when the don-

key (or the slave) stops pulling or pushing. But why does a stone

keep moving when the hand throwing it lets it go? According to

Aristotle, there could be no action at a distance in empty space.

Therefore, said Aristotle, the thrower imparts a movement to the

continuous medium of the stone’s surroundings, and this propels the

stone farther. For the velocity υ of a pulling or pushing motion, Aris-

totle asserted the proportionality υ ∼ K/p with the applied force

K. Of course, these are not mathematical equations relating mea-

sured quantities, but instead proportionalities of qualitative determi-

nants, which ﬁrst emerged in this algebraic notation in the peripatetic

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58 Symmetry and Complexity

physics of the Middle Ages. Thus, in Aristotelian dynamics, in con-

trast to Galilean–Newtonian dynamics, every (straight-line) change

of position required a cause of motion (force). The medieval theory

of impetus altered Aristotelian dynamics by attributing the cause

of motion to an “impetus” within the thrown body, rather than to

transmission by an external medium.

How did peripatetic dynamics explain the cosmic laws of heaven?

The central symmetry of the cosmological model was based on the

(unforced) circular motion of the spheres, which was considered nat-

ural for the “celestial” element, and on the theory of the natural locus

in the centerpoint of the cosmos. Ptolemy was still to account for the

position of the earth on the basis of the isotropy of the model and by

a kind of syllogism of suﬃcient reason. Given complete equivalence

of all directions, there was no reason why the earth should move in

one direction or another.

Besides the epicycle-deferent technique, Ptolemy employed imag-

inary balance points relative to which uniform circular motions were

assumed that, relative to the earth as center, appear non-uniform.

This technique proved to be useful for calculation, but constituted a

violation of the central symmetry and therefore had the eﬀect of an

ad hoc assumption that was not very convincing from the standpoint

of philosophy of nature, a criticism later made especially by Coper-

nicus. The reasons that Copernicus exchanged the earth for the po-

sition of the sun were predominantly kinematic. Namely, a certain

kinematic simpliﬁcation of the description could be achieved in that

way with a greater symmetry. Thus, in the heliocentric model the

retrograde planetary motions could be interpreted as eﬀects of the

annual motion of the earth, which according to Copernicus moved

more slowly than the outer planets Mars, Jupiter and Saturn and

faster than the inner planets Mercury and Venus. But Copernicus

remained thoroughly conservative as a philosopher of nature since

he considered greater simplicity in the sense of “natural” circular

motion to be a sign of proximity to reality.

With Kepler, the ﬁrst great mathematician of modern astronomy,

the belief in simplicity was likewise unbroken. In his “Mysterium cos-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Early Culture and Philosophy 59

mographicum” of 1596, Kepler began by trying once more to base

distance in the planetary system on the regular solids, alternatingly

inscribed and circumscribed by spheres. The planets Saturn, Jupiter,

Mars, earth, Venus and Mercury correspond to six spheres ﬁtted in-

side each other and separated in this sequence by a cube, a tetrahe-

dron, a dodecahedron, an icosahedron and an octahedron. Kepler’s

speculations could not, of course, be extended to accommodate the

discovery of Uranus, Neptune and Pluto in later centuries.

Fig. 17. Kepler’s symmetry of the planetary system (Mysterium Cosmograph-

icum 1596)

Yet Kepler was already too much of a natural scientist to lose

himself for long in Platonic speculations. His “Astronomia Nova” of

1609 is a unique document for studying the step-by-step dissolution

of the old Platonic concept of simplicity under the constant pres-

sure of the results of precise measurement. In contrast to Coperni-

cus, Kepler supplemented his kinematic investigations with original

dynamic arguments. Here the sun is no longer regarded as being

physically functionless at a kinematically eccentric point, as with

Copernicus, but is seen as the dynamic cause for the motion of plan-

ets. The new task was to determine these forces mathematically as

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60 Symmetry and Complexity

well. Kepler’s dynamic interpretation with magnetic ﬁelds was only

a (false) initial venture. Success came later, in the Newtonian theory

of gravity.

The simplicity of the celestial (“superlunar”) world and the com-

plexity of the earthly (“sublunar”) are also popular themes in other

cultures. Let us cast a glance at the Taoist philosophy of nature of

ancient China. To be sure, it is edged with myth and less logically

argued than the Greek philosophy of nature, and it also invokes more

intuition and empathy; nevertheless, there are parallels between the

two. Taoism describes nature as a great organism governed by cycli-

cal motions and rhythms, such as the life cycles of the generations,

dynasties and individuals from birth to death; the food chains con-

sisting of plant, animal and human; the alternation of the seasons;

day and night; the rising and setting of the stars; etc. Everything

is related to everything else. Rhythms follow upon each other like

waves in the water. What forces are the ultimate causes of this pat-

tern in nature? As with Empedocles, in Taoism two opposite forces

are distinguished, namely yin and yang, whose rhythmic increase and

decrease govern the world. In the book “Kuei Ku Tzu” (4th century

B.C.) it says: “Yang returns cyclically to its origin. Yin reaches its

maximum and makes way for yang.” [1.30] While according to Aris-

totle all individuals carry their natural purposes and movements in

themselves, the Tao of yin and yang determines the internal rhythms

of individuals, and those energies always return to their origins. The

cyclical rotational model of the Tao provides explanations for mak-

ing calendars in astronomy, for water cycles in meteorology, for the

food chain and for the circulatory system in physiology. It draws its

great persuasiveness from the rhythms of life in nature, which people

experience every day and can apply in orienting themselves to life.

Nature appears as a goal-directed organism.

It is noteworthy that the Chinese philosophy of nature had no no-

tions of atomistic particles and therefore did not develop mathemat-

ical mechanics in the sense of the occidental Renaissance. Instead,

at its center there was a harmonious model of nature with rhythmic

waves and ﬁelds that cause everything to be connected to everything.

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Symmetry and Complexity in Early Culture and Philosophy 61

The preference for questions of acoustics and the early preoccupation

with magnetic and electrostatic eﬀects is understandable given this

philosophy of nature. The Taoists’ view bears more resemblance to

the philosophy of nature of the Stoics than to Aristotle. Here too

the discussion centers on eﬀects that spread out in a great continuum

like waves on water. This continuum is the Stoics’ pneuma, whose

tensions and vibrations are said to determine the various states of

nature. The multifarious forms of nature are only transitory patterns

that are formed by varied tensions of the pneuma. Modern thinking

leaps, of course, to the patterns of standing water waves or sound

waves or the patterns of magnetic ﬁelds. Nevertheless, neither the

Stoic nor the Taoist heuristic background led to the development of a

physical theory of acoustic or magnetic ﬁelds comparable to Galilean

mechanics with its background of an atomistic philosophy of nature.

The emergence of order from complex, irregular and chaotic states

of matter was only qualitatively described, using diﬀerent models for

earth and for heaven.

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Chapter 2

Symmetry and Complexity in

Mathematics

In the modern era the study of mathematical symmetries has led to

an algebraic theory that has found application in almost all branches

of mathematics and has become fundamental for a coherent theory

of nature. This is group theory, which has come into being since the

end of the 18th century in the theory of equations, number theory,

and geometry, although initial attempts made in earlier centuries

were known at that time. Thus, the ancient interest in regular ﬁg-

ures and bodies led to a systematic study of so-called discrete groups

in the plane and in space, which became fundamental, in the natu-

ral sciences, for spectroscopy and crystallography and which found

application in elementary particle physics in the exact deﬁnition of

a coherent theory of natural forces. But it is not only the character-

istics of various mathematical theories and natural phenomena that

fulﬁll the axioms of these groups. Artistic decorations and musical

tone patterns can also be examined from the coherent point of view

of this mathematical structure. It marks a reemergence of the old

Pythagorean idea of a coherent symmetry structure in mathematics,

art and nature, this time algebraically generalized and considerably

more comprehensive than what was deﬁnable on the basis of the An-

tique theory of proportions. The concept of transformation group

became central to geometry. The various geometric theories that

had arisen in the 19th century can be characterized by those trans-

formation groups that leave the laws of the speciﬁc theory unchanged

(“invariant”). That also produced the mathematical prerequisites for

determining natural laws by symmetry groups.

63

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64 Symmetry and Complexity

2.1 Symmetry and Group Theory

Figures or bodies were called “symmetrical” in Antiquity when they

possessed common measures or proportions. Thus the Platonic bod-

ies can be rotated and turned at will without changing their regu-

larity. Half of the human body can be mirrored along the middle

axis without change in its proportions. In general, according to the

Antique doctrine of proportions, ﬁgures have common proportions if

they possess the same geometrical form, i.e. if they are similar.

Similarity transformations, therefore, leave the geometric form

of a ﬁgure unchanged, i.e. the proportional relationships of a cir-

cle, equilateral triangle, rectangle, etc. are retained, although the

absolute dimensions of these ﬁgures can be enlarged or decreased.

Therefore one can say that the form of a ﬁgure is determined by the

similarity transformations that leave it unchanged.

What is meant by a transformation is a mapping that maps a

set of points (e.g. the points of the circle) onto itself with one-to-one

correspondence. To illustrate the form invariance of two similar bod-

ies Leibniz uses the example of two temples (for example, the temple

building itself and a smaller model) that are “indistinguishable” from

each other if each of the two structures is regarded by itself without

reference to an external unit of measure [2.1].

Therefore a geometric form arises from abstraction, from ab-

stracting away all characteristics of the respective ﬁgures (e.g. ab-

solute sizes) except their similarity. Abstraction with respect

to similarity can be logically deﬁned by the following demands:

(1) Each ﬁgure is similar to itself. (2) If ﬁgure F is similar to ﬁgure

F

, then F

is also similar to F. (3) If F is similar to F

and F

is sim-

ilar to F

, then F is similar to F

**. Relations that fulﬁll the demands
**

of (1) reﬂexivity, (2) symmetry and (3) transitivity, are called equiv-

alence relations. Therefore we can establish the geometrical form of

a ﬁgure by abstracting all characteristics except similarity because

similarity is an equivalence relation.

A similarity transformation is an example of an automorphism

[2.2]. In general an automorphism is the mapping of a set (e.g. points,

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Symmetry and Complexity in Mathematics 65

numbers, functions) onto itself that leaves unchanged the structure of

this set (e.g. proportional relations in Euclidean space, arithmetical

rules for numbers). Automorphisms can also be characterized alge-

braically in this way: (1) Identity I that maps every element of a set

onto itself, is an automorphism. (2) For every automorphism T an

inverse automorphism T

can be given, with T · T

= T

· T = I. (3)

If S and T are automorphisms, then so is the successive application

S · T.

A set of elements (e.g. points, numbers, transformations) with

a composition that fulﬁlls these axioms, is called a group. Now in

particular, the reﬂection T at a plane, which underlies right-left sym-

metry, can be characterized by T · T = I (i.e. T is its own inverse

transformation). From Euclid to Newton and Helmholtz, a great

role is played by those similarity transformations that do not alter

the size of a body. These are the transformations (“movements”) of

rigid bodies (e.g. rulers) in space, which geometrically are also called

congruences or isometries. They constitute the prerequisite for phys-

ical measuring and therefore were traditionally regarded as the basic

concept of geometry.

But in fact we do not need to know of any “rigid” bodies

in the physical sense in order to investigate geometric isometries

or congruences. Mathematically an isometry is the mapping of

a metric (e.g. Euclidean) space on itself that leaves the intervals

(e.g. Pythagorean distances) between all points unchanged. Every

isometry is by deﬁnition a similarity. In Euclidean geometry there

are similarities, namely the enlargement and reduction of a ﬁgure,

that are not isometries (congruences), i.e. in these cases the congru-

ences form a genuine subgroup of the similarity group.

In this connection, congruences are called proper if they connect

the position of the points of a measure before and after a movement,

in contrast to congruent reﬂections, in which a body is transformed

into its mirror image. The simplest examples of congruences are

parallel shifts or translations, which as vectors form the basis of

aﬃne geometry [2.3].

Another example for congruences is rotation around a ﬁxed point,

as in the case of the pentagram (Fig. 5), which comes back to the

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66 Symmetry and Complexity

same position through 5 proper rotations around the center, whose

angles of rotation equal m · 2π/5 with 1 ≤ m ≤ 5, and which in

addition possesses 5 reﬂections along the straight lines that connect

the center with the corners. These 10 transformations constitute a

group that completely describes the symmetry characteristics of the

pentagram.

In general, then, the symmetry of a spatial ﬁgure is determined

by the group of those automorphisms that let it unchanged (“invari-

ant”). Since Euclidean space is characterized by the group of all

automorphisms (“similarities”), it has the full symmetry. The sym-

metry of a ﬁgure in space is then determined by means of a subgroup

of the full automorphism group [2.4].

Now we turn to the discrete groups of movements on the plane,

since they include, as special cases, the regular ﬁgures and orna-

ments known since Antiquity. In that connection, a group of mo-

tions is called discrete if it contains no arbitrarily small movements

(e.g. rotations or translations) that are diﬀerent from the identity

I. Because of this restriction, for example, the rotational group of

the circle with inﬁnitesimally small rotations around the center, and

the translation group of the straight lines with inﬁnitesimally small

translations, are excluded. These continuous groups have also played

a role in physics and are separately examined.

A discrete group of movements is called a point group if there is

a point that is ﬁxed by all of its movements. This is always the case

when the group of motions contains no translation (other than the

identity). Thus the cyclic groups C

n

consist of rotations around the

angles m· 2π/n with 1 ≤ m ≤ n around a ﬁxed point [2.5]. Exam-

ples are the regular polygons or the star polygons in Fig. 5. Indeed

these examples possess, along with rotational symmetry, also reﬂec-

tion symmetry. For example, a pure C

4

rotational symmetry without

the static rest of reﬂection symmetry, is the swastika (hooked cross)

which has appeared as a symbol of the wheel of the sun in vari-

ous cultures and which became the symbol of a destructive political

“movement” in the last century.

If one extends the rotational group C

n

by the n reﬂections along

the reﬂection axes with the angles π/n, one obtains the dihedral

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Symmetry and Complexity in Mathematics 67

group D

n

. Thus, for example, the symmetry of the star polygons is

completely determined by the corresponding dihedral groups. Thus

the complete table C

1

, C

2

, . . . and D

1

, D

2

, . . . of all possible ﬁnite

groups of proper and improper rotations in the plane provides all

possible central symmetries in the plane.

Now we come to the translation symmetries, which, in cultural

history, were attained especially in the magniﬁcent Indian and Is-

lamic ornaments, but which also appear in later epochs of style. First

we treat the stripe ornaments, which can be classiﬁed in the seven

so-called frieze groups. A frieze group is a discrete movement group

which contains the translations ( = I) and for which all translations

except for the sign have the same direction. This direction is called

the longitudinal axis of the stripe; the direction that is perpendicular

to it is called the transverse axis. If one applies all the translations

of a frieze group to one point in the plane, there arises an inﬁnitely

long row of points along the longitudinal axis with equal intervals

(“elementary distance”) between neighboring points. If one exam-

ines the coincidence movements of these stripes, the following seven

translation groups can be distinguished (Fig. 18a).

Fig. 18b presents examples of stripe ornaments [2.6]. They are

produced by the following transformations: (1) a translation; (2) a

translation, a reﬂection (on the longitudinal axis); (3) a translation,

a reﬂection (on a transverse axis); (4) a translation and an inversion

(rotation by 180

◦

); (5) combination of the frieze groups (1), (2),

(3), (4); (6) a translation and a glide plane (= a translation by

half the elementary distance and a reﬂection); (7) combination of

the frieze groups (3), (4), (6) producing the impression of a relief

(Fig. 18c). Cases like this can also be dealt with symmetry groups if

one conceives of the plane as two-sided. Then one speaks of two-sided

ornaments.

From the stripe ornaments we arrive now at the plane ornaments.

Historically these elaborate and artful patterns have been used in the

mosaics, fabric patterns, etc. of various cultures. Intuitively, we are

dealing here with the presumably earliest evidences of higher algebra.

As long ago as the 12th century B.C. we ﬁnd plane ornaments in the

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68 Symmetry and Complexity

Fig. 18a. Frieze groups Fig. 18b. Stripe ornaments

Fig. 18c. Two-sided stripe ornament

wonderful paintings of Egyptian burial chambers and temples. It

is not surprising that of all cultures, it was the Indian and Islamic

one, whose mathematicians were pioneer algebraists, that had highly

developed this art form. In his “Harmonice mundi” (Book II) Kepler

investigates the possible covering of the plane with equal regular

polygons. However, the symmetry groups of the plane ornaments

were not determined until very late. It was the crystallographer

E.S. Federov who demonstrated that there are exactly 17 ornament

groups in the plane.

They can be produced by means of the following transformations (Fig. 19)

[2.7]: (1) translations; (2) translations and inversions; (3) a combination of (8),

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Symmetry and Complexity in Mathematics 69

Fig. 19. Ornament groups of the plane

(11), (12); (4) a combination of (2), (6); (5) translations and reﬂections along

parallel axes; (6) translations and glide reﬂections along parallel axes; (7) combi-

nations of (2), (5), (6); (8) combinations of (2), (9); (9) translations, reﬂections

and glide reﬂections along parallel axes; (10) combinations of (4), (8), (12); (11)

combinations of (2), (5); (12) translations and rotations of 90

◦

; (13) translations

and rotations of 120

◦

; (14) combinations of (9), (15), (17); (15) combinations of

(9), (13) in which not all the rotation points lie on reﬂection axes; (16) combi-

nations of (9), (13) in which all the rotation points lie on reﬂection axes; (17)

combinations of (2), (13). One can easily see which ornaments are left invariant

by rotation and dihedral groups. The classiﬁcation C

1

applies to ornament (1);

C

2

applies to (2); C

3

to (13); C

4

to (12); C

6

to (17); D

1

to (5), (6), (9); D

2

to

(4), (7), (8), (11); D

3

for (15), (16); D

4

for (3), (10); D

6

for (14). Fig. 20 displays

examples of ornaments from various cultures.

Now we distinguish the discrete point groups in space [2.8]. Group

C

n

of the proper rotations around a midpoint on the horizontal plane

can be interpreted as the group of rotations in space around a ver-

tical axis through the midpoint. Reﬂection at a straight line in the

plane is brought about by a 180

◦

rotation around this straight line

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70 Symmetry and Complexity

Fig. 20. Ornaments from various cultures

(“ﬂipping”). Thus a group D

n

of proper rotations in space results

from group D

n

in the plane. It includes the rotations of 2π/n around

an axis vertical to the plane through the midpoint and the ﬂippings

around n horizontal axes through the midpoint, which share the same

angles of π/n.

Moreover D

1

and C

2

are identical since both consist of the identity

and 180

◦

rotation around a straight line. D

2

encompasses the identity

and ﬂippings around three axes that are perpendicular to each other

(“four group”). In any case this gives us the following inﬁnite number

of proper rotation groups in space: C

1

, C

2

, C

3

, . . . D

2

, D

3

, . . . .

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Symmetry and Complexity in Mathematics 71

Fig. 21. Symmetry of cube and octahedron [2.9]

Whereas in the plane a regular n-sided polygon can be described

for every n > 2, only 5 regular (“Platonic”) polyhedra exist in 3-

dimensional space. Moreover, if we consider, additionally, the ﬁnite

number of proper rotation groups around a center in space, we ﬁnd

only three new groups which leave unchanged or invariant (i) the

regular tetrahedron, (ii) the cube or the octahedron, and (iii) the

dodecahedron or icosahedron, respectively. For case (ii), inscribe

an octahedron into a cube in such a way that the corners of the

octahedron meet the corresponding sides of the cube at the center-

points of the six square surfaces. Conversely, a cube can also be

inscribed into an octahedron (Fig. 21). Then compare the analysis

of the corners, edges and surfaces of the Platonic solids in the table

of Fig. 6. Every rotation that turns the cube back into itself also

leaves the octahedron invariant and vice versa. Therefore, the group

for the octahedron is the same as for the cube. Analogously, it can

be shown that the dodecahedron and the icosahedron are described

by means of the same group. The regular solid that corresponds to

the regular tetrahedron is the tetrahedron itself.

This gives us three groups of proper rotations — group T of the

tetrahedron, group W of the cube or octahedron and group D of

the dodecahedron or icosahedron, with 12, 24 and 60 operations

respectively. Corresponding to Euclid’s uniqueness of the Platonic

solids in space, it can be shown that groups C

n

(n = 1, 2, 3, . . .), D

n

(n = 2, 3, . . .), T, W and P are the only proper rotation groups in

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72 Symmetry and Complexity

space. This list has to be supplemented by the number of improper

rotations in space, analogously to the plane rotation groups. An im-

proper rotation in space is nothing but a rotation-reﬂection, i.e. the

combination of a reﬂection and a rotation around an axis that is per-

pendicular to the mirror. A rotation-reﬂection can also be grasped

as a rotation inversion, i.e. as a combination of a point reﬂection or

inversion at the center O (which brings every point P back to P

on the extension OP

of line PO with PO = OP

) and a rotation

around an axis through the reﬂection point.

By analogy to the situation in a plane, one can ask which of the

ﬁnite point groups of motions leave space lattices invariant. In the 2-

dimensional case there are 10 point groups. In the 3-dimensional case

one obtains 32 crystal classes that are of considerable signiﬁcance for

crystallography [2.10]. The corresponding groups to the 17 ornament

groups in three dimensions are the 230 discrete groups of movements

with three independent translations. As a whole, all the groups were

ﬁrst described by the Russian crystallographer Fedorov (1890), and

also independently by the German A. Schoenﬂies (1891) and the

Englishman W. Barlow (1894) [2.11].

The ﬁrst 65 consist of proper movements. The simplest group contains only

translations. The remaining 64 contain in addition rotations and screw axes,

i.e. combinations of translations and rotations. Of these, 22 appear as 11 so-

called enantiomorphic pairs, which are mirror images of one another, i.e. one

member of the pair contains a left-, the other a right-handed screw. Examples

in nature include the left- and right-rotating quartz, known since the early day

of mineralogy. If one drops these practically important distinctions, one obtains

only 54 cases, consequently altogether 219 groups. The remaining 165 groups

contain, in addition to proper movements, also improper ones, such as reﬂections,

rotation-reﬂections and glide reﬂections.

In mathematics the symmetry of ﬁgures or bodies is determined

by the group of those mappings of them onto themselves (“auto-

morphisms”) that let them unchanged (“invariance”). This idea can

be generalized for all kinds of mathematical structures that are de-

ﬁned by axioms or theories. The old deﬁnition of “geometry” in the

sense of “measuring the earth” became inadequate to cover special-

izations in research as early as the 19th century. Only with F. Klein’s

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Symmetry and Complexity in Mathematics 73

“Erlanger Program” of 1872, with the concept of “geometric invari-

ants” which remain unchanged with metric, aﬃne, projective or topo-

logical transformation groups, among others, did it become possible

to organize the various directions of research into a hierarchy of the-

ories. Coordinate transformations of course played a large role in

analytical geometry as long ago as the 17th and 18th centuries.

In 2-dimensional analytical geometry, for example, geometric expressions con-

cerning points of a plane are translated into analytical expressions of coordinate

values, so that functions x and y for each point P correspond to the real values

x = x(P) and y = y(P). The transformations x

= ax+by+e and y

= cx+dy+f

can be summarized as

x

y

=

ab

cd

x

y

+

e

f

whereby the matrix

ab

cd

must be orthogonal with

ab

cd

ac

bd

=

10

01

**The Cartesian geometry of the plane then consists of those expressions and
**

characteristics that are invariant under these transformations. Since the succes-

sive application of Cartesian transformations in turn leads to more of the same,

they form a group that clearly characterizes the invariant properties of Cartesian

geometry. Examples of Cartesian transformations are rotation, reﬂection, and

inversion, which can be represented by corresponding matrices.

According to Klein, the investigation of a geometric theory gener-

ally consists of the following algebraic problem: “There is a manifold,

and in it there is a transformation group; we must investigate the

elements belonging to the manifold with regard to those character-

istics which are not changed by the transformations of the group.”

In short: “There is a manifold, and in it there is a transformation

group. Develop the invariant theory relating to the group.” [2.12]

F. Klein distinguishes similarity transformations as key concept

for Euclidean geometry, because there, ﬁgures can be enlarged or

reduced arbitrarily without changing shape. Consider a triangle,

for example, which can be arbitrarily enlarged or reduced without

changing the angles. Only in Euclidean geometry is the group of

motion a genuine subgroup of the similarity group.

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74 Symmetry and Complexity

Absolute geometry arises from Euclidean geometry, without the

acceptance of Euclid’s parallel postulate, according to which, through

a given point, there is only a single line parallel to a given straight

line. We move from absolute geometry to Euclidean or non-Euclidean

geometry by adding either Euclid’s parallel postulate or one of the

non-Euclidean versions. On the other hand, the parallel line plays a

central role in aﬃne geometry. For Euclid, the aﬃne theorems are

those that remain unchanged after parallel projection from one plane

into another. Analytically, the aﬃne geometry of the plane can be

characterized by transformations with an invertible matrix.

In contrast to aﬃne geometry, there is no parallelism in projec-

tive geometry. Nor do length or angular measurements play any role.

The historical origin of projective geometry is the problem of per-

spective. Each transformation from one ﬁgure to another by central

and parallel projection or a ﬁnite series of projections is called a pro-

jective transformation. The projective geometry of the plane or of

the straight line consists of the totality of those geometric proper-

ties that remain valid and unchanged over any number of projective

transformations of the ﬁgures to which they relate. In contrast, met-

ric geometry consists of the system of those geometric properties that

relate to the sizes of ﬁgures, and remain invariant only under rigid

motions.

The most general of all geometries is topology, which is charac-

terized by the group of continuous transformations. As an example

of characteristics that are left invariant under transformations, let

us consider polyhedrons. A polyhedron is called a simple polyhe-

dron when its surface can be continuously deformed into a spherical

surface, i.e. simple polyhedrons do not have “holes,” like a torus,

for example. The Euler formula for the simple polyhedron is thus:

E − K + F + 2 for the number of corners E, the number of edges

K and number of surfaces F. We can easily verify this formula for

the Platonic bodies, for example, but it covers a great deal more

than just the polyhedrons of metric geometry with straight edges

and plane surfaces. It even remains valid if we imagine the surface of

a regular polyhedron made of rubber, which can be deformed arbi-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Mathematics 75

trarily, as long as it is not torn. That is because only the number of

corners (points), edges (lines) and surfaces is important for this for-

mula. Length, surface area, linearity, cross ratio and other concepts

of metric, aﬃne or projective geometry are not left invariant under

topological transformations.

To explain the relationship between continuous groups and the

concept of symmetry let us ﬁrst consider a simple example. A ro-

tation of a plane coordinate system around its origin in a counter-

clockwise direction by an angle θ can be considered a symmetry of

the plane, because it leaves the relationships between distance and

angle invariant. These rotations form a group. If, for example, the

rotation by the angle θ

1

is followed by an additional rotation by the

angle θ

2

, then the result is a rotation by the angle θ

1

+ θ

2

. It can

easily be veriﬁed that this rule of composition satisﬁes the group ax-

ioms. For example, the rotation by the angle 0 can be used as the

unit element I. If σ

1

is the rotation by the angle θ, and σ

2

is the

reverse rotation by the angle 2π −θ, then σ

1

σ

2

= I = σ

2

σ

1

.

The group of rotations is continuous, since it is a function of a

continuous parameter θ. The discrete groups of regular polygons are

embedded in the continuous group of the circle. It describes the per-

fect symmetry of the circle that so fascinated ancient and medieval

philosophers and scientists. As a result of a suitable composition of

continuous rotation and stretching, we get a continuous rotation and

stretching, by means of which the logarithmic spiral can be gener-

ated. The Swiss mathematician J. Bernoulli was so fascinated by its

symmetry that he had the inscription “Eadem mutata resurgo” chis-

elled on his tombstone in the Basel Cathedral. In fact, this motto

expresses the symmetry of the logarithmic spiral, since by means of

continuous rotation and stretching, it can be transformed into itself.

The Golden Spiral (Fig. 8) is an approximation of the logarithmic spi-

ral. Like the spiral in the plane, the circular helix can be introduced

in space by continuous helical motion, the technical application of

which was discovered as long ago as Archimedes.

The methods of group theory in geometry were an initial appli-

cation in the natural sciences of the modern mathematical concept

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76 Symmetry and Complexity

of symmetry. They were also based on earlier, visual and human

notions of symmetry in art. But in the history of mathematics, the

algebraic and number theoretical origins of the group theory con-

cept of symmetry are older than the geometric approaches. They

go back to the 18th century, and are related to the equation theo-

ries of J.L. Lagrange, Gauss, N.H. Abel and E. Galois in particular.

The application of group theory in geometry is a question of dis-

tinguishing the symmetry characteristics of ﬁgures and bodies by

invariance in relation to groups of transformations, for example, ro-

tations, translations or reﬂections. It was the brilliant idea of Galois

to also characterize the solutions of equations by characteristics of

symmetry, which remain unchanged under speciﬁed transformations

(“permutation group”), to thereby obtain information on solutions

and the solubility of equations. Galois used this theory to answer

basic problems of equation theory, and his achievement is thus the

culmination of a development that stretches far back into Antiquity.

On the other hand, his group theory methods are revolutionary, even

independent of equation theory, and stand at the beginning of mod-

ern structural mathematics, which was also fundamental for physics.

The analytical formulations of geometry since Descartes have fol-

lowed analytical mechanics since J. d’Alembert and Lagrange, among

others. Problems of motion in physics were translated into equations

of motion, which in general have the form of diﬀerential equations.

Under some side conditions, therefore, the solution of motion prob-

lems in physics meant the solution of diﬀerential equations. A trans-

fer of the Galois Program from algebraic equations to diﬀerential

equations was therefore also of interest in terms of physics. Then it

was possible, to a certain extent, to determine the characteristics of

the solutions to these equations, i.e. including the solutions of corre-

sponding problems of motion, by means of symmetry observations.

In 1874, Lie began to classify continuous transformation groups. He

designated a group continuous, if all of its transformations are gen-

erated by “an inﬁnite number of repetitions of inﬁnitesimal trans-

formations”. Lie’s theory of continuous groups became the “Galois

theory” of diﬀerential equations when he used it in 1888 to character-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Mathematics 77

ize their solutions of equations [2.13]. The theory of continuous and

ﬁnite groups was investigated in the 1890s in France by H. Poincar´e

and E. Cartan, among others, attracted a great deal of attention in

physics (in particular with the theory of relativity).

The diﬀerential geometry of Gauss, Riemann, Cartan and others

form the basis for the symmetries of Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Using the example of Gauss’ theory of surfaces [2.14], we shall ﬁrst

compile several illustrative results of diﬀerential geometry.

The coordinate system on a surface x

i

(u

1

, u

2

) which is generated by the

curves u

1

= const., and u

2

= const., is called a Gaussian coordinate system.

Curves on the surfaces (e.g. distances on the curved surface of the earth) with

a < t < b can now be described by surface coordinates u

1

= u

1

(t), u

2

= u

2

(t) and

by spatial coordinates x

i

= x

i

(u

1

(t), u

2

(t)). Since partial diﬀerentiation gives

dx

i

dt

=

∂x

i

∂u

1

du

1

dt

+

∂x

i

∂u

2

du

2

dt

such a curve has the arc length:

s =

b

a

3

¸

i=1

dx

i

dt

2

dt

=

b

a

¸

3

¸

i=1

∂x

i

∂u

1

∂x

i

∂u

1

du

1

dt

2

+ 2

∂x

i

∂u

1

∂x

i

∂u

2

du

1

dt

du

2

dt

+

∂x

i

∂u

2

∂x

i

∂u

2

du

2

dt

2

1

2

dt .

If, according to the Ricci calculation for Greek letter indices µ, ν, we accept

summation over the indices of the surface coordinates, and for the Latin indices

summation of the spatial coordinates, we get the abbreviated notation

s =

b

a

g

µν

du

µ

dt

du

ν

dt

dt

with the metric coeﬃcients

g

µν

=

∂x

i

∂u

µ

∂x

i

∂u

ν

,

where g

µν

= g

µν

(u

1

, u

2

) is only a function of the surface points, and the direction

of the arbitrarily selected surface curves is expressed in terms du

µ

/dt.

The surface metric ds

2

= g

µν

du

µ

du

ν

is a positive-deﬁnite

quadratic diﬀerential form, also called ﬁrst fundamental form, which

is generated by the (Euclidean) scalar product in the tangential plane

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78 Symmetry and Complexity

of the surface point in question. It is invariant under well-deﬁned co-

ordinate transformations that are also continuously diﬀerentiable in

each direction. The decisive factor is the Gauss’ assumption that

in any small area of the surface, a “local” Euclidean coordinate sys-

tem (y

1

, y

2

) can be found, in which the distance from (y

1

, y

2

) and

(y

1

+ dy

1

, y

2

+ dy

2

) can be measured by the Pythagorean metric

ds

2

= du

2

1

+ du

2

2

. There are length-preserving (with invariance of

the curve length), conformal (with invariance of the angle) and area-

preserving (with invariance of the surface area) transformations. In

cartography, for example, the Mercator projection is drawn by means

of a conformal, but area-distorting mapping, while a Lambert pro-

jection is drawn with an area-preserving transformation.

According to Gauss’ theorema egregium, the curvature of a sur-

face can be determined solely by the metric coeﬃcients g

µν

and their

derivations, i.e. the curvature is a function only of the intrinsic ge-

ometry of the surface and not of the surrounding space. Therefore,

for length-preserving transformations (bending of the surface), the

Gaussian curvature of the surface points is preserved. Gauss’ as-

sumption of local Euclidean coordinate systems is also a function

of intrinsic metric characteristics of the surface, and not of the sur-

rounding space. The overall curvature of a surface patch, according

to the theorem of Gauss and O. Bonnet, is related in a simple manner

to the total lateral curvature of its edge. Geodesic lines as the short-

est and straightest connections between points on a surface found

applications both in geodesy and in mechanics.

The results of the Gaussian surface theory can be generalized without restric-

tion to the n-dimensional surfaces. Riemann made a broader generalization, by

expanding the intrinsic geometry of the 2-dimensional surfaces to n-dimensional

diﬀerentiable manifolds whose metrics are no longer induced by embedding in a

surrounding Cartesian space and its Euclidean scalar product [2.15]. Here, rather,

a fundamental tensor g

µν

is speciﬁed for µ, ν = 1, . . . , n with the positive-deﬁnite

metric ds

2

= g

µν

du

µ

du

ν

. Analogous to the 2-dimensional Gaussian surfaces, it

is assumed for n-dimensional Riemannian manifolds M, that a Euclidean coor-

dinate system y

1

, . . . , y

n

with Pythagorean metric ds

2

= dy

2

1

+ · · · + dy

2

n

can be

found locally (“in the inﬁnitely small neighborhood of a point P of M”), which

can be represented in the “tangential space” T

P

of M in point P.

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Symmetry and Complexity in Mathematics 79

The 2-dimensional Gaussian surfaces can generally have diﬀerent

curvatures varying at diﬀerent points. Mathematically, the curva-

ture of a surface at one point can be deﬁned as a function which

is dependent only on the metric coeﬃcients g

µν

, with µ, ν = 1, 2.

Without going into any further mathematical detail here, it is also

possible to deﬁne a curvature tensor for n-dimensional Riemannian

manifolds which is a function only of the fundamental tensor g

µν

with µ, ν = 1, . . . , n [2.16]. While additional visualizations can be

combined with the term “curvature” for the Gaussian curved sur-

faces in Euclidean space, this heuristic approach fails completely for

Riemannian manifolds with an arbitrary number of dimensions. But

even in the 2-dimensional case, the Gaussian surface curvature is de-

termined by the “intrinsic” metric characteristics, and is therefore

not always identical to the visual curvature that relates to the sur-

rounding space. A trivial example is the surface of a cylinder, which

is “visually curved,” but which has the same Gaussian curvature as

the Euclidean plane.

By generalizing the special 2-dimensional Riemannian manifolds

with constant curvature, symmetrical spaces can be studied which

are characterized by homogeneity and isotropy. Leibniz had previ-

ously identiﬁed homogeneity as a symmetry characteristic of space,

because, in this case, all points of the space are indistinguishable.

In a presentation entitled “The facts on which geometry is based”

(1868), Helmholtz attempts to explain these symmetry characteris-

tics of 3-dimensional physical space in terms of measurement tech-

niques and physiology. He begins with a visually-based introduction

of homogeneous point manifolds.

Helmholtz, in his research into the sensory organs, investigated

the manifolds of acoustic and color sensations as a physiologist and

physician. Sounds can be deﬁned by their continuously changing

pitch and volume, i.e. as points of a 2-dimensional manifold. Ac-

cording to Helmholtz, colors can be generated as mixtures of three

basic colors, the respective proportions of which are continuously

changing, on the retina, i.e. they can be interpreted as points of a

3-dimensional manifold. The surface of the skin on the body is an

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80 Symmetry and Complexity

example of a 2-dimensional manifold, whose “points of sensitivity”

are characterized by diﬀerent sensitivity to stimuli from location to

location.

How do these physiological manifolds diﬀer from the known ge-

ometric manifolds, such as a plane? Helmholtz’s answer is that,

on geometric manifolds, we can compare distances between points

everywhere, i.e. we can freely move a rigid measurement body ev-

erywhere over the manifold. On the other hand, for example in the

2-dimensional acoustical manifold, there is no such comparability of

distances between points everywhere: Two sounds of the same pitch

and diﬀerent volumes are not comparable to two sounds of diﬀerent

pitch but the same volume.

The Euclidean plane is a homogeneous manifold in the sense of

the free mobility of a rigid measurement body. But the surface of

a sphere is homogeneous, if we select as the scale a segment of a

great circle in “close” contact. The surface of an egg is a contrasting

example. For example, if we plot a circle with the radius r at the

small end and at the big end of the egg, the circumference U of the

circle is smaller in the ﬁrst case than in the second case. The circle

cannot be moved freely, since the curvature of the surface of the egg

is diﬀerent at the small end and at the big end.

Are there also homogeneous surfaces with negative constant cur-

vature? An initial model was proposed by E. Beltrami (1835–1900).

But among them, there is no shape as simple as the surface of a

sphere, because they have singularities, beyond which the surfaces

may not be continuously extended.

The Helmholtz requirement for the “free mobility of a rigid mea-

surement body” and the homogeneous manifold was explained and

generalized n-dimensionally by Lie with his concept of the continuous

group [2.17]. Lie proceeds from the assumption of an n-dimensional

continuous and diﬀerentiable manifold M. Instead of a physically

rigid body, there is a metric d(x, y) for points x, y from M. The

physically free mobility of the rigid body is explained mathemati-

cally by one-to-one point transformations that leave the distances

between points deﬁned by the metric unchanged. They are therefore

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Symmetry and Complexity in Mathematics 81

isometries or congruent mappings. They can occur, for example, as

translations or rotations, and the operations can be performed one

after the other.

The geometric composition of movements corresponds alge-

braically to a composition of the transformations that satisfy the

group characteristic. In particular, Weyl gave the following explana-

tion of the Helmholtz–Lie requirement:

The group of congruent mappings can transform any arbitrary

point into any arbitrary point of the manifold, and with a deﬁned

point, can transform any arbitrary line direction in this point into

any other line direction, with a deﬁned point and deﬁned line direc-

tion, any arbitrary surface direction running through it into any other

arbitrary such surface direction, etc., up to the (n − 1)-dimensional

direction elements. But if there is a point, a line direction running

through it, a surface direction etc. passing through it up to an (n−1)-

dimensional direction element, apart from identity there is no con-

gruent mapping which preserves this system of elements connected

in this way, like point, line direction, etc.

The decisive factor is then the mathematical proof that under this

homogeneity requirement, only Euclidean, hyperbolic and parabolic

manifolds are possible, i.e. only the three known types of geometries

with constant curvature. Mathematically, this explanation makes it

clear that for homogeneous manifolds, the free mobility of a “body”

need not be required, but free mobility “in the inﬁnitesimal”, in

the sense of the indicated homogeneity requirement for the contin-

uous group of congruent mappings. The homogeneous Riemannian

manifolds are therefore not — as Helmholtz believed — based on

a physical “fact”, but on a mathematical concept: the continuous

isometry group. But Helmholtz’s visual and physical considerations

were of major heuristic value in the discovery of this concept [2.18].

The Helmholtz–Lie idea of constructing homogeneous manifolds

with the requirement of a continuous isometry group was generalized

by Cartan. Finally, we should discuss his theory of symmetrical

spaces, since it forms the mathematical framework for discussions of

symmetry in modern (relativistic) cosmology.

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82 Symmetry and Complexity

Cartan deﬁnes a “symmetrical space” [2.19] as a Riemannian manifold in

which the reﬂection at any given point A is an isometric transformation. A

reﬂection is deﬁned as the assignment to a point M suﬃciently close to A of that

point M

**which is obtained if the geodesic arc MA is constructed, and is changed
**

so that MA and AM

**have equal lengths. An isometry is deﬁned as a coordinate
**

transformation u

µ

→ ¯ u

µ

which leaves the form of the metric of the manifold

invariant, i.e. for the metric coeﬃcients ¯ g

µν

= g

µυ

. It is immediately apparent

that the Cartan symmetry requirement is equivalent to the requirement that the

Riemannian curvature is preserved at any given point A in relation to any plane

element proceeding from A, if this plane element is displaced anyway in a parallel

fashion. A parallel displacement of a vector from a point A to an inﬁnitesimally

adjacent point A

**results from the two successive reﬂections at A and at the
**

center of the geodesic arc AA

**. If the reﬂection is an isometric transformation,
**

the parallel displacement leaves the metric and thus also the curvature unchanged.

A symmetrical Riemann space allows a transitive group of rigid

displacements. In this case, transitivity means that each point of

the space can be transformed into any other point by an element of

the group. For example, if A and B are two points suﬃciently close

together, then the product of the reﬂection at A and at the center

of the geodesic arc AB is an isometry which transforms A into B.

Inﬁnitesimal isometries are of particular interest to physicists. A

Riemannian space is called isotropic if it is isotropic in every point.

The symmetries of quantum mechanics are investigated in the

mathematical framework of Hilbert spaces and representations of

discrete and continuous groups. A Hilbert space is nothing more

than a complete linear space with a scalar product. In quantum

mechanics, the states of particles are described by wave functions.

Therefore the function spaces play a major role for the application

in physics. The linear operators on Hilbert spaces are of interest in

physics because they describe changes of the Hilbert spaces, i.e. in

terms of physics, the changing states of the quantum systems.

The operators are an important mathematical technique for the

study of the symmetry characteristics of vector spaces. Symmetries

in vector spaces are described by group transformations of the vec-

tors (e.g. rotations, translations). In the vector space V , let us deﬁne

a group of transformations G which transform the vectors from V

into corresponding vectors from V . Let us also consider the func-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Mathematics 83

tional space F(V ) with functions f, which are dependent only on

the vectors x from V . In terms of physics, V can be visualized as

the 3-dimensional coordinate space of a body, by means of which

determined symmetry operations such as rotations around the origin

can be executed. The functional value f(x) can be imagined, for

example, as the temperature of a body at the position x.

The question arises what temperatures the body has after the ro-

tation. In response, we can say that a symmetry operation G in the

vector space induces a transformation T(G) of the temperature func-

tion. In quantum mechanics, the functional space will be a Hilbert

space with corresponding wave or state functions. The question then

arises, what operators on the states of the quantum system are in-

duced by symmetries of the coordinate systems.

The deﬁnition of the linear operators by their matrices, i.e. the

representation of groups by matrices is physically very important

[2.20]. For example, to be able to use the symmetry of an abstract

group in physics, the elements of the group must be quantiﬁed. That

is what the matrices do. We cannot only investigate representations

of symmetries in 3-dimensional spaces of classical physics, but also

in functional spaces, which are a key concept in quantum mechanics.

For (ﬁnite) groups, it can be demonstrated that all possible repre-

sentations can be constructed of a ﬁnite number of representations

that cannot be further reduced. Therefore, it is always suﬃcient to

study these irreducible representations of a group.

2.2 Symmetry Breaking and Bifurcation Theory

The symmetry of dynamical systems is mathematically analyzed in

the theory of diﬀerential equations. The reason is that the dynamics

of a system, that is, the change of its states depending on time,

is mathematically described by diﬀerential equations. They allow

to compute the ﬁnal states of a dynamical system as solutions of

equations. In the following chapters, we shall see that the state of

a system is a very universal concept which does not only refer to

moving states of, for example, atoms or molecules in physical or

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84 Symmetry and Complexity

chemical systems, but to states of, for example, cells in organisms or

products in a market system, too. Thus, problems of symmetry and

symmetry breaking in these areas are reduced to the symmetry of

diﬀerential equations, that is, their invariance with respect to certain

groups of transformations.

A 1-dimensional system is described by a diﬀerential equation

of the form dx/dt = f(x) with state x and time t. In diﬀerential

calculus, dx/dt is the rate of change of x with respect to time t. We

study linear and nonlinear equations of this form that are symmetric

Fig. 22a. Harmonic oscillator

Fig. 22b. Linearity of Hooke’s law

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Symmetry and Complexity in Mathematics 85

Fig. 22c. Potential energy

with respect to certain transformations. But the symmetry can be

broken by actually realized solutions.

A simple example is a harmonic oscillator (Fig. 22a) with a mass attached to a

spring resting on a table [2.21]. If the spring is neither stretched nor compressed,

the mass will rest a steady-state position x = 0. If the spring is compressed with

x < 0 or stretched with x > 0, there will be a force tending to increase or to

decrease the elongation x of the mass. According to Hooke’s law the force f is

proportional to the position x with a certain spring constant α that is, f(x) =

−αx. The minus sign results from the fact that the elastic force tends to bring

the particle back to its equilibrium position. Hooke’s law is a linear relationship

between force and position, represented by a linear equation (Fig. 22b). The

potential energy of a mass on a spring is U(x) = 1/2αx

2

(Fig. 22c). In general,

the potential energy is a function with the property dU(x)/dx = −f(x), that is,

the negative expression of its rate of change is the force.

We consider an equation of motion, that is, the rate of change of

position x of a particle under the action of a force, which has the

form of a linear diﬀerential equation dx/dt = −αx. Obviously, this

equation remains unchanged with resepect to the inversion x →−x,

that is, the linear system is symmetric with respect to inversion. The

potential energy (Fig. 22c) remains also invariant under this trans-

formation U(x) → U(−x) = U(x). Its symmetric curve illustrates

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86 Symmetry and Complexity

the full stability of the system. If the particle is displaced, its poten-

tial energy is brought to a certain point on the curve like a ball on

the slope of a hill. In any case of displacement, the ball will fall back

down the slope and, taking friction into account, come to rest at the

bottom of the hill, the stable equilibrium point x = 0 of the system

with dx/dt = 0. The situation changes for nonlinear 1-dimensional

diﬀerential equations of the form dx/dt = f(x, α), depending on a

changing control parameter α. In this case we can study the symme-

try of equations, but also symmetry breaking by unstable equilibrium

points.

An example is the anharmonic oscillator [2.22] which contains a cubic term

besides a linear term in its equation of motion dx/dt = −αx − x

3

. The cubic

term can be interpreted as a perturbation of the oscillator. For a changing control

parameter with α < 0 and α > 0, we get diﬀerent curves of potential energy

(Fig. 23a–b). The equilibrium points are determined by dx/dt = 0. Under

this condition, mathematical solutions of the equation can easily be found: We

get only one solution x = 0 in the case of α > 0, but three solutions x = 0,

x

1

= −

√

|α|, and x

2

= +

√

|a| in the case of α < 0. If the values of potential

energy in Fig. 23a–b are interpreted as positions of a ball on the slope on a hill,

then the ball rests in a stable position at x = 0 for α > 0 and for α < 0 at x

1

and

x

2

, but in an unstable position at x = 0 for α < 0, where it can roll down the hill

after tiny elongations.

Fig. 23a. Potential energy of anharmonic oscillator

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Symmetry and Complexity in Mathematics 87

Fig. 23b. Potential energy of anharmonic oscillator

Fig. 23c. Bifurcation scheme of anharmonic oscillator

Again, the diﬀerential equation and the potential energy are sym-

metric with respect to inversion x →−x. But the symmetry is bro-

ken by actually realized solutions with changing control parameter.

If the control parameter is gradually changed from positive to neg-

ative values, then the stable equilibrium position x = 0 becomes

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88 Symmetry and Complexity

unstable at α = 0 and two new stable equilibrium points emerge.

The development can be illustrated by the changing potential curve

in Fig. 23a–b. If it is deformed from α > 0 to α < 0, it becomes

ﬂatter and ﬂatter in the neighborhood of x = 0. Consequently, the

ball rolls down the curve more and more slowly. At α = 0 two new

symmetric valleys with stable equilibrium positions at the bottom

emerge. The ball at x = 0 breaks the symmetry spontaneously and

rolls down into one of them. In an actual system the potential energy

settles into one of them in stable equilibrium.

In Fig. 23c symmetry breaking is illustrated by a bifurcation

scheme. The equilibrium coordinate x

e

is deﬁned as a function

of α. For α > 0, it is x

e

= 0, but for α < 0, x

e

= 0 be-

comes unstable (dashed line) and is replaced by two stable positions

which are plotted by a solid fork. Thus, bifurcation mathematically

only means the emergence of new solutions of equations at critical

values.

Actually, bifurcation and symmetry breaking is a purely math-

ematical consequence of the theory of nonlinear diﬀerential equa-

tions. But, bifurcations of ﬁnal states as solutions of diﬀerential

equations correspond to qualitative changes of dynamical systems

and the emergence of new phenomena in nature and society that will

be studied in the following chapters. The most important case of

1-dimensional nonlinear systems is the situation, when besides a sta-

ble point after changing control parameter a new couple of a stable

and an unstable point emerge.

The possibilities of ﬁnal states is enlarged by 2-dimensional sys-

tems which are represented by 2-dimensional diﬀerential equations of

the form dx/dt = f(x, y, α) and dy/dt = g(x, y, α). In this case, there

are not only points on the x-axis as ﬁnal stable or unstable states,

but also points and closed curves (“limit cycles”) on the x–y plane.

In dynamical systems, closed curves can be interpreted as periodic

time-depending behavior. Thus, these equations are mathematical

models for a large class of rhythms or oscillating systems like clocks

and watches, but also oscillating electronic systems in technology,

biological or even economic and social oscillations.

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Symmetry and Complexity in Mathematics 89

An example is the anharmonic oscillator with a rotational symmetric potential

energy [2.23]: The potential curve U(x) is rotated around the U-axis (Fig. 24a)

with two equations of motion for polar coordinates r (radius) and ϕ (angle of

rotation): dr/dt = f(r, α) is the nonlinear equation of the anharmonic oscillator

and dϕ/dt = ω the equation of constant angular velocity of rotation. We can

also use orthogonal coordinates x = r cos ϕ and y = r sin ϕ which span up a

2-dimensional x–y plane (Fig. 24b). The path of a ball along the valley is a circle.

If the ball starts to roll down at the unstable center x = y = 0, it spirals away

to the circle. Again, we observe symmetry breaking if the control parameter is

changed from α > 0 to α < 0. Since the ball also ends up in this cycle, if it starts

from the outer side, the limit cycle is stable.

In Fig. 24c the symmetry breaking of a limit cycle is illustrated

by a bifurcation scheme. The equilibrium coordinates x

e

and y

e

are deﬁned as functions of control parameter α. For α > 0, it is

x

e

= y

e

=0, but for α < 0, x

e

= y

e

= 0 becomes unstable (dashed

line) and is replaced by the stable limit cycle which is plotted by a ro-

tated fork. This new form of bifurcation is called a Hopf-bifurcation.

Limit cycles need not be circles, but can be other closed curves. In

dynamical systems they describe a periodic time-depending behav-

ior as ﬁnal stable state. In 1- and 2-dimensional dynamical systems,

stationary points and limit cycles are the only possible stable ﬁ-

nal states. Their bifurcation behavior were already discovered by

Poincar´e (1885), and further analyzed by the American and German

mathematicians G. Birkhoﬀ and E. Hopf (1942) [2.24].

Fig. 24a. Rotational symmetry of potential energy

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90 Symmetry and Complexity

Fig. 24b. Symmetry breaking of a limit cycle

bifurcation point

fixed point attractor

limit cycle

Fig. 24c. Symmetry breaking of a limit cycle (bifurcation scheme)

The possibilities of ﬁnal states are dramatically enlarged and

changed for systems with more than two dimensions. A 3-

dimensional system can be represented by 3-dimensional diﬀerential

equations of the form dx/dt = f(x, y, z, α), dy/dt = g(x, y, z, α), and

dz/dt = h(x, y, z, α). In this case, stationary points, limit cycles,

quasi-periodic oscillations and the famous chaos emerge as possible

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Symmetry and Complexity in Mathematics 91

solutions. How is their bifurcation behavior? Poincar´e suggested

to reduce the complexity of a 3-dimensional state space to the well-

known dynamics in a 2-dimensional state space. His genius idea

reminds us of Plato’s famous cave-allegory. According to Plato, hu-

man beings recognizing the real world are like prisoners in a cave who

try to reconstruct the 3-dimensional real shape of objects outside the

cave from their 2-dimensional shadows on a wall inside the cave. Ac-

tually, Poincar´e introduced a 2-dimensional plane (Poincar´e map)

intersecting the orbits in the 3-dimensional state space transversally.

These curves (trajectories) represent the time-depending develop-

ments of states in the 3-dimensional system. We analyze their in-

tersecting points on the Poincar´e map (Fig. 25). Their sequential

positions P

0

= (x

0

, y

0

), P

1

= (x

1

, y

1

), P

2

= (x

2

, y

2

), . . . with two

coordinates x

n

and y

n

(n = 0, 1, 2, . . .) on the Poincar´e map describe

discrete time dynamics which deliver suﬃcient information about the

continuous dynamics in the 3-dimensional state space. As the inter-

val of time between the sequential positions on the Poincar´e map

are ﬁnite, the discrete time dynamics deﬁne a sequence of recurrence

in the 3-dimensional system. Mathematically, it can be represented

by 2-dimensional ﬁnite diﬀerence equations x

n+1

= f(x

n

, y

n

) and

y

n+1

= g(x

n

, y

n

).

At ﬁrst, we study oscillations of limit cycles in a 3-dimensional

space on a 2-dimensional Poincar´e map [2.25]. If the points P

0

, P

1

,

P

2

, . . . converge to a ﬁxed point P on the Poincar´e map, then the cor-

Fig. 25a. Poincar´e map and limit cycle

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92 Symmetry and Complexity

Fig. 25b. Poincar´e map and spiral

Fig. 25c. Poincar´e map and torus

responding 3-dimensional dynamics lead to a limit cycle (Fig. 25a).

The existence of a ﬁxed point P is proved by the fact that the ﬁ-

nite diﬀerence equations have a simultaneous solution x

n+1

= x

n

,

y

n+1

= y

n

resp. x

n

= f(x

n

, y

n

), y

n

= g(x

n

, y

n

). In general, we

can consider the case that x

n+1

, x

n+2

, . . . are diﬀerent to x

n

and

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Symmetry and Complexity in Mathematics 93

y

n+1

, y

n+2

, . . . resp. to y

n

until an iteration k with x

n+k

= x

n

and

y

n+k

= y

n

is reached. An iteration k is called a cycle of order k.

Obviously, Fig. 25a shows a cycle of order one with one ﬁxed point.

Fig. 25b is a cycle of order two corresponding to the three-dynamical

dynamics of a spiral with two cycles. Another case is Fig. 25c where

the points P

0

, P

1

, P

2

, . . . converge to a closed curve C on the Poincar´e

map. The corresponding trajectories of the 3-dimensional dynamics

spiral on the 2-dimensional surface of a torus.

An example of chaotic 3-dimensional dynamics is given by the

three diﬀerential equations dx/dt = −y − z, dy/dt = x + ay, and

dz/dt = bx − cz + xz with positive constants a, b, c and only a

quadratic nonlinearity. These equations have two ﬁxed points P

0

with x

0

= y

0

= z

0

= 0 and P

1

with x

1

= c − ab, y

1

= b − c/a,

and z

1

= c/a − b. In the neighborhood of P

0

we observe unstable

chaotic behavior of the trajectories. They seem to be sometimes at-

tracted and sometimes repelled by P

0

, although they are caught in

a bounded region of P

0

. The orbits round about P

0

are completely

non-periodic without recurrence of any pattern. Further on, the tra-

jectories depend sensitively on initial states. Only tiny changes of

them lead to completely diﬀerent developments of trajectories af-

ter a few steps. Fig. 26a shows the 3-dimensional R¨ ossler attrac-

tor of chaos for numerical integration with a = 0.32, b = 0.3, and

c = 4.5.

The 3-dimensional chaotic behavior can also be studied on a 2-

dimensional Poincar´e map intersecting the state space in Fig. 26a

with coordinates, for example, y = 0, x < 0, z < 1 [2.26]. In

a further reduction we can consider the position of the n + 1-th

intersecting point on the Poincar´e map as function of the preceding

position of the n-th intersecting point, that is a discrete iteration

equation x

n+1

= f(x

n

). In the case of the R¨ossler attractor, we get

a bell-like curve of sequential cutting points. But they are not given

by an ordered sequence of points, but randomly and statistically

distributed (Fig. 26b).

The discrete iteration equation of the R¨ossler attractor is similar

to the function x

n+1

= f(x

n

, α) = 1 − αx

2

n

. It generates an inﬁnite

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94 Symmetry and Complexity

Fig. 26a. Chaotic R¨ossler attractor

Fig. 26b. Poincar´e map and R¨ossler attractor

sequence of bifurcations which happen at well-deﬁned critical values

α

1

< α

2

< · · · < α

n

< · · · leading to cycles of higher order. Their

periods double at each new bifurcation (Fig. 27). The critical values

concentrate at a certain value α

∞

. Beyond α

∞

, orbits with inﬁnite

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Symmetry and Complexity in Mathematics 95

Fig. 27. Cascade of symmetry breaking: Periodic doubling bifurcations

periods emerge with chaotic non-periodic behavior. The discrete

dynamics of period doubling bifurcations ends in a chaotic scenario.

It is governed by a law of constancy, because the critical values α

n

converge to α

∞

with a constant ratio, the so-called Feigenbaum-

constant δ ≈ 4.669. The period doubling cascade is numerically

calculated in the following table. It can easily be done by a pocket-

computer and is a ﬁrst example of experimental mathematics:

n (period of

orbit = 2

n

)

bifurcation

point

α

n

−α

n−1

δ =

α

n

−α

n−1

α

n+1

−α

n

0 0.75

1 1.25 0.5 4.233738275

2 1.3680989394 0.1180989394 4.551506949

3 1.3940461566 0.0259472172 4.645807493

4 1.3996312384 0.0055850823 4.663938185

5 1.4008287424 0.0011975035 4.668103672

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

∞ 1.4011552 4.669

(unperiodic behavior)

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96 Symmetry and Complexity

The tree of periodic doubling bifurcations in Fig. 27 is also a

cascade of symmetry breaking [2.27]. If the control parameter α

is gradually changed, then the locally stable equilibrium states be-

come unstable and new locally stable equilibrium states emerge. The

tree bifurcates into sequential forks with increasing complexity rep-

resenting the whole scenario of possible developments of a dynamical

system. The symmetry is broken by actually realized solutions with

changing control parameter. Thus, the complex tree of sequential

bifurcations illustrates the possible developments of a dynamical sys-

tem, but the path of actually realized branches represents the factual

history of the system.

Locally stable states are not only points in a state space, but

also periodic patterns of behavior on limit cycles (e.g. Fig. 24c and

25a–b), quasi-periodic patterns of behavior on a torus (e.g. Fig. 25c),

or chaotic patterns (e.g. Fig. 26a–b). A cascade of bifurcations and

symmetry breaking can lead to these types of locally stable states.

An example is the Navier–Stokes equation of ﬂuid dynamics. One

way to stir water in a glass is with a cylindrical rod, the rotation

of which is driven by a machine with increasing velocity. The speed

of rotation is the control parameter of the equations. When it is

increased, one can observe ﬂuid patterns with increasing complexity

from a homogeneous ﬂuid mass at rest, in uniform rotation, and with

wavy cells up to mild and chaotic turbulence.

A ﬁrst mathematical model for the state of the ﬂuid is a velocity

vectorﬁeld in the ﬂuid domain. At each point in this domain is drawn

a vector representing the velocity of the particle of the ﬂuid. The

instantaneous state of a whole vectorﬁeld can be regarded as a point

of a state space. An orbit in the state space represents the temporal

development of a state. In Fig. 28, the state space is shown as a

vertical plane. The third dimension represents the control parameter,

i.e. the speed of rotation. The composite space of the state space and

the control parameter is called the bifurcation space of a dynamical

system illustrating the whole complex dynamics.

In Fig. 28, the ﬂuid at rest is represented by a point at the origin

of the bifurcation space. The next step is the ﬂuid mass in uniform

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Symmetry and Complexity in Mathematics 97

Fig. 28. Thom’s superspace (“Big Picture”) of bifurcation and symmetry break-

ing [2.29]

rotation. In the third step, we observe a moderate increase in the

rate of stirring. The ﬂuid motion has separated into a stack of ring-

shaped cells. In spite of the increasingly complex ﬂuid motion, the

vectorﬁeld is still stationary. It is a point attractor of the correspond-

ing state space. In the next step the cells’ boundaries have developed

waves, and the wavy cells are slowly rotating around the central axis.

The wavy vortex phenomenon is represented by a velocity vectorﬁeld

in the ﬂuid domain. The pattern repeats every few seconds. The pe-

riodic change in the ﬂuid velocity vectorﬁeld indicates a periodic

limit cycle in the corresponding state space. In the bifurcation space

the periodic attractor emerge after a Hopf-bifurcation. In the fol-

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98 Symmetry and Complexity

lowing step we observe mild turbulence. The complete rings are still

wavy vortices, but they wave irregularly. The corresponding velocity

vectorﬁeld is rather complex and never returns to an exact copy of

an earlier state. The wandering of the state point within the state

space ﬁlls out with a thickened torus or some other chaotic attrac-

tor. The last step shows fully developed turbulence. The dynami-

cal system has suﬀered further bifurcations, from one type of chaos

to another.

Depending on their control parameter the equations of dynam-

ical systems can have diﬀerent state spaces with diﬀerent patterns

of behavior, from point attractors, periodic limit cycles and quasi-

periodic tori up to chaotic attractors. The state of a system is a

point wandering along the orbits in a state space. Is there a univer-

sal superspace to represent all kinds of state spaces and dynamical

systems? In 1972, the French mathematician R. Thom introduced

a bigger picture of bifurcation theory in a further step of abstrac-

tion [2.28]. In Thom’s Big Picture, every kind of attractor in a state

space at a certain value of the control parameter is represented by

a single point. In Fig. 28, these steps of modeling abstraction are

illustrated. On the basis, there are the velocity vectorﬁelds of the

observed ﬂuid patterns. In a second step, we get the corresponding

attractors in state spaces depending on increasing values of the con-

trol parameter. In a third step, the dynamics in the bifurcation space

is transformed into Thom’s superspace. Each and every value of the

control parameter speciﬁes a copy of the state space having its own

superdynamics. Each of these superdynamics becomes a single point

in the superspace, generating an orbit with increasing control param-

eter. The starting superdynamics determines a point corresponding

to the lower endpoint of this curve, further superdynamics determine

sequential points on the curve up to the ﬁnal superdynamics with a

point corresponding to the upper endpoint of this curve. The bifur-

cation points correspond to intermediate points in the curve, shown

at the intersection of the curve and a surface. There are inﬁnitely

many of these sheets that accumulate in the end with increasing

complexity.

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Symmetry and Complexity in Mathematics 99

The sheets of the superspace are parts of the so-called bad set. In

1937, the Russian mathematician A. Andronov proved that the bad

set consists of dynamical systems that are not structurally stable. A

vectorﬁeld is called structurally stable if suﬃciently small perturba-

tions of it stretches or slides the state space only a small amount.

Thom’s Big Picture analyzes the structure of the bad set within the

superspace. It represents all kinds of unstable situations leading to

bifurcations and symmetry breaking with new locally stable states

of equilibria. In the following chapters, we will recognize that lo-

cally stable states of equilibria are connected with the emergence of

new phenomena in nature and society. Thus, Thom’s superspace is

a universal abstract model for all kinds of evolutionary processes in

nature and society. According to Plato, there are eternal, invariant

and stable mathematical structures (Plato’s ideas) behind the insta-

bility, change and dynamics of phenomena we observe in the world.

Thom’s book “Structural Stability and Morphogenesis” (1975) seems

to be in the Platonic tradition.

2.3 Complexity, Nonlinearity and Fractals

Bifurcation trees of nonlinear dynamics leading to chaos attractors

have nevertheless a remarkable property of symmetry: They are self-

similar. Self-similarity deﬁnes the geometry of structures in which a

small part when expanded looks like the whole. If one cuts a limb

oﬀ a tree, the resulting object will resemble the tree itself in minia-

ture. If one cuts a branch oﬀ this limb, the shape of the resulting

object will again be similar to the limb and to the entire tree. Con-

trary to mathematical trees with inﬁnite bifurcations, self-similarity

in natural objects cannot be observed for arbitrary miniaturization.

But many objects in nature are self-similar with a limited scale. Ex-

amples are the branching system of the bronchi in the lungs or the

networks of streams that ﬂow into rivers.

Self-similarity is not limited to objects with treelike geometry.

Some types of clouds are also self-similar. In reality, it is worthwhile

to consider self-similarity at least in a statistical sense. In this case,

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100 Symmetry and Complexity

a structure is self-similar if its parts, on average, are similar to the

whole. The shore of an ocean, for instance, has inlets or bays, which

often contain similar inlets or bays of smaller size themselves, and so

on. Thus, Mandelbrot asked the famous question: “How long is the

coastline of Great Britain?” [2.30] If one follows up all sections with

smallest length of scaling, its length seems to become inﬁnite. This

example reminded him of geometrical ﬁgures which were analyzed by

the Swedish mathematician H. von Koch in the beginning of the last

century. Koch’s snowﬂake (Fig. 29a) is an exact self-similar shape

that consists of four copies of itself, each of which is one-third the

size of the whole set. In sequential generations each copy is divided

into three parts, and the construction of the equilateral triangle is

recursively iterated. The recursion corresponds geometrically to the

self-similarity of the pattern that arises with arbitrary scaling. The

length of the emerging ﬁgure increases with 3 · 4/3 · 4/3 · 4/3 · . . . ad

inﬁnitum.

With analogue recursive procedures, we can construct the Hilbert

and Sierpinski curves which ﬁll out a plane with self-similar pat-

Fig. 29a. Recursive program of Koch curve

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Symmetry and Complexity in Mathematics 101

Fig. 29b. Recursive program of Cantor set

terns in iterated steps of increasing density. They seem to be more

than lines with dimension one, but less than planes with dimension

two. Their dimension is a “fraction” between the integers one and

two. The fractal dimension can be illustrated by the geometrical di-

mension D of similarity. For Euclidean objects of dimension D, the

length, area or volume of an object with edge length ε is proportional

to ε

D

. For example, a square with edge length ε has the area ε

2

, a

cube has the volume ε

3

. For self-similar objects, one way to measure

the length, area or volume of an object is to count the number of

self-similar copies. If there are N copies each with an edge length ε,

then the length, area or volume of the object is related to its dimen-

sion: N is proportional to ε

D

. Thus, one gets D ∝ log N/ log ε. For

Koch’s curve, the number of self-similar copies is N = 4 and the edge

length is ε = 3. Therefore, Koch’s curve has a fractal dimension of

D = log 4/ log 3 ≈ 1.26, which diﬀers from its topological dimension

1. Another example is the Cantor set (Fig. 29b). It consists of two

copies of itself, and the length of each copy is one third the length

of the whole set, separated by an empty region whose length is also

one third that of the whole set. Again, sets are generated in sequen-

tial steps with increasing recursion depth. The Cantor set seems to

dissolve into a dust of points. Although its topological dimension is

zero, it has the fractal dimension D = log 2/ log 3 ≈ 0.63.

Self-similar mathematical objects consist exclusively of smaller

copies of themselves. Our procedure to calculate the dimension of

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102 Symmetry and Complexity

a fractal object is only useful if we know the number N of self-

similar copies and the size ε of the original relative to each copy. For

practical applications (e.g. a map or picture of a fractal object or real

objects of the 3-dimensional world) we need a procedure to estimate

the fractal dimension. The following procedure is directly motivated

by the deﬁnition of fractal dimension: In a ﬁrst step all points in the

object are covered with N(ε

0

) squares or cubes of edge length ε

0

.

This step is repeated with squares or cubes of edge length ε

1

= ε

0

/2,

then with ε

2

= ε

1

/2, and so on. By doing this, we get a function N(ε)

sampled at the values ε = ε

0

, ε

1

, . . . . In theory, the dimension D is

deﬁned by lim

ε→0

N(ε) = k · ε

−D

with a constant k. In practice, D

can be estimated as D ≈ (log(N(ε

i+1

)/N(ε

i

)))/(log(ε

i

/ε

i+1

)). But,

of course, it is inappropriate to make the squares or cubes smaller

than the cells or particles that are considered as building blocks of

the object.

Fractals are constructed in a recursive process of iteration. In

order to follow their iterated steps of construction on a plane rather

than on a line, Mandelbrot looked at complex numbers instead of

real numbers. Complex numbers z = x +iy consist of an imaginary

number i and real numbers x and y. According to Gauss, they can

be represented as points on a plane which is deﬁned by a cartesian

coordinate system with the real part Re(z) = x as x-axis and the

imaginary part Im(z) = y as y-axis. Recursive equations z

n+1

=

f(z

n

) correspond to iteration processes z

0

→ z

1

→ z

2

→ · · · of

sequences of points on the Gauss plane. An example is the functon

z

n+1

= z

2

n

+ c with a complex constant c, which is named in honor

of Mandelbrot. For c = 0 the number is squared at each iteration,

generating the sequence of points z

0

→ z

2

0

→ z

4

0

→ · · · . There are

three possibilities for the sequence, depending on z

0

: In the ﬁrst

case, the numbers become smaller and smaller, and their sequence

approaches zero. Zero is a ﬁxed point and is called attractor of

the point sequence. All points less than a distance of 1 from this

attractor are drawn into it. They are in the basin A(0) of attractor

0. In the second case, the numbers become larger and larger, tending

to inﬁnity. Inﬁnity is the attractor for this process. All points further

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Symmetry and Complexity in Mathematics 103

than a distance of 1 from zero are drawn into it. They are in the basin

A(∞) of attractor ∞. In the third case, the points are at a distance

of 1 from zero and stay there. Their sequence lies on the boundary

between the two basins of attraction A(0) and A(∞), which, in this

case, is the unit circle around zero.

For c = 0, say c = −0.12375 + 0.56508i, the sequence z

0

→

z

1

→ z

2

→ · · · has the choice between these three possibilities,

again. But the inner attractor is no longer zero. The boundary

is no longer smooth, but resembles a fractal closed coast line of an

island (Fig. 30a). Inﬁnity is a distinguished attractor for all c of

the Mandelbrot function. The boundary of the basin A(∞) of at-

tractor ∞ for c is called a Julia set J

c

. The self-similarity of these

sets was already known to the French mathematicians G. Julia and

P. Fatou who studied them at the end of the First World War [2.32].

Julia sets depend on the choice of the complex number c. For, say

c = −0.12 +0.74i, the Julia set is no longer a single, deformed circle

but consists of an inﬁnite number of deformed circles in a connected

set (Fig. 30b). The interior of this Julia set is not attracted by

one ﬁxed point like in the former case (Fig. 30a), but by a cycle of

period 3.

Fig. 30a. Basin of an attractive ﬁxed point

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104 Symmetry and Complexity

Fig. 30b. Basin of an attractive cycle of period 3 [2.32]

Fig. 30c. Mandelbrot set

With his Mandelbrot set, Mandelbrot found a principle to de-

cide which kind of Julia set a choice of c implies. The Mandelbrot

set M contains all points c of the complex Gauss plane whose se-

quences of points, according to the corresponding Mandelbrot func-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Mathematics 105

tion, do not only converge to inﬁnity. Consequently, it follows 0 ∈ M

(0 is element of M), because for c = 0 sequences of points with

|z

n

| < 1 converge to the attractor 0, but it is 1 / ∈ M (1 is not

element of M), because for c = 1 all sequences of points con-

verge to the attractor ∞. For example, 0 ∈ A(∞) because of

0 → 1 → 2 → 5 → 26 → 677 → · · · . In Fig. 30c, all points

of the Mandelbrot set in the window −2.25 < Re(c) < 0.75 and

−1.5 < Im(c) < 1.5 of the Gauss plane are colored black. Intu-

itively, one recognizes that the buds on the fractal boundary repeat

the shape of the Mandelbrot set with self-similarity and arbitrary

miniaturization. The Julia sets J

c

of the Mandelbrot set M can have

extremely fractal structures, especially if c is in the interior of a bud

or a germination point of a bud or any other boundary point of a bud.

They were studied in computer experiments revealing the fascinating

beauty of fractal geometry (Chapter 8.2). In 1982, A. Douady and

J.H. Hubbard proved that all Julia sets of the Mandelbrot set are

connected [2.33]. A Julia set J

c

as boundary of the basin A(∞) is

connected, if not all sequences of points, according to the Mandelbrot

function with c, converge to inﬁnity, that is 0 / ∈ A(∞). Thus, the

Mandelbrot set can also be deﬁned as the set of all complex numbers

c the Julia sets J

c

of which are connected. The other Julia sets are

Cantor sets and dissolve into dust of points.

Fractals have great importance for bifurcation and chaos theory.

Obviously, the period doubling bifurcation tree of nonlinear dynamics

leading to a chaos attractor has a self-similar structure (Fig. 27). It

can even be related to the Julia sets of the Mandelbrot set. As the

period doubling bifurcation tree takes place on the real axis, the

elements c of the Mandelbrot set are varied now as real parameter.

Imagine a path in the c-plane which begins in M and terminates

outside of M. When c crosses the boundary of M, it will decompose

into tiny buds with more miniaturized buds on their boundaries, and

so forth. The associated Julia sets seem to explode into a cloud of

inﬁnitely many points. Obviously, the budding of the Mandelbrot

set corresponds to the bifurcations of the periodic doubling scenario

in nonlinear dynamics.

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106 Symmetry and Complexity

Philosophically, fractal geometry opens new avenues to under-

stand our world. The real world is not built up by idealized Euclidean

forms and bodies like, for example, perfect spheres, cubes or cones.

Mandelbrot had the great vision that, at least in a statistical sense

and with limited depth, fractality is characteristic for many observed

phenomena of reality. Nevertheless, he defends a platonic view of

the world, because symmetry in the sense of self-similarity is hidden

behind the sometimes bizarre and fractal silhouette of its phenomena.

In mathematics, fractal geometry delivers new methods to analyze

attractors of nonlinear dynamics. If an attractor is a ﬁxed point, the

fractal dimension is zero. For a stable limit cycle the fractal dimen-

sion is one. But for many nonperiodic (“strange”) attractors we get

a fractal dimension. In this case, the dynamics of a system converge

neither to a ﬁxed point nor to a closed curve but to a bounded re-

gion of a state space that is ﬁlled up by irregular and nonperiodic

trajectories with self-similarity. On Poincar´e maps, there are clouds

of points reminding the observer of the Cantor set. The principles of

fractal geometry were proven by analytic and axiomatic mathemati-

cal methods. But the complexity of fractals could only be discovered

by computer-assisted visualization, due to the increasing capacities

of modern computers.

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Chapter 3

Symmetry and Complexity in

Physical Sciences

The symmetries of the laws and theories of physics and of the nat-

ural sciences in general became clear only after the application of

group theory methods in the 19th and 20th centuries. In particular,

F. Klein’s “Erlanger Program”, according to which the objective va-

lidity of geometric laws is deﬁned by their invariance under certain

groups of transformations, turned out to be the key concept for the

mathematical explanation of the objectivity and invariance of the

laws and theories of physics. Lie’s continuous groups became a valu-

able resource for classical physics. In classical mechanics, invariance

under groups of transformations leads to important consequences.

If the Lagrange equations of a physical problem are invariant with

respect to an n-parameter symmetry group in the Lie sense, the

n conservation quantities can be indicated explicitly. Conservation

theorems of physical quantities, which have a long tradition in the

philosophy of nature, as in the case of the conversation of mass,

can now be traced to space-time symmetries. These general rela-

tionships between symmetry groups and conservation quantities are

later found in an analogous fashion in the theory of relativity and

quantum mechanics.

Important characteristics of the modern concept of symmetry

were already clear in Maxwell’s electrodynamics: a uniﬁed theory

explained diﬀerent physical phenomena which had been considered

completely unrelated as recently as in the late 18th century, e.g. elec-

trostatic charge, the eﬀect of a magnet on a compass needle and

107

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108 Symmetry and Complexity

the light from a candle. But in terms of group theory, electrody-

namics does not have the space-time symmetry of classical mechan-

ics (“Galilean invariance”), but what is termed Lorentz invariance.

Since Einstein’s theory of special relativity, Lorentz invariance also

determines the space-time symmetry of relativistically corrected me-

chanics. This is a global symmetry, since the Lorentz transformations

modify all space-time coordinates in the same manner. The occur-

rence of electromagnetic interactions of moving charges had already

been explained in electrodynamics by means of a novel symmetry

designated gauge invariance. This is an example of a local symme-

try, which takes into account local changes of the electrical ﬁeld and

the resulting magnetic ﬁelds. The gravitational ﬁelds of Einstein’s

general relativity theory are also described by the transfer from the

global symmetry of the special relativity theory to local Lorentz in-

variance. In relativistic cosmology, the diﬀerential-geometric theory

of symmetrical spaces is applied, which Cartan had developed from

the theory of spaces with constant curvature according to Gauss,

Riemann, Lie, Helmholtz et al. The Platonic belief in a cosmos sym-

metrical on a large scale becomes clear once again, although it no

longer employs the image of the ancient harmony of the spheres.

In addition to the theory of relativity, quantum mechanics is the

framework of modern physics. The symmetry of the Hilbert space

formalism of (J. von Neumann) quantum mechanics was investigated

by Wigner, Weyl and others, in the late 1920s, and a relationship was

established with the unitary transformations of Hilbert space. In con-

trast to classical and relativistic physics, measurable quantities (“ob-

servables”) occur which are not interchangeable (“commutative”) in

terms of group theory, i.e. there is a diﬀerence in the measurements,

depending on the sequence in which they are measured. The uniﬁca-

tion of special relativity theory and quantum mechanics started with

Dirac’s relativistic quantum mechanics wave equation for the electron

in 1928, and is currently being investigated in quantum electrody-

namics. The electromagnetic interaction of quantum electrodynam-

ics is also based on a local gauge invariance (U(1) symmetry), as

are the strong interactions which occur, for example, between the

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Symmetry and Complexity in Physical Sciences 109

atomic nuclear particles protons and neutron (which are examples of

“hadrons”), and which are investigated in quantum chromodynam-

ics (SU(3) symmetry). Overall, the transition from global to local

symmetries turns out to be a key concept to describe the occurrence

of fundamental forces of physics.

In addition to gravitational force, electromagnetic and strong in-

teractions, the fourth fundamental force is currently identiﬁed as

weak interaction. This force is well-known from radioactive β-decay

and once again brings up the problem of left-right symmetry (par-

ity) in nature. In 1967, Weinberg, Salam, Glashow, among others,

explained a uniﬁcation of electromagnetic and weak interaction with

local gauge invariance of SU(2) ×U(1) symmetry. Under conditions

that are correctly deﬁned by this uniﬁed theory, cases of symme-

try breaking occur and can be observed experimentally using the

resources of modern high-energy technology. For a uniﬁcation of

strong, weak and electromagnetic interaction, the SU(5) group is

the smallest single group which comprises the corresponding gauge

groups of these interactions. This theory predicts a tiny dilation

in which there is no fundamental diﬀerence between the elementary

particles of this interaction, but only one type of matter and only

one fundamental force. In the evolution of the cosmos, the SU(5)

symmetry would have existed for a fraction of the ﬁrst second af-

ter the Big Bang. The subsequent space-time evolution of matter

then consists of breaking of the basic symmetry and the occurrence

of sub-symmetries with diﬀerent particles and fundamental forces —

a cosmic kaleidoscope, the symmetries of which are a function of

spatial orders of magnitude and temporal development phases. The

goal of the superstring theory seems to be a modern version of the

Aristotelian “materia prima” with supersymmetry, in which all fun-

damental forces are indistinguishable. Do symmetry, transformation,

and invariance only illuminate the structure of our physical models

or do they represent real structures of the world?

In the framework of modern physics, the emergence of the struc-

tural variety in the universe from elementary particles to stars and

living organisms is modeled by phase transitions and symmetry

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110 Symmetry and Complexity

breaking of equilibrium states. In the present state of superstring

theories and M-theory, we do not have a complete theory explaining

the evolution of matter with its increasing complexity. The preso-

cratic wondering that “there is something and not nothing” is not

dissolved. But the theory of complex systems opens new insights

into the emergence of new structures by self-organization. From a

methodological point of view, the question arises, how can we detect

attractors of pattern formation in an immense variety of measured

data. Complex data mining and time series analysis are challenges

of the current theory of complex systems [3.1].

3.1 Symmetry in Physics

From the point of view of everyday perception, the symmetry of

space and time, i.e. their homogeneity and isotropy, is by no means

self-evident. While in Euclidean geometry, space is of the same con-

dition everywhere and in all directions, unchanging and unlimited,

our senses give us the impression of the inequality of directions, of

the changeability of points in space, and of the limited nature of per-

ceptions. While physics proceeds on the assumption of a time that is

constant and uniform, stress and fear can make minutes “seem like

an eternity,” and hours of happiness can pass “in a few seconds”.

The arbitrary capabilities of movement and action of the body as

a unit, and its ability to adopt any given orientation, promote the

opinion that we can execute these same movements everywhere and

in all directions, and that space can be imagined as having the same

properties, unlimited and inﬁnite, everywhere and in all directions.

If we continue to change our orientation, e.g. by rotation around the

vertical axis, these same changes of positions in space are repeated

over and over. Thereby, not only does the uniformity become clear,

but also the inexhaustibility, the unlimited repeatability and conti-

nuity of certain spatial perceptions become clear. For example, our

spatial perceptions of course gradually approximate geometric space,

but are unable to completely achieve it in this manner. Therefore, it

is necessary to deﬁne geometric ﬁgures such as lines, points, planes,

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Symmetry and Complexity in Physical Sciences 111

etc. as basic concepts of a geometric theory, for which the physio-

logical phenomena of points and surfaces etc. or corners, edges, sur-

faces etc. which can be technically produced are only approximated

realizations.

But the homogeneous and isotropic space in which we can move

bodies without restriction in all directions does not have any met-

ric. Only with the additional requirement that spatial dimensions,

i.e. lengths and angles, be measured with rigid measuring rods,

do we move from homogeneous sensory space to metric geometry.

In the next abstraction step, Euclidean geometry is transformed

into Cartesian geometry, in which geometric shapes such as points,

lines, etc. are designated by (real) numerical coordinates, ordered

sequences of numbers, equations, etc. Only now can we deﬁne the

symmetry group of (Euclidean) space R

3

. This is the 6-parameter

Euclidean group that consists of the 3-parameter translation group

and the 3-dimensional rotation group.

Time is experienced in the form of changing positions where bod-

ies or (idealized) mass points are located. The 1-dimensional quantity

of all space points through which a mass point passes is a geometric

path line. The process of the successive, point by point and con-

tinuous generation of a curve can be represented geometrically by

deﬁning the curve by a function x = x(θ) with a real, continuous

parameter θ ≥ 0, whereby the curve originates with the constant

increase of θ from a point of origin x = x(0). Since the selection of

the parameter is speciﬁed only with the exception of one-to-one and

continuous transformations, we can also speak of topological time.

It designates only the sequence of points of time without a metric. It

can be realized by any given continuous movement of a mass point.

In particular, therefore, a straight line can also be selected.

On the continuum of topological time, a metric is deﬁned by any

selected movement process, e.g. a standard clock. For that purpose,

it is speciﬁed that identical Euclidean segments (“Pythagoras”) on

the path of a mass point are traversed in equal intervals of time.

With regard to this metric time, we designate a movement uniform,

if the path traverses equal distances in equal intervals of time.

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112 Symmetry and Complexity

The symmetry of 1-dimensional Euclidean time T (= R) is de-

ﬁned by the one-parameter translation group. Events occur at a

given position at a given time, i.e. they can be represented as points

(x, t) with x ∈ R

3

and t ∈ T. In this case, the direct product can

also be written R

3

× T for the 4-dimensional space-time in which

the events occur. The symmetry of this space-time in which, in ad-

dition to spatial rotations and translations, there are only temporal

shifts, is naturally minimal. Mathematically, it is a question of a 7-

parameter group consisting of the 6-parameter Euclidean group (with

3-parameter rotation group and 3- parameter translation group) and

the one-parameter translation group of time. In this space-time, it is

correct to say of two events (x

1

, t

l

) and (x

2

, t

2

) that they are spatially

separate, even if they occur at diﬀerent times.

Physical events are related to space-time systems satisfying New-

ton’s law of inertia (“inertial systems”): mass points move uniformly

on straight lines if they are left to themselves, that is no force is

exerted on them. The laws of classical mechanics are invariant with

respect to the Galilean transformations of all inertial systems. In-

tuitively, the invariance or symmetry of laws means that they are

universally true, at any time and everywhere in the world if an appro-

priate inertial system as reference can be found. In general, physical

laws and theories can be characterized by transformation groups in

the sense of F. Klein’s “Erlanger Program” for geometrical theories.

In the case of classical mechanics, the Galileo group G

gal

consists of

the following transformations:

(1) The transition from an inertial systemΣ to a system Σ

shifted

in space around the vector a

i

is given by the transformation x

i

=

x

i

+a

i

and t

**= t. This space transformation is obviously a function of
**

three parameters, namely the components of the space-time constant

vector a

i

.

(2) The transition from a system Σ with the coordinates x

i

to a system Σ

**with a rotated coordinate system is given by the
**

transformation x

i

= a

ik

x

k

and t

**= t with orthogonal matrix
**

a

ik

a

lk

= δ

il

= a

ki

a

kl

and the Kronecker symbol δ

il

= 1, if i = l

and δ

il

= 0 otherwise. In vector notation, it is also abbreviated

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Symmetry and Complexity in Physical Sciences 113

r

**= Rr with the orthogonal rotation matrix R. The rotations
**

in 3-dimensional space are also a function of three independent

parameters.

(3) The transition from a system Σ to a system Σ

displaced by

the constant time interval b is given by the transformation t

= t +b

and x

i

= x

i

, which is a function of one parameter, the constant b.

(4) The transition from a system Σ to a system Σ

displaced in

relation to it at a constant velocity v

i

is given by the transformation

x

i

= x

i

+v

i

t. These transformations are a function of three parame-

ters, namely the space-time constant components v

i

of the vector of

the relative velocity of Σ compared to Σ

.

From transformations (1)–(4) we can also indicate the most general form

of a Galileo transformation, namely r

= Rr + vt + a and t

= t + b, which

is a function of a total of 3 + 3 + 1 + 3 = 10 parameters, namely 3 pa-

rameters for a, 3 parameters for R, 1 parameter for b and 3 parameters for

v. The Galileo transformations, with reference to the sequential execution of

transformations, form a continuous 10-parameter Lie group: Since the elements

are a function of a, R, b and v, we can also write the general group element

as σ = σ(a, R, b, v) = (a, R, b, v). The identity transformation is the iden-

tity element t = (0, 1, 0, 0) of the group. The group operation has the form

σ

• σ = (a

, R

, b

, v

)(a, R, b, v) = (a

+ R

a + bv

, R

R, b

+ b, v

+ R

v). Obvi-

ously, the sequential execution of two transformations from G

gal

again results in

a transformation from G

gal

. For each group element σ = σ(a, R, b, v) an inverse

element σ

−1

= −R

−2

(a − bv), R

−1

, −b, −R

−1

v) can be indicated, which satisﬁes

the requirement σ • σ

−1

= σ

−1

• σ = I.

Several interesting subgroups can now be identiﬁed in G

gal

[3.2].

Corresponding to the transformations (1)–(4) there are the following

subgroups: (1) the 3-parameter (Abelian) group G

T

of the space

translations, (2) the 3-parameter group G

D

of rotations in space, (3)

the 1-parameter (Abelian) group G

t

of the time translations, (4) the

3-parameter (Abelian) group G

0

of the pure Galileo transformations.

Additional examples of subgroups are the Euclidean group G

E

=

G

T

× G

D

, which all contain space translations and rotations, and

the subgroup U = G

t

× G

0

from the time translations and the pure

Galileo transformations. U is important from a group theory point

of view, since it is the maximum abelian invariant subgroup of G

gal

.

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114 Symmetry and Complexity

It can thus be shown that the Galileo group G

gal

is not “simple” in

the sense that it cannot be broken down into other groups.

It can be proven that the Galileo group has the product repre-

sentation G

gal

= (G

D

× G

T

) × U. We say that it is the semi-direct

product of an (Abelian) group U with the (semi-direct) product of

an (Abelian) group G

T

with G

D

. It should now be noted that the

Galileo group G

gal

and thus the space-time symmetry of classical

mechanics is signiﬁcantly more complicated than the symmetry of

the Lorentz group which we will encounter in electrodynamics and

relativistic physics.

In the 18th century mechanics, like geometry, was transformed

into an analytical theory, in which it became possible to solve prob-

lems of physics as a result of the solution of certain diﬀerential equa-

tions. The high point of this trend came in 1788, with “M´ecanique

analytique” by Lagrange, i.e. 100 years after Newton’s “Principia,”

after d’Alembert and L. Euler, among others, had worked on an an-

alytical description of mechanics.

To bring the Newtonian equation of motion into the Lagrange

form, let us consider as an example the motion of a mass point with

(Cartesian) coordinates x

k

(k = 1, 2, 3), t, the inertial mass m under

the inﬂuence of an external force F(x

i

, ˙ x

i

, t) with i = 1, 2, 3. The

Newtonian equation of motion is:

F(x

i

, ˙ x

i

, t) = m

d

2

x

k

dt

2

= m¨ x

k

Langrange transformed the Newtonian equation of motion into a

general model which can be applied to systems of mass points with

and without rigid connections, to rigid bodies and the deformable

continuums. For that purpose, he introduces a function (Lagrangian

function) which characterizes the physical system in question. The

Lagrangian function expresses the fact that a physical system is de-

termined by its kinetic and potential energy. The Lagrange equations

of motion are the direct result. This approach can be generalized

for systems with a ﬁnite number of degrees of freedom. A system

with n degrees of freedom is characterized by a Lagrangian function

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Symmetry and Complexity in Physical Sciences 115

L(q

k

, ˙ q

k

, t) with generalized coordinates q

k

(t) and generalized veloc-

ities ˙ q

k

(t). Its development over time is described by the Lagrange

equations:

∂L

∂q

k

−

d

dt

∂L

∂ ˙ q

k

= 0 .

In this case, therefore, the physical events correspond to the solu-

tions q

k

(t) of a system of second-order diﬀerential equations. The

event which actually occurs corresponds to a special solution which

is unambiguously deﬁned by initial conditions for q

k

(0) and ˙ q

k

(0). In

place of Newtonian causality, which spoke of “forces” as the cause of

eﬀects or phenomena, there is now a formal system of equations which

unambiguously determine the development of a physical system over

time in the conﬁguration space deﬁned by position and time coordi-

nates. A physical system is then characterized only by the Hamilton

function H(q

k

, p

k

, t), which is a function of the coordinates of po-

sition, momentum and time. The 2n-dimensional space deﬁned by

the n coordinates q

k

and the n momentums p

k

is designated phase

space. Each point (q

k

, p

k

) of the phase space corresponds to a state

of the system in question. The development over time of the system

states in the phase space is determined by the Hamilton equations

of motion:

˙ q

k

=

∂H

∂p

k

, −˙ p

k

=

∂H

∂q

k

.

There is the following formal diﬀerence between the Lagrange and Hamilton

equations: Since δL/δ ˙ q

k

generally contains ˙ q

i

, the second derivations of q

i

in the

Lagrange equations are by time. In contrast, the Hamilton equations contain only

ﬁrst derivations of p

i

and q

i

. However, there are now twice as many equations.

Both formalisms, however, supply exactly the same results. In Hamiltonian for-

malism, it is a question of ﬁrst-order diﬀerential equations which, together with

the initial conditions for q

k

and p

k

at the instant t = 0, determine the causality

of the system.

The Lagrangian and Hamiltonian formalism open new insights

into the symmetric structure of classical mechanics. Our everyday

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116 Symmetry and Complexity

experience tells us that in nature, there exist systems which, in spite

of changing ambient conditions, change little or not at all, i.e. they

remain constant. Even the presocratic philosophy of nature could

be summed up in the dispute between Parmenides and Heraclitus,

according to which, on one hand, the world is unchanging and eter-

nal, and on the other hand is in constant ﬂux. In the 18th and

19th century, laws of conservation for mechanical energy, momen-

tum, angular momentum, etc., were proven in mechanics. Thus, the

conservation of physical quantities seemed to be a universal princi-

ple of nature. This idea was made precise by the fact that laws of

conservation could mathematically be derived from space-time sym-

metry. To deﬁne the conservation quantities of a physical system

in general, we start with a mechanical system of mass points with

the Lagrange function L, the motions of which are determined by

Lagrange equations of form, with suitable initial conditions of the

location and velocity coordinates.

A physical quantity E = E(x

k

, ˙ x

k

, t) is called the conservation

quantity of the system, and remains constant for all paths x

k

(t) that

are solutions of the equations of motion, i.e.

d

dt

E(x

k

, ˙ x

k

, t) = 0.

On the basis of this deﬁnition, the conservation quantities are

ﬁrst integrals of the equations of motion. The knowledge of a law

of conservation thus has the mathematical advantage that only a

ﬁrst-order diﬀerential equation needs to be solved, and no longer

a second-order diﬀerential equation such as the Lagrange equation.

Now, the relationship between laws of conservation and space-time

symmetry comes in [3.3]. The initially surprising tracing of conser-

vation quantities to invariance characteristics of space and time can

be explained with reference to simple examples.

The equation of motion of a particle of mass m which is moved

in one dimension under the inﬂuence of a potential V (x) reads

m¨ x = −

dV

dx

. We now assume that V (x) is invariant under trans-

lations, i.e. V (x) is constant, independent of x. Then m¨ x = 0. By

integration, it follows that m˙ x is a constant, that is the law of con-

servation of linear momentum m˙ x.

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Symmetry and Complexity in Physical Sciences 117

The equations of motion of this particle in two dimensions are:

m¨ x = −

∂V

∂x

and m¨ y = −

∂V

∂y

.

We now assume that the potential V (x, y) is invariant under rotation around the

origin. If we replace the Cartesian coordinates x, y, with polar coordinates r, θ

with the polar angle θ, then the potential V is independent of the polar angle θ.

In this case,

∂V

∂θ

= 0. On the other hand,

∂V

∂θ

=

∂x

∂θ

∂V

∂x

+

∂y

∂θ

∂V

∂y

= −y

∂V

∂x

+x

∂V

∂y

,

so that it follows, on the basis of the equations of motion, that

∂V

∂θ

= m(y¨ x −x¨ y) = m

d

dt

(y ˙ x −x ˙ y) .

From the invariance under rotation it therefore follows that the quantity m(y¨ x−

x¨ y), i.e. of the angular momentum around an axis through the origin perpendic-

ular to the plane is also constant.

For motions of the particle in three dimensions, in which the po-

tential is invariant under rotation around any axis in space, each

component of the angular momentum is constant. Therefore, for a

spherically symmetrical potential, the value and direction of the an-

gular momentum are conserved. In general, the following is appar-

ently true: if the characteristic functions L (or H) of a physical sys-

tem are independent of the location coordinate q

k

, i.e. if ∂L/∂q

k

= 0,

then it follows that ˙ p

k

= 0, i.e. the corresponding momentum p

k

is

constant. If L (or H) is independent of time, it follows that H is

constant. The Hamilton function, describes the energy of a physical

system. To summarize, therefore: the conservation of energy follows

from the homogeneity of space.

Under the inﬂuence of F. Klein’s “Erlanger program”, Noether

[3.4] demonstrated how the 10 conservation quantities of mechanics

follow from the invariance characteristics of the Lagrange function

and Hamilton’s action integral in relation to the (inﬁnitesimal) trans-

formations of the 10-parameter Galileo group. This represents the

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118 Symmetry and Complexity

application of a general mathematical law to the special physical case

of mechanics.

Noether’s theorem claims in general that, for a mechanical prob-

lem, there exist n conservation quantities if the equation of motion

is invariant under an n-parameter continuous group of transforma-

tions of the (3+1)-dimensional space-time continuum. On the other

hand, we already know that the space-time of classical mechanics

is determined by the Galilean principle of relativity, i.e. the equa-

tions of motion of a closed system of mass points are invariant under

the transformations of the 10-parameter Galileo group. On the ba-

sis of Noether’s theorem, therefore, the 10 conservation quantities

of a closed mechanical system are fully deﬁned. The mathematical

context of the Noether theorem not only makes possible a complete

determination of conservation laws of classical mechanics, but also

of electrodynamics, relativistic physics, and, with appropriate mod-

iﬁcations, applications in quantum mechanics.

In the beginning of the 20th century, physicists were shocked by

the fact that the symmetry of classical space-time seemed to be vi-

olated by electrodynamics. According to the Galileo group of clas-

sical mechanics, the velocities of inertial systems are added relative

to one another. But in electrodynamics, the constancy of light de-

mands that the speed of light is independent of the speed of the light

source. Thus, there is no velocity faster than light that results from

adding velocities of inertial systems to the velocity of light. In his

famous paper on the electrodynamics of bodies in motion (1905),

Einstein uniﬁed the space-time of classical mechanics and electro-

dynamics. Therefore, Einstein considered inertial systems satisfying

the principle of the constancy of light. To guarantee the invariance

with respect to coordinate transformations, both for the equations

of Newtonian mechanics and also those of Maxwellian electrodynam-

ics, Einstein replaced the Galilean transformations with the Lorentz

transformations.

Mathematically, Einstein’s space-time is represented in the

Minkowskian geometry. In Minkowski’s presentation, space and time

are combined into a 4-dimensional space-time M

4

with Cartesian

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Symmetry and Complexity in Physical Sciences 119

space coordinates x, y and z, and the time coordinate t. For the

sake of simplicity, the units are selected so that the speed of light

equals one, i.e. c = 1. Then the units of length and time are com-

mutative, whereby 1 sec = 299 792.458 m and 1 year = 1 light-year.

Fig. 31. Space-time symmetry of special relativity

Bodies at the speed of light move in this 4-dimensional model

on straight lines at 45

◦

to the t-axis. In accordance with the

Pythagorean theorem, they form the light cone t

2

= x

2

+ y

2

+ z

2

(Fig. 31). On account of the constancy of the speed of light, future

or past events can only lie within the light cone (“timely events”).

Mass particles move on straight lines (“uniformly”) or curves (“non-

uniformly”) within the cone; photons move as massless particles of

light on the surface of the cone. The distance OQ from the origin O

to a point Q with coordinates t, x, y, z in the Minkowski world M

4

is OQ

2

= x

2

+y

2

+z

2

−t

2

, which diﬀers from the Pythagorean metric

term in a 4-dimensional Euclidean geometry by the minus sign. If Q

lies on the surface of the cone, then OQ = 0; if Q lies inside the sur-

face of the cone, then OQ > 0. For our considerations of symmetry in

the Minkowskian world M

4

, it is appropriate to replace the Galilean

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120 Symmetry and Complexity

coordinates with the designations x

0

= t, x

1

= x, x

2

= y, and x

3

= z.

The Lorentz transformations which leave the Minkowskian metric in-

variant have the form x

α

= a

0α

x

0

+a

1α

x

1

+a

2α

x

2

+a

3α

x

3

+a

α

, with

α = 0, 1, 2, 3 [3.6]. One of the fundamental consequences of the

Lorentz transformations is the rejection of Newton’s absolute time.

The measurement of time is no longer identical in any inertial sys-

tem, but depends on its velocity. Today, this is a well conﬁrmed

fact of measurement. Atomic clocks moving with high speed (e.g. by

airplanes) are slower relative to resting ones. In accordance with Ein-

stein’s summation convention, Lorentz transformations can also be

written x

α

= a

α

β

x

β

+a

α

with β = 0, 1, 2, 3. These transformations

form the inhomogeneous Lorentz group or Poincar´e group G

poi

. For

a

α

= 0, we get the homogeneous Lorentz group.

The subgroup of space-time rotations characterizes the isotropy of

the Minkowski world, while the invariance of the Minkowskian met-

ric with respect to the subgroup of space-time translations expresses

its homogeneity. The Minkowski world is also invariant with respect

to spatial reﬂection and reversal of time. Intuitively, invariance with

respect to a reversal of time means that if a natural event is ﬁlmed,

and the ﬁlm is run backwards, the natural event corresponds to a pro-

cess that does not violate the natural laws. The laws of conservation

are also consequences of the space-time symmetry of the Minkowski

world. Speciﬁcally, the conservation of momentum results from the

invariance with respect to spatial translations, the conservation of en-

ergy from the invariance with respect to temporal translations, the

conservation of angular momentum from the invariance with respect

to spatial rotations, and the conservation of the center of mass from

the invariance with respect to uniform motions. These symmetries

are global, i.e. the laws of nature are invariant with respect to them

only if the same transformation is applied for all four points of 4-

dimensional space. Lorentz invariance therefore includes the general

assumption that the same laws of nature as in a research laboratory

apply everywhere, i.e. the laws of physics always have the same form

in any given coordinate system, regardless of how these systems are

displaced or rotated, as long as they move at a constant velocity

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Symmetry and Complexity in Physical Sciences 121

relative to one another. The global symmetries of Minkowski space

therefore give us the freedom to arbitrarily select our laboratory’s

coordinate system in the context of the above-mentioned conditions.

Like Galilean invariance, Lorentz invariance is now identiﬁed as a

global symmetry, since the Lorentz transformation change all points

of Minkowski space-time in the same manner, and thus leave the

laws of special relativity theory unchanged without the occurrences

of forces. For example, if two astronauts are moving at a constant

motion relative to one another, the transformation that transforms

their two coordinate systems into one another is identical for all

points.

An intensiﬁcation occurs if the two observers can also accelerate

relative to one another, i.e. move diﬀerently “locally” or vary from

the “global” constant relative motion to one another. Under these

conditions, it will be initially suspected that the two observers would

not derive the same (“invariant”) laws of physics, because an acceler-

ated observer seems to be exposed to forces, such as centrifugal force

during rotation. In his general theory of relativity, Einstein formu-

lated a connection between these accelerations and the gravitational

forces of masses.

There are many observations and experiments conﬁrming vari-

ances from the ﬂat Minkowski metric under the eﬀect of strong grav-

itational ﬁelds. Historically, Eddington’s 1919 observation is worth

noting, namely that beams of light from distant stars are deﬂected

in the sun’s gravitational ﬁeld, although according to special rela-

tivity theory they ought to follow the Minkowski cone. Thus, the

shortest connection of a light beam with maximal speed between

two points in a gravitational ﬁeld is not a straight line in sense of

Euclidean geometry, but a curved line the curvature of which corre-

sponds to the strength of the gravitational force. Therefore, Einstein

assumed a kind of diﬀerential geometry to describe the curved space-

time of gravitational ﬁelds. The Minkowskian geometry is reduced

to local regions where gravitational ﬁelds are absent. Thus, Ein-

stein demands that at least “locally,” i.e. in very small segments of

space-time in which the gravitational ﬁeld does not change, an in-

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122 Symmetry and Complexity

ertial system can be selected, whereby the eﬀect of gravitation is

eliminated. Historically, this principle was preceded by Galileo’s ob-

servation that all bodies, regardless of their properties, fall toward

the earth at the same acceleration (if we overlook air resistance).

The equivalence of heavy and inert masses had been experimentally

conﬁrmed. We all have seen the pictures of astronauts in orbit, who

experience weightlessness during free fall in the earth’s gravitational

ﬁeld.

On the assumption of a curved space-time the equations of motion

had to be reformulated. An equation is valid in a general gravita-

tional ﬁeld if the following requirements are satisﬁed: (1) The equa-

tion is valid without the eﬀect of gravitation, i.e. in this case, it corre-

sponds to the laws of the special relativity theory. (2) The equation

is invariant in general (“covariant”), i.e. it retains its form (“form

invariance”) with respect to general coordinate transformations of

a curved manifold. A gravitational ﬁeld is therefore described as a

so-called pseudo-Riemannian manifold with local Minkowski metric

(Fig. 32), which replaces the local Euclidean metric in a Riemannian

manifold [3.7].

Fig. 32. Space-time symmetry of general relativity

Actually, the laws remain invariant if we include the gravitational

ﬁeld in the corresponding equations. That is precisely what occurs

in the relativistic equations of motion and gravitation. The “local”

deviations from the global symmetry are therefore eliminated by the

assumption of additional force ﬁelds. Therefore, the equations are

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Symmetry and Complexity in Physical Sciences 123

said to have local symmetries. In this sense, the relativistic theory

of gravitation arises from the transition from the global Lorentz in-

variance of ﬂat Minkowski space-time to local Lorentz invariance of a

curved space-time. In general, we are already deﬁning a model that

will turn out to be fundamental in physics. If certain physical laws

are invariant, then invariance under local symmetry can be achieved

by introducing new force ﬁelds. We can also say that local symmetry

is connected with the emergence of new force ﬁelds [3.8].

In relativistic cosmology, the universe is described as a whole

system. Everyone on earth can be convinced of the symmetrical

characteristics of the universe on a cosmic scale, at least to some ex-

tent. If we, from the earth, observe the “starry heavens overhead,”

the naked eye and the strongest telescope always see the same condi-

tions, a more or less uniform distribution of matter visibly condensed

into heavenly bodies. These observations led to a general cosmologi-

cal postulate, according to which matter is, on the average, uniformly

distributed over the entire universe (homogeneity) and its character-

istics remain unchanged, regardless of the observer’s angle of sight

(isotropy). In this sense, homogeneity must be understood in the

sense that gases, for example, can also be called homogeneous: ho-

mogeneity does not relate to the universe in detail, but to cells hav-

ing a diameter of 10

8

to 10

9

light years, in which individual irregular

condensations of matter can occur in the form of galaxies.

Historically, the cosmological postulate corresponds to modern

experience beginning with the Copernican revolution. Mankind and

the earth on which it lives do not occupy a special position in the uni-

verse. In the cosmological postulate of contemporary astronomers,

Bruno’s grandiose vision becomes a reasonable working hypothesis.

In 1929, E.P. Hubble discovered that the speed of the receding

motion of the galaxies increases with the distance between a group

of galaxies and its observer. He reported observing that the light

from very distant galaxies was shifted to the red portion of the spec-

trum, i.e. to longer wavelengths. The basis of this explanation is the

Doppler eﬀect, according to which the wavelengths of light emitted

by a moving light source seem longer to a stationary observer when

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124 Symmetry and Complexity

the light source is moving away, and shorter when it is approaching.

The redshift can therefore be used to measure the speed at which

galaxies are moving away from an observer. The amount Z of the

redshift is equal to the relative increase ∆λ of the recorded wave-

length λ, i.e. Z = ∆λ/λ. From the redshift, Hubble was able to

calculate the speed at which galaxies are receding, and thus the total

speed at which the universe is expanding.

Fig. 33. Space-time symmetry of the cosmological principle

To explain the symmetry assumptions of the cosmological princi-

ple mathematically, Cartan proposed a diﬀerential geometry of sym-

metrical spaces (cf. Sec. 2.1). In such a geometry, all space points

must physically undergo the same development, and must be corre-

lated for time so that to an observer, all points at a ﬁxed distance

from him appear to be in exactly the same stage of development.

In this sense, the spatial state of the universe at each point in the

future (+) and past (−) must appear homogeneous and isotropic to

the observer P (Fig. 33). Geometrically, for example, let us provide

our observer, located in the center of the Milky Way, with a standard

system of coordinates. The direction of three spatial coordinates x

µ

can be deﬁned, for example, by the lines of sight from the observer

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Symmetry and Complexity in Physical Sciences 125

to typical galaxies. For the time coordinate t, we can select a “cos-

mic clock”, e.g. the radiation temperature of a black body which

decreases in monotone fashion everywhere.

Therefore, the “cosmic standard coordinate system” of an ob-

server is deﬁned by transformations x

µ

→ ¯ x

µ

, t →

¯

t = t, in which the

physical condition remains unchanged, e.g. form invariance applies

for the gravitational potential and the energy-momentum quantity

of matter. Mathematically, therefore, the universe is portrayed as

a 4-dimensional space-time manifold whose 3-dimensional “spatial”

sub-spaces are isotropic and homogeneous. That was the assumption

of the “cosmological principle”. In terms of diﬀerential geometry,

therefore, it was the assumption of an isometry group which — in

purely mathematical terms — makes it possible for us to deﬁne the

“cosmic” metric of the 4-dimensional universe [3.9].

In 1935/36, H.P. Robertson and H.G. Walker indicated the con-

ventional standard form of this metric. It depends on a world radius

R(t) which increases in the expanding universe with the time t. Up

to this point, the geometric description of the universe follows ex-

clusively from the cosmological principle. R(t) remains an unknown

time-dependent function. To be able to verify the symmetry charac-

teristics of the universe in terms of physics, the “radius” R(t) must

be calculated. For that purpose, assumptions concerning the mate-

rial characteristics of the universe are necessary, like those expressed

in Einstein’s gravitational equations. Therefore the Robertson–

Walker metric must be deﬁned as the solution of the gravitational

equations.

On the assumption of the cosmological principle, i.e. the assump-

tion of a homogeneous and isotropic universe, we get standard mod-

els for three possible values k = +1, −1 or 0, by means of which

spatial curvature is deﬁned. Mathematically, these standard models

are described by the development R(t) of the universe by means of

ﬁrst-order diﬀerential equations which can be derived from Einstein’s

gravitational equation. In each case, this is a 4-dimensional space-

time manifold whose 3-dimensional homogeneous “spatial” subspaces

expand temporally isotropically.

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126 Symmetry and Complexity

Fig. 34. Cosmic expansion of the three homogeneous and isotropic standard

models

Fig. 34 illustrates these subspace expanding in time as “spatial

cross sections” for the three possible cases of k. In the case k = −1,

each spatial cross section is a 3-dimensional Lobachevski geometry

L

3

with negative curvature. For k = 0, the spatial cross sections

are 3-dimensional Euclidean spaces. For k = 1, they are spherical or

elliptical spaces.

In each case, there is an initial singularity, in which the space-

time curvature is inﬁnite. Cosmologically, this is designated the Big

Bang. According to this theory, the universe initially expanded very

rapidly, and then continued to expand somewhat more slowly. In the

case k = 1, the expansion reverses to a collapse, which represents a

new singularity. We then speak of a closed universe. For k = 0

or k = −1, the expansion continues, but more rapidly in the case

k = −1. Once it has been formed, the universe remains in existence

and unlimited in both cases. We can therefore also speak of an open

universe.

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Symmetry and Complexity in Physical Sciences 127

The cosmological principle and the theory of relativity no longer

suﬃce to explain this regularity and symmetry of the universe. Mod-

ern cosmogony is merging with quantum mechanics and elementary

particle physics into a theory of physics in which the evolution of the

universe is explained by the step-wise emergence of elementary par-

ticles, atoms, molecules, etc. Against this background, it can then

be shown how, in the individual phases of development, some of the

currently known basic physical forces of strong, weak and electro-

magnetic interaction initially prevailed, until the current structure

of the universe with its macroscopically predominant gravitational

force arose. Modern cosmology therefore regards the universe as a

gigantic high-energy physics laboratory requiring a uniﬁed theory of

natural forces for its complete explanation.

Up to this point, the global and local symmetries of relativity

have been considered as invariance of classical and relativistic the-

ories. Historically, however, the theory of relativity was also the

impetus for new ideas on a uniﬁcation of various physical theories

and explanations for the emergence of matter. The ﬁrst attempt

at a uniﬁed theory of matter in the 20th century dates back to the

physicist Mie [3.10]. In his 1912–1913 publication on the “Principles

of a Theory of Matter,” he attempted to deﬁne a link between the

existence of electrons and gravitation. The mathematician Hilbert,

in his 1915 and 1917 publications on “The Principles of Physics”

established a uniﬁed mathematical theory of matter, in which the

approaches adopted by Mie and Einstein are taken into considera-

tion Hilbert’s proposal is also of great methodological interest, since

it applies to physics the axiomatic method which Hilbert had pre-

viously explored in mathematics [3.11]. He celebrates his derivation

of Einstein’s gravitational equations and the Maxwell–Mie equations

of electrodynamics as the greatest triumph of the axiomatic method.

Mathematical elegance, methodical simplicity and beauty were for

him the motivation for a uniﬁed theory of matter. Such a uniﬁed

theory would be the secularized version of an ideal of natural philos-

ophy, which since the days of Pythagoras had linked harmony and

beauty to mathematical regularity. During that time, gravitation

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128 Symmetry and Complexity

and electromagnetics were the only known physical forces. Thus, he

seemed to suggest a kind of world-formula.

Mie used a nonlinear augmentation of Maxwell’s electromagnetic

equations out of which elementary particles (e.g. the electron) would

arise in a natural way. A world-function was introduced as an en-

ergy functional depending upon electric ﬁeld intensity, magnetic ﬂux

density, and electromagnetic potential. The world function satisﬁed

relativistic invariance. A speciﬁc choice led to a static spherically

symmetric electric potential. Mie got a spherical model for the elec-

tron with a certain radius and electric potential. The Lorentz in-

variance that was built into the theory permits this solution of his

equation to travel with any speed up to the limiting velocity of light

with relativistic eﬀects (e.g. Lorentz contraction). Although Mie’s

atomic theory was physically false, it inspired Einstein’s life-long be-

lief that the emergence of elementary particles should be founded

by solutions of nonlinear diﬀerential equations. In short, emergence

of matter results from nonlinearity. But Einstein’s ideas of uniﬁca-

tion with symmetry and emergence with nonlinearity could only be

successful in the framework of quantum mechanics.

The ﬁrst atomic models proceeded on the assumption of visual

symmetry characteristics that recall the planetary models of Antiq-

uity. Bohr’s atomic model of 1913 was the ﬁrst to provide informa-

tion about how the electrons are distributed around the nucleus on

the shell [3.12]. According to Bohr, the hydrogen atom consists of

one proton and one electron. The negative electron moves centro-

symmetrically like a planet in the Aristotelian planetary model on an

orbit of radius r without any loss of energy (i.e. it emits no radiation)

at a linear velocity v around the positive nucleus. The orbit is stable,

because the centrifugal force which acts on the electron is equal to

the Coulomb attraction between the electron and the nucleus. The

energy E of the electron in its orbit is composed of potential and

kinetic energy. According to the energy equation, as a function of

the radius r, all values are allowed from 0 (for r = ∞) to ∞ (for

r = 0).

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Symmetry and Complexity in Physical Sciences 129

Fig. 35. Central symmetry of Bohr’s atomic model

To make the model compatible with the atomic spectra, Bohr

assumed a quantization requirement. He linked the orbital angular

momentum mvr of an electron with the mass m with Planck’s con-

stant in the equation mvr = n · h/2π. For the “principal quantum

number” n, only whole numbers 1, 2,. . . may be used. For each value

of n there is a centro-symmetrical orbit with a deﬁned energy E,

which corresponds to a discrete energy level of the atom (Fig. 35).

The most stable state of an atom is the lowest energy state. Higher

orbits or states are called excited. According to Bohr, transitions

between diﬀerent orbits are possible when the amount of energy cor-

responding to the energy diﬀerence between the states in question

is either input (absorbed) or emitted in the form of electromagnetic

radiation (photons). Bohr used this model to calculate a theoretical

spectrum for hydrogen that is in good agreement with the measured

spectrum.

The further development of Bohr’s atomic model recalls the his-

tory of the Aristotelian planetary model. Even then, the original

spherical symmetry had to be restricted on the basis of more accu-

rate observations by additional ad hoc hypotheses, and thus adjusted

to ﬁt reality. When transitions in heavy atoms were investigated,

Bohr’s model no longer suﬃced.

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130 Symmetry and Complexity

Thus, Bohr’s atomic model was expanded to include elliptical or-

bits. Elliptical orbits, in contrast to circular orbits, have two degrees

of freedom, since they are deﬁned by two semiaxes. To describe the

atomic spectra by transitions between elliptical orbits, two quantum

conditions are therefore necessary. The orbital quantum number k

is used in addition to the primary quantum number n. To explain

spectra of atoms with a plurality of electrons, k was replaced by the

secondary quantum number l. The secondary quantum number l de-

ﬁnes the orbital angular momentum of the electron. The magnetic

quantum number m was introduced as the third quantum number,

to deﬁne the inclination of the plane of an elliptical orbit in relation

to an external magnetic ﬁeld.

In spite of this and other improvements (e.g. the introduction

of the spin quantum number as the fourth quantum condition), the

atomic models failed for the same reason the symmetry models of

the planetary theory of Antiquity had to be given up. There was

no physical theory to explain these models. In Bohr’s atomic model,

electrons are imagined as particles moving like mass points on ﬁxed

orbits. But depending on the manner in which the test is conducted,

electrons can also behave like waves. For example, the electron of the

hydrogen atom can be understood as a spherical, stationary wave in

the space around the atomic nucleus, whose maximum amplitude is

described by a corresponding wave equation. The electron is thereby

described by a wave function ψ(x, y, z) in the space coordinates x,

y and z. This interpretation, promoted by L. de Broglie, led to

Schr¨ odinger’s quantum mechanics, which proceeded on the basis of

the wave model.

In classical Hamiltonian mechanics, a closed system is described

by a Hamiltonian function. An example is a pendulum that oscillates

with diﬀerent energies. We then say that the system is in diﬀerent

states. In an analogous manner, a hydrogen atom is in the fundamen-

tal state or in one of the many excited states. In Schr¨ odinger’s sense,

the states of an atom are represented by wave functions. M. Born

established a connection between the wave and particle image of mat-

ter, by suggesting that an electron wave must be interpreted from

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Symmetry and Complexity in Physical Sciences 131

the standpoint of probability. Places where the (square of the) mag-

nitude of the wave is large are places where the electron is more

likely to be found. Places where the magnitude is small are places

where the electron is less likely to be found. In general, therefore,

the states of a quantum system are described by the functions of a

Hilbert space, i.e. a functional space of functions (“states”) as ele-

ments. The quantum system must be represented by a Hamiltonian

operator, i.e. a functional depending on wave functions as system

states. In classical Hamiltonian mechanics, the development of a

closed system over time is described by the Hamiltonian equations

of motion. In quantum mechanics, the development of a state over

time is given by the time-dependent Schr¨ odinger equation. Physical

quantities such as position vector, momentum, angular momentum or

energy must also be represented by operators (“observables”) of the

corresponding Hilbert space. Mathematically, the operator approach

is a signiﬁcant diﬀerence of quantum mechanics to classical mechan-

ics. It results from the probabilistic description and the wave-particle

dualism of the quantum world.

Consequently, symmetries of a quantum system are deﬁned as in-

variant properties of the corresponding Hamiltonian operator that

can be explained in terms of group theory [3.13]. Let us imagine the

motion of an electron around an atomic nucleus. Without external

inﬂuence, it would be assumed that the Hamiltonian operator of this

system possesses full rotational symmetry. This symmetry can be

reduced by external inﬂuences. If an atom is embedded in a crys-

tal lattice, the rotational symmetry corresponding to the bonds of a

ﬁnite number of surrounding atoms can be reduced to a ﬁnite rota-

tional group. Further on, electrons are not distinguishable, so that

their position can be permuted in any given manner. Mathemati-

cally, that means that the Hamiltonian operator characterizing an

atom with n electrons is invariant with respect to the permutation

group with n! permutations. Notable consequences of symmetries

with which we have already become acquainted in classical physics

and relativity theory are the laws of conservation of physical quanti-

ties. According to the probabilistic approach of quantum mechanics,

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132 Symmetry and Complexity

an observable of a quantum system is said to be conservative if its

mean value or expected value in each quantum state of the system

does not vary with time.

Quantum mechanics is also invariant with respect to space reﬂec-

tion. But does it possess time symmetry, like the equations of motion

of classical mechanics? In classical terms, the Hamiltonian equations

of position q and momentum p of a particle must be invariant with

respect to the transformation t →−t, that means q

(t) = q(−t) and

p

**(t) = −p(−t). That corresponds to the idea that all positions of the
**

corresponding particles are reversed. For example, a particle which

is ascending at the time t = 0 and reaches the highest point at time

t = 1, is replaced by a particle which falls from the same height at

time t = −1 and reaches at the ground at the time t = 0. Another

example of classical and relativistic physics comes from astronomy.

Planets surrounding the sun could run in both directions without

violating the laws of motion. Actually, time reversal has never been

observed in the macroscopic world.

a b

Fig. 36. Time reversibility of planets

Mathematically, the invariance of the macroscopic equations of

motion with respect to the transformation t → −t can easily be

proved. In the Newtonian version of mechanics, the acceleration of

a body is proportional to the interacting force. Acceleration is the

time-depending change of velocity. Velocity is the time-depending

change of position. Thus, acceleration is the time-depending change

of the time-depending change of position, i.e. the second derivation of

the position of the body with respect to time. That is the reason why

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Symmetry and Complexity in Physical Sciences 133

time is squared in the Newtonian equation of motion. If the positive

values +t of forward running time are replaced by the negative values

−t of backward running time, then the square t

2

= (−t)(−t) =

(+t)(+t) remains unchanged.

In quantum mechanics, position and momentum are replaced by

corresponding operators. Instead of measurement values, there are

expected values in speciﬁed states (wave functions) of the system.

Wigner introduced a time-reversal operator that satisﬁes the time

symmetry of the corresponding Hamiltonian operator equation. But

time symmetry of quantum mechanics is not merely the result of

formal requirements. In the collision process of elementary particle

physics, the time reversal operator describes a permutation of the

incoming and outgoing particles that can be conﬁrmed in experi-

ments. In Fig. 37, both diagrams a and b can be read two ways —

either as electron–photon scattering, whereby the electron is repre-

sented by the solid arrow and the photon as the broken line (a), or

as positron–photon scattering, whereby the positron is represented

as a downward arrow (b).

a b

Fig. 37. Time reversibility of elementary particles

So far, we have investigated the symmetries of a Galileo invari-

ant quantum mechanics with slow velocities like in classical mechan-

ics. But actually, elementary particles like electrons move with high

speeds near to or even with velocity of light. The goal of a Lorentz

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134 Symmetry and Complexity

invariant quantum mechanics, that is a combination of special rela-

tivity theory and quantum mechanics, is pursued in quantum ﬁeld

theory. The ﬁrst historical example of a relativistic quantum ﬁeld

theory was quantum electrodynamics, that is the combination of

Lorentz invariant electrodynamics with quantum theory. Dirac’s ini-

tial approach to a relativistic quantum mechanical wave equation of

the electron in 1927/28 turned out to be heuristically fruitful, since

it led to what at that time was the surprising prediction of an an-

tiparticle of an electron e

−

with negative charge which diﬀers only

by the reverse charge e

+

(“positron”) [3.14].

Fig. 38. Particle-antiparticle symmetry

Dirac’s prediction was magniﬁcently conﬁrmed by the discovery

of positrons in cosmic rays. Fig. 38 shows the bubble chamber pho-

tograph of an e

−

e

+

pair generation resulting from the collision of a

photon (γ-quantum) with an electron. (The paths of the charged

particles are curved “left” and “right,” as a function of their charge,

on account of the application of a magnetic ﬁeld perpendicular to the

plane of the image.) Obviously, Dirac discovered a new symmetry

of matter: For electrons there are antiparticles, namely positrons.

Mathematically, the particle–antiparticle symmetry is described by

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Symmetry and Complexity in Physical Sciences 135

an operator (“charge conjugation”), which transforms a particle in

its antiparticle with conjugated charge.

The particle–antiparticle symmetry seems to be fundamental in

the sense that for every particle there is an antiparticle. An antipar-

ticle can only exist if, at the site of its generation, the corresponding

antiparticle originates at the same time. It is destroyed if it encoun-

ters a particle with which it is annihilated. Energy thereby originates

in the same quantity as must be applied during generation. Accord-

ing to current elementary particle theory, matter consists strictly

symmetrically of a particle world and an antiparticle world, which

are connected to one another by the origin and annihilation of their

elements. On one hand, of course, this particle-antiparticle symme-

try has been conﬁrmed by the experiments of high-energy physics,

but on the other hand the universe seems to consist of more particles

than antiparticles. This asymmetry would be explained as symmetry

breaking at the origin of the universe, which will be discussed later

in more detail.

The basic theme of quantum electrodynamics is the interaction

of particles of matter (e.g. electrons) or wave ﬁelds of matter with

electromagnetic ﬁelds. Besides electromagnetic force modern physics

distinguishes further fundamental forces like strong, weak and grav-

itational force. In the theory of relativity we learnt that gravita-

tion arises by transition from the global Lorentz invariance of ﬂat

Minkowski space-time to local Lorentz invariance of a curved space-

time. In the framework of quantum physics, all physical forces can be

introduced by transition from a global to a local symmetry. Accord-

ing to Weyl, forces are interpreted as so-called gauge ﬁelds compen-

sating local deviations of a global symmetry. This is a fundamental

insight into the theory of physical forces. So, let us brieﬂy recall the

diﬀerence between global symmetry and local symmetry in general.

For example, imagine a balloon which is covered by a grid of coor-

dinates (Fig. 39a). If the balloon is rotated around its axis around

the center of the sphere, its shape remains unchanged or invariant

(Fig. 39b). This invariance or symmetry is global, since all points of

the surface were rotated by the same angle. For a local symmetry, the

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136 Symmetry and Complexity

a b c

Fig. 39. Global and local symmetry

sphere must also retain its shape when the points of the sphere are

rotated independently of one another by diﬀerent angles (Fig. 39c).

But the surface of the sphere is thereby distorted, i.e. forces occur

on the surface of the sphere between the points. We therefore fre-

quently speak of dynamic (“local”) symmetry. The forces or force

ﬁelds compensate for the local changes in symmetry and retain the

overall symmetry of the system (“shape of the balloon”). There-

fore, we could also speak of a “restoration of symmetry” after local

changes.

In electrodynamics a magnetic ﬁeld compensates a local change

of an electric ﬁeld, i.e. the movement of a charged body, and pre-

serves the invariance of electromagnetic ﬁeld equations. A bird on

a high-tension line survives by global symmetry. There are no local

diﬀerences of potentials. If the bird has contact with the high-tension

pole, there is a local diﬀerence and the bird is killed. In quantum elec-

trodynamics an electromagnetic ﬁeld compensates the local change

of a material ﬁeld (the phase deviation of an electronic ﬁeld) and

preserves the invariance of the corresponding ﬁeld equations. Math-

ematically, the phase deviations of a wave function ψ of an electron

are described by transformations ψ → e

iα

ψ with a (unitary) 1 × 1-

matrix of the phase factor e

iα

. So the electromagnetic force is deﬁned

by a local (unitary) U(1) symmetry group of transformations. Such

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Symmetry and Complexity in Physical Sciences 137

a gauge group characterizes a physical interaction mathematically

in terms of local symmetry. But the existence of a physical force is

an empirical question which, of course, cannot be derived from an a

priori demand of local symmetry.

We are already familiar with electromagnetic interactions from

everyday life. The emission of electromagnetic waves by an accel-

erated atom is familiar, for example, from radio antennas or X-ray

machines. On the other hand, the weak interactions in atoms are

much less frequently observed, e.g. in the β-decay of a neutron which

is transformed into a proton with the simultaneous emission of an

electron-antineutrino pair. Initially, it seems that weak and electro-

magnetic interactions have little in common. The weak force is ap-

proximately a thousand times weaker than the electromagnetic force.

While electromagnetic interaction can act over a great distance, the

weak force acts only at distances that are signiﬁcantly less than, for

example, the radius of the neutron. Radioactive decays are much

slower than electromagnetic decays. In electromagnetic interactions

(e.g. dispersion of an electron on a proton), in contrast to the β-

decay, no elementary particles are transformed into other particles.

The particles that participate in the weak interaction are called lep-

tons (from the Greek word for “tender”), e.g. neutrinos, electrons

or muons.

One of the most exciting diﬀerences was discovered in the 1950s.

While electromagnetic interaction is invariant with respect to spatial

reﬂection weak interaction violates parity or left–right orientation in

space. In contrast to the other fundamental forces of physics, the spin

of elementary particle plays a major role in weak interaction [3.15].

It can be imagined roughly as its characteristic angular momentum.

The spin of a particle is represented by a vector which is parallel to

the axis of rotation. It cannot be increased or decreased, and in the

case of the lepton is h/4π (abbreviated 1/2). Spin 1/2 particles can

only assume two directions in space allowed by quantum mechanics:

the spin is either in the velocity direction of the particle or in opposite

direction.

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138 Symmetry and Complexity

In this context, we also speak of the right and left-handedness

(chirality) of the particle. For example, if you hold your right hand

so that the four ﬁngers point in the direction of rotation of the ro-

tating particle, the right thumb points in the velocity direction. The

handedness of an electron, for example, can be reversed experimen-

tally, by decelerating it and accelerating it in the opposite direction,

but without changing the spin. Since massless particles (such as

neutrinos and their anti-particles) move at the speed of light, such a

deceleration and related change of orientation is not possible. Thus,

they always retain their chirality or their helicity.

In 1956, the theoretical physicists T.D. Lee and C.N. Yang described ex-

periments in which the leptons might prefer a speciﬁed helicity. In fact, the

experiments (e.g. those of the experimental physicist C.S. Wu), showed that for

weak decays, particles are emitted only left-handed and antiparticles only right-

handed [3.16]. In concrete terms, the neutrinos which seem to have exclusively

weak interaction occur only as a left-handed helix (ν

L

), and antineutrinos only as

a right-handed helix (ν

R

). Only the left-handed helix portion (e

−

L

) participates

in the β-decay of the neutron (analogously for the muon). On the other hand,

the electromagnetic interaction is characterized by no helicity. Both helix por-

tions of the electron participate equally. The neutrinos do not participate. But

if we specify that the weak interaction is related to a weak charge, then only the

left-handed particles and right-handed antiparticles have a weak charge, while

right-handed particles and left-handed antiparticles are neutral for the weak in-

teraction. Therefore the weak charge is not conserved if an electron changes its

handedness during its motion. Only if the leptons had no mass, i.e. could not

change their direction of motion and handedness, would a conservation law apply

for the weak charge like the one for the electrical charge.

As noted above, only the left-handed helix portion e

−

L

of the elec-

tron participate in the β-decay of the neutron. Furthermore, only

the left-handed helix portion ν

L

of the corresponding neutrino oc-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Physical Sciences 139

curs in nature. It follows that the left-handed helix portion which

participates in the β-decay of the neutrino can be combined in a two-

component wave function, which is notated as a left- hand doublet:

L =

ν

L

e

−

L

**With global SU(2) symmetry, the states of the two-component wave
**

function L are changed everywhere, at the same time and in the same

way. For a local SU(2) symmetry, three gauge ﬁelds must be intro-

duced corresponding to the three group transformations generated.

Mathematically, the SU(2) combination of the three gauge ﬁelds is

notated in the following matrix [3.17]:

e

−

L

ν

L

e

−

L

W

0

µ

W

−

µ

ν

L

W

+

µ

W

0

µ

The parity symmetry of a quantum system means that the Hamil-

ton operator of the system is invariant with respect to the induced

operator transformation P. Analogously, the time-reversal symmetry

T and charge symmetry C of particle antiparticle means invariance

of the corresponding Hamilton operator. The successive application

of all three symmetry operations leads to a famous symmetry, which

is known as the CPT theorem.

According to this theorem, the Hamilton operator of a (Lorentz

invariant) quantum system is invariant with respect to the combina-

tion of parity, charge and time-reversal transformation. For classical

systems of physics, this result is trivial, since such systems are more

or less invariant with respect to each individual transformation of

this type. That is also true for the electromagnetic (and strong)

interaction, but not for the weak interaction. From a left-handed

particle, for example, the parity transformation P produces a right-

handed particle which does not exist in nature. From a left-handed

neutrino, however, the successive application of P and C makes a

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140 Symmetry and Complexity

right-handed anti-neutrino which does indeed occur in nature. For

the weak interaction, therefore, during the β-decay, the product CP

is conserved, as is T, but not P. It should be noted that several

experiments with the decay of K

◦

mesons also indicate a violation of

PC and T with the conservation of the total symmetry CPT.

Elementary particle physics intends to unify the four physical

forces in one fundamental force. In spite of their diﬀerent features,

electromagnetic and weak forces could already be uniﬁed by very high

energies in an accelerator ring of CERN. It means that at a state of

very high energy the particles of weak interaction (electrons, neutri-

nos, etc.) and electromagnetic interaction cannot be distinguished.

They can be described by the same symmetry group U(1) × SU(2).

There are three gauge ﬁelds of SU(2) symmetry of weak interaction

and one gauge ﬁeld of the U(1) symmetry of the electromagnetic

interaction [3.18].

The complex variety of particles like hadrons (protons, neutrons,

etc.) which interact with strong forces (e.g. atomic nuclear force)

can be reduced to the so-called quarks with three degrees of free-

dom which are called “colors” red (R), green (G) and blue (B). A

baryon is built up by three quarks that are distinguishable by three

diﬀerent colors. These three colors are complementary in the sense

that a hadron is neutral (“without color”) to its environment. The

color state of the hadron preserves invariance with respect to a global

transformation of the colors. But a local transformation of a color

state (i.e. a color change of only one or two quarks) needs a gauge

ﬁeld, in order to compensate the local change and to save the invari-

ance (symmetry) of the whole hadron. Mathematically we have a

local so-called SU(3) symmetry group of transformations [3.19].

After the successful uniﬁcation of electromagnetic and weak in-

teraction physicists try to realize the “big” uniﬁcation of electromag-

netic, weak and strong forces, and in a last step the “superuniﬁca-

tion” of all four forces. In the context of quantum ﬁeld theory, the

strong, weak and electromagnetic interactions have been traced to

fundamental symmetry structures. The trend in recent physics to

unify diﬀerent theories using the ideas of symmetry is therefore con-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Physical Sciences 141

Fig. 40. Uniﬁcation of physical forces

ﬁrmed once again. This trend is illustrated in Fig. 40, which shows

Newton’s uniﬁcation of Kepler’s celestial mechanics and Galileo’s

terrestrial mechanics into the theory of gravitation, and ﬁnally Ein-

stein’s relativistic version, Maxwell’s uniﬁcation of electricity and

magnetism into electrodynamics, the relativistic version of quantum

electrodynamics, its uniﬁcation with the theory of weak interaction

and the theory of strong interaction.

The framework of these uniﬁcations is formed by gauge theories in

which the physical forces are introduced by the transition from global

to local symmetries. Mathematically, it seems to be easy to embed

the characteristic gauge symmetries of the quantum forces into larger

common gauge groups of transformations [3.20]. But after the grand

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142 Symmetry and Complexity

uniﬁcation of weak, strong and electromagnetic forces, gravitation

must now also be included. In a supersymmetry of all four forces,

therefore, general relativity theory of gravity would have to be uniﬁed

with quantum mechanics of quantum forces. The usual application

of general relativity is that of large, astronomical distance scales. On

such distances relativistic theory of gravitation implies that the ab-

sence of mass means that space is ﬂat. But, on the short distance

scales of Planck’s constant, quantities like momentum and location,

energy and time, start to ﬂuctuate according to Heisenberg’s un-

certainty principle. Although classical reasoning implies that empty

space has zero gravitational ﬁeld, quantum mechanics shows that on

average it is zero, but that its actual value undulates up and down

due to quantum ﬂuctuations. J.A. Wheeler used the term “quan-

tum foam” to describe the ultramicroscopic quantum ﬂuctuations

of space-time [3.21]. Obviously, the notion of a smooth spatial ge-

ometry of a relativistic universe is no longer true in the quantum

world of short distances. But it is the level of Planck’s constant with

the minimal Planck’s length of 10

−33

centimeter (which means a mil-

lionth of a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a centimeter) where

gravitation and quantum forces have to be uniﬁed by symmetry laws.

At the level of elementary particles, there is no chance to unify the

quantum forces with relativistic gravitation. Therefore, it seems to

be quite natural to assume a common material sublevel at Planck’s

constant and Planck’s length where elementary particles of the quan-

tum world and gravitation are generated. According to string theory,

the elementary ingredients of the universe are not point particles.

Rather, they are tiny, 1-dimensional ﬁlaments of Planck’s length like

inﬁnitely thin rubber bands, vibrating to and fro. Just as the diﬀer-

ent vibrational patterns of a violin string give rise to diﬀerent musical

notes, the diﬀerent vibrational patterns of a string give rise to diﬀer-

ent masses and charges of elementary particles. The loops in string

theory can vibrate in resonance patterns in which a whole number

of peaks and troughs ﬁt along their spatial extent (Fig. 41).

More frantic vibrational patterns have more energy than less fran-

tic ones. The greater the amplitude and the shorter the wavelength

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Symmetry and Complexity in Physical Sciences 143

Fig. 41. Symmetries of strings [3.22]

of vibration are, the greater is the energy. According to special rel-

ativity, energy and mass are equivalent. The mass of an elementary

particle is determined by the energy of the vibrational pattern of

its internal string. Heavier particles have internal strings that vi-

brate more energetically, while lighter particles have internal strings

that vibrate less energetically. According to general relativity, mass

and energy determine gravitational properties. Thus, even the gravi-

ton as messenger particle of gravitational interaction between masses

is generated by characteristic vibrational patterns of strings. String

theory avoids the inconsistencies, divergencies, and inﬁnities of quan-

tities that have arisen with point particles in the framework of quan-

tum gravitation. What appear to be diﬀerent elementary particles

can actually be considered as diﬀerent notes on a fundamental string.

In the Platonic universe, the harmonies of nature could be illus-

trated by the Pythagorean music of celestial spheres. According to

string theory the vibrational patterns of fundamental strings orches-

trate the harmonies of the universe. It is assumed that all kinds

of symmetries, e.g. space-time symmetries, gauge symmetries of ele-

mentary particles, CPT-symmetry, originate from string theory. In a

supersymmetry of uniﬁcation, particles or vibrational patterns with

diﬀerent spins must be included [3.23]. For example, fermions are

typically matter particles with half a whole odd number amount of

spins, while bosons as typically messenger particles of interactions

(e.g. photons of electromagnetic force or gravitons of gravitation)

have a whole number amount of spin. A string theory with incor-

porated supersymmetry of fermions and bosons is called superstring

theory. In this case, for each bosonic pattern of vibration there is

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144 Symmetry and Complexity

a fermionic pattern and vice versa whose respective spins diﬀer by

half a unit. These supersymmetric pairs are called superpartners.

Mathematically, they can be combined as doublets of bosons and

fermions. A supersymmetry transformation describes the transfor-

mation of bosons and fermions with spin numbers next to one an-

other, i.e. diﬀering by half a unit.

In a quantum ﬁeld theory, a boson-fermion ﬁeld would have to

be described by a Lagrangian operator that is invariant with respect

to supersymmetry transformations. But, as far as we know, super-

symmetry can be incorporated into string theory in not one but ﬁve

diﬀerent ways. These ﬁve superstring theories are called the Type I

theory, the Type IIA theory, the Type IIB theory, the Heterotic type

O(32) theory, and the Heterotic type E

8

× E

8

theory with diﬀer-

ent symmetry groups of transformations. Each method results in a

pairing of bosonic and fermionic vibrational patterns, but the details

of this pairing as well as other properties diﬀer. Are these theories

alternative hypotheses, which must be decided by experiments, or

should they be uniﬁed in another supertheory?

Superstring theories lead to a surprising and dramatical change of

generally accepted physical concepts of our universe: Their uniﬁca-

tion of forces at high levels of energy needs more spatial dimensions

than the three familiar ones of our universe. Historically, the idea

of further spatial dimensions dates back to the Polish mathemati-

cian T. Kaluza who, in 1919, suggested a uniﬁcation of Einstein’s

gravitational theory with Maxwell’s electrodynamics. In Kaluza’s

uniﬁed theory, the equations pertaining to the three ordinary di-

mensions were essentially identical to Einstein’s ﬁeld equations of

gravitation. His extra equations associated with the new dimension

were those of Maxwell’s electrodynamic force. In those days, the idea

of a fourth spatial dimension that could not be observed was rather

strange. But in 1926, the Swedish mathematician O. Klein, for the

ﬁrst time, assumed that the spatial structure of our universe may

have both extended and observable dimensions as well as curled-up

ones that cannot be observed because of their tiny size [3.24]. The

fourth curled-up dimension was illustrated by tiny circles at every

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Symmetry and Complexity in Physical Sciences 145

point in the familiar 3-dimensional space, like the circular loops of

thread making up the pile of a carpet.

In superstring theories, the uniﬁcation of more forces means the

need for even more dimensions. Again, for instance, two extra di-

mensions can be imagined as curled up in the shape of tiny spheres or

torus which are tacked on to every point of the familiar extended di-

mensions. But, the uniﬁcation of electromagnetic, weak and strong

forces with gravitation requires the particular number of six extra

dimensions, i.e. nine space dimensions and one time dimension in a

superstring theory. The reasons are purely mathematically explained

by the formalism of a superstring theory in order to avoid inconsis-

tent and senseless concepts. Obviously, a curled-up 6-dimensional

space cannot be illustrated like the cases of one or two extra dimen-

sions. In 1984, it could be proven that the so-called Calabi–Yau

spaces meet the conditions which are required by the six curled-up

extra dimensions of superstring theories. These tiny six-dimensional

Calabi–Yau spaces are assumed to be tacked on to every point of the

familiar 3-dimensional space.

The 10-dimensional superstring theories have extremely symmet-

ric properties. Their supersymmetry forecasts the existence of su-

perpartners which should be detected by appropriate accelerators of

elementary particles. But, from a theoretical point of view, one of

their main advantages is their power of explanation. Newton and

Einstein developed their theories of gravity only because their ob-

servations of the world showed them that gravity exists, and that,

therefore, it required a mathematical model describing gravitational

interactions. On the contrary, string theory demands and forecast

the existence of gravity even if nobody ever has observed gravita-

tional eﬀects. Like the other fundamental forces, they are derived

from superior principles of symmetry.

But what about the ﬁve possibilities of superstring theories? State

of the art is that they share many basic features. For example,

their vibrational patterns determine the possible mass and charge of

particles, they require 10 space-time dimensions, and their curled-up

extra dimensions satisfy the conditions of a Calabi–Yau space. But

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146 Symmetry and Complexity

there are also diﬀerences. Type I string theory, for example, has

open strings with two loose ends in addition to the closed loops of

Fig. 41. In a ﬁrst approach, the ﬁve superstring theories were thought

of as being complete separate alternatives which must be decided by

observation. But further insights have supported the idea that all of

the superstring theories can be viewed as a single, all-encompassing

framework. Kaluza’s idea of uniﬁcation by extra dimensions makes

it mathematically possible. The uniﬁed theory should have ten space

and one time dimension. One additional spatial dimension allows for

a synthesis of all ﬁve versions of the theory. The ﬁve established

superstring theories are only approximations of an exact theory that

is still unknown in all its details. This 11-dimensional theory has

provisionally been called M-theory.

The ultramicroscopic, extended nature of a string can be ap-

proximated by a structureless point particle, using the framework

of point-particle quantum ﬁeld theory. When dealing with short dis-

tance and high-energy processes where gravity and quantum forces

are uniﬁed, this approximation can no longer be used. The quantum

ﬁeld theory that most closely approximates superstring theories in

this way is the 11-dimensional theory of supergravity. A remarkable

consequence of the 11-dimensional M-theory is that the theory of

supergravity can also be incorporated into the network of common

dualities with superstring theories. M-theory does not only contain

vibrating 1-dimensional objects like (closed or open) strings, but also

includes 2-dimensional vibrating membranes, 3-dimensional objects

(so-called three-branes), and a host of other more dimensional ingre-

dients (so-called p-branes). The uniﬁcation of M-theory is supported

by proofs of dualities which describe exactly the common features

of the ﬁve superstring theories. They are mainly derived from their

symmetry principles.

M-theory seems to be the ultimate framework of the initial sym-

metric state of our universe. In the beginning, all of the spatial

dimensions are curled up to their ﬁnite smallest possible extent of

Planck’s length, but not to zero. The temperature and energy are

high, but not inﬁnite. In the hot environment of the early universe,

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Symmetry and Complexity in Physical Sciences 147

all fundamental forces were indistinguishable and merged together

in one uniﬁed force. M-theory and superstring theories avoid the

inconsistencies of an inﬁnitely compressed zero-size starting point of

inﬁnite energy, which was assumed by the relativistic standard model

of cosmology. Perhaps, some day, the ﬁnite conditions of the early

universe can even be tested in a future accelerator ring. At this begin-

ning state of the universe, the spatial dimensions are completely sym-

metric and curled up into a multidimensional, Planck-sized nugget.

How could it expand and generate the variety of structures emerging

at successive steps of cosmic evolution?

3.2 Symmetry Breaking and Phase Transitions

In the beginning, there was symmetry. Thus, the observed variety

and diversity of structures in nature could only emerge by a reduction

of symmetry or symmetry breaking. Processes of symmetry breaking

are well known from everyday life. A (mathematically perfect) egg

has rotational symmetry and symmetry of reﬂection with reference

to its longitudinal axis. If we stand it vertically on a plate, and leave

it to its own devices, it rolls over on its side and remains lying in some

direction: The symmetry of the egg relative to the vertical axis on

the table is broken, although the symmetry of the eggshell remains

intact. The symmetry breaking is spontaneous, since it was impossi-

ble to predict the direction in which the egg ultimately came to rest.

In this case, the cause is the earth’s gravitation, which allows the

egg to assume an energetically more favourable state: the symmet-

rical state relative to the vertical axis of the plate was energetically

stable.

If the early universe started in a state of high symmetry, it was

rather featureless with only one force. More features emerged as the

universe cooled and expanded. The universe underwent a series of

cosmic phase (or state) transitions, in which the primal symmetry

was successively broken and the gravitation, strong, weak and elec-

tromagnetic interactions successively froze out. Phase transitions

with symmetry breaking can be illustrated in many physical systems

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148 Symmetry and Complexity

by lowering their temperature. Water provides a simple example.

A complex system of water molecules is a gas or steam above 100

degrees Celsius. In this state, the system has a high degree of sym-

metry, because the molecules can move completely freely without any

distinction of direction. If the temperature is lowered below 100 de-

grees Celsius, water droplets emerge by passing through a gas–liquid

phase transition, and the symmetry is reduced. If the temperature is

further lowered down to 0 degrees Celsius, the system pass through

a liquid–water/solid–ice phase transition that is connected with an-

other spontaneous decrease in symmetry. In this state, the liquid

water begins to freeze and turn into solid ice. Liquid water looks the

same regardless of the angle from which it is viewed. In this sense,

the system is rotationally symmetric. But solid ice has a crystalline

block structure looking diﬀerent from diﬀerent angles. The phase

transition has resulted in a decrease in the amount of rotational

symmetry.

At 10

−43

seconds after the Big Bang, the so-called Planck-time,

the temperature of the universe is calculated to be about 10

32

Kelvin.

As time passed, the universe expanded and cooled. Between the

Planck time and a hundredth of a second, the uniﬁed theory fore-

casts phase transitions with symmetry breaking and emergence of

new structures which are similar to the phase transitions of wa-

ter. E. Witten proved that, within M-theory, the strengths of all

four forces can be uniﬁed (Fig. 42) [3.25]. When the temperature

of the universe, above 10

28

Kelvin, was still high enough, then, ac-

cording to quantum ﬁeld theory, at least the three nongravitational

forces merged together. A bifurcation between gravitation and a

uniﬁed electro-weak-strong force had happened. As the temperature

dropped below 10

28

Kelvin, the universe underwent a phase transi-

tion in which the three forces crystallized out from their union in

diﬀerent ways. Therefore, the symmetry among the forces at higher

temperatures was broken as the universe cooled. Only the weak and

electromagnetic forces were still interwoven. At 10

15

Kelvin, the uni-

verse went through another phase transition that aﬀected the electro-

magnetic and weak forces. At this temperature, they too crystallized

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Symmetry and Complexity in Physical Sciences 149

gravitation

GUT

electro-

weak

strong interaction

weak interaction

electromagnetic

interaction

energy

temperature

Planck-time

cosmic age

established physics

10 GeV

19

10 K

32

10 sec

-43

10 GeV

14

10 K

27

10 sec

-35

10 K

15

10 sec

-12

100GeV

Fig. 42. Bifurcation tree of cosmic symmetry breaking [3.26]

out from their previous, more symmetric union. A bifurcation tree of

spontaneous symmetry breaking led to the emergence of the familiar

physical forces during phase transitions of the expanding and cooling

early universe.

The standard model of symmetry breaking in quantum ﬁeld the-

ory uses a Yang–Mills theory of quantum forces and the so-called

Higgs mechanism [3.27]. The historical Yang–Mills theory with gauge

symmetry proceeds on the assumption of the unlimited range of all

the forces it describes. But, except for the photons of the electro-

magnetic force and the gravitons of gravitation, no massless parti-

cles occur in nature, with which interaction could be transmitted

over unlimited ranges. Therefore, the Higgs mechanism describes

a procedure of spontaneous symmetry breaking which results in the

desired massive gauge particles. For a uniﬁcation of the SU(2)×U(1)

symmetry, four gauge ﬁeld quanta are necessary. According to the

Higgs mechanism, three of them are required to become massive for

weak interaction, while the fourth gauge particle is the photon of

electromagnetic interaction, which is massless and transmitted with

the speed of light.

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150 Symmetry and Complexity

A uniﬁcation of strong, weak and electromagnetic forces with

SU(3), SU(2) and U(1) symmetries is mathematically described by

a SU(5) symmetry. If this symmetry of strong-weak-electromagnetic

force is spontaneously broken, then the intermediate particles of in-

teraction (analogous to the gauge particles of the weak interaction)

take on large masses. At ﬁrst, only the strong SU(3) interactions with

the quarks could be distinguished from the electro-weak SU(2)×U(1)

interactions of the leptons. During further expansion of the universe

with decreasing temperature, these symmetries were also broken, and

the forces act in the manner currently observed. It would be obvi-

ous, for the conﬁrmation of the SU(5) uniﬁcation to generate the

X-particles at high energy in the laboratory, as was done previously

for the intermediate vector bosons of the SU(2) × U(1) uniﬁcation.

Since such a process requires energies which are approximately 13 or-

ders of magnitude greater than the energies required to generate the

SU(2)×U(1) vector bosons (approximately 100 GeV), this method of

testing the theory remains hypothetical. Analogous to the β-decay

of the weak interaction, we still hope to observe a virtual X-particle

during an elementary particle process. Such a process is predicted

by the SU(5) theory for the decay of the proton, when a quark is

transformed into a lepton.

During the ﬁrst stage of symmetry breaking at about the Planck-

time, three of the curled-up spatial dimensions are singled out for

expansion, while all others retain their initial Planck-scale size. The

question arises why only three of the space dimensions have expanded

to observably large size. If we imagine two point particles moving

with diﬀerent velocity along a 1-dimensional line, they will sooner

or later collide. If they are randomly rolling around a 2-dimensional

plane, it is likely that they will never collide. In three or higher num-

ber of dimensions, a meeting of the two particles gets increasingly

unlikely. An analogous idea holds if the point particles are replaced

with loops of string, wrapped around spatial dimensions. The rapid

expansion in three dimensions is explained by the so-called inﬂation-

ary period of the universe. During a tiny window of time, around

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Symmetry and Complexity in Physical Sciences 151

10

−36

to 10

−34

seconds after the Big Bang, the universe expanded

by a colossal factor of at least 10

30

.

The quantum theory of the inﬂationary period assumes an early

state of the universe with small size, but very high energy (“quan-

tum vacuum”) that expands very rapidly to macroscopic dimensions

driven by a repulsive force of the quantum vacuum state (“anti-

gravity”) [3.28]. This cosmic phase transition allows one to explain

some well-known properties of the observed universe such as the rel-

atively homogeneous distribution of stars and matter. During the

inﬂationary period, some tiny deviations from symmetry and uni-

formity would have been ampliﬁed until they were big enough to

account for the observed structures of the universe. In the expand-

ing universe the density of matter varied slightly from place to place.

Thus, gravity would have caused the denser regions to slow down

their expansion and start contracting. These local events led to the

formation of stars and galaxies.

According to A. Linde, the brief but crucial burst of inﬂationary expansion

may not have been a unique event. Instead, the conditions for inﬂationary expan-

sion may happen repeatedly in isolated regions, which then undergo their own

inﬂationary expansions, evolving into new, separate universes. Linde suggests

a multiuniverse, generating a never ending web of ballooning cosmic expanses.

Separating universes mean bifurcation and symmetry breaking. Thus, a multiu-

niverse is the ultimate version of cosmic symmetry breaking: In the beginning

there was endless symmetry breaking. Whereas we assume a consistent and uni-

form physics in our universe, this may have no bearing on the physical attributes

in these other universes. The list of elementary particles and forces may be com-

pletely distinct from ours. If we assume superstring theories, even the number of

extended dimensions may diﬀer with diﬀerent possibilities of interacting strings

and particles. If our universe is not alone but is instead interwined with a fractal

“multiverse”, along with many other bifurcating universes, then we could think

about “interuniversal” routes between the universes. According to Heisenberg’s

principle of uncertainty, quantum ﬂuctuations could open short-lived wormholes

in space-time. So, the laws of quantum dynamics make it at least conceivable that

wormholes can be employed as links between separated and bifurcating universes.

Only upon cooling did the early symmetry of the universe break

apart into increasingly partial symmetries, and the individual parti-

cles were crystallized in stages. For example, it would be conceiv-

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152 Symmetry and Complexity

able in terms of physics that after the end of the ﬁrst epoch, the

original symmetry had dissolved into the local subsymmetry of grav-

itation and the symmetry of the other forces [3.29]. In the SU(5)

symmetry of the weak, strong and electromagnetic forces, quarks

and leptons are still being transformed. The intermediate particles

of interaction play the most important role. Ultimately, the SU(5)

symmetry decays into the SU(3) symmetry of the strong forces and

the SU(2) ×U(1) symmetry of the weak and electromagnetic forces.

Quarks and leptons thus become identiﬁable particles. Ultimately,

the SU(2) ×U(1) symmetry also decays into the SU(2) subsymmetry

of the weak interaction and the U(1) subsymmetry of the electro-

magnetic interaction. The atomic nuclei of electrons, neutrinos etc.

become identiﬁable particles.

Below certain temperatures that correspond to certain average

distances, the coupling constants of the various interactions became

distinguishable. As a result of related, gradual and spontaneous sym-

metry breaking, the universe became asymmetrical and manifold.

Finally, we should note a few “fossils” of these past symmetry break-

ings. The parity violation, i.e. the preference for one direction in

space, like that which occurs during the β-decay of the weak inter-

action, as explained above, is a relic of the SU(2) × U(1) symmetry

breaking.

An additional remarkable asymmetry of the current universe is

the surplus of matter over antimatter [3.30]. This fact can now be

understood as a consequence of the breaking of the SU(5) symme-

try. After the collapse of the SU(5) symmetry, more quarks than

antiquarks might have been formed during the exchange of the inter-

mediate particles, because the quarks decayed somewhat more slowly

than the antiquarks. Later, after matter and antimatter had been

mutually annihilated, there was a small surplus of protons and elec-

trons, from which the stars, the earth and life on earth evolved. In a

future stage of development of the universe, however, this temporary

“surplus” of matter, on which our existence depends, could disappear

again, speciﬁcally if the protons are annihilated. Of course, given the

estimated lower bound for the average life of a proton, which is 10

31

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Symmetry and Complexity in Physical Sciences 153

years, the decay period of matter seems enormously long, but it is

still physically conceivable and experimentally veriﬁable.

It is remarkable that with the SU(5) symmetry breaking, the dis-

crete CP symmetry must also be violated. Of course, the CP sym-

metry says that all physical laws remain valid in a reﬂected world if,

in addition to the reﬂection (P), all the particles are replaced by their

antiparticles (C). If CP symmetry were to be always valid, then from

an initial equilibrium of matter and antimatter, a predominance of

one of the two parts could never have developed. For each origin of

a particle, there would then be an equally probable reﬂected process

in which the corresponding antiparticle would be formed. As noted

above, violations of CP symmetry can be experimentally veriﬁed

during the decay of the K

◦

meson.

Early cosmic evolution was a ﬁrst example of phase transitions in

which matter transforms from one structural state to another. We al-

ready emphasized the analogies of the early cosmic phase transitions

with the familiar condensation of gases and the freezing of liquids.

The diﬀerent order of the molecules on the microlevel is a cause of

a new feature of the material on the macroscopic level. Condensa-

tion and freezing relate to a complex state of molecules and cannot be

reduced to a single molecule. In this sense, phase transitions are con-

nected with the emergence of new macroscopic features of a system.

Consider, for example, a ferromagnet losing its magnetization, when

it is heated beyond a critical value. Magnetization is a macroscopic

feature that can be explained by changing the degrees of freedom

at the microscopic level. The ferromagnet consists of many atomic

magnets. At elevated temperature, the elementary magnets point

in random directions. If the corresponding magnetic moments are

added up, they cancel each other. Then, on the macroscopic level,

no magnetization can be observed. Below a critical temperature, the

atomic magnets are lined up in a macroscopic order, giving rise to

the macroscopic feature of magnetization.

In these kinds of phase transition, the emergence of macroscopic

order was caused by lowering temperature, but by maintaining a ﬂux

of energy and matter through them. Familiar examples are living sys-

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154 Symmetry and Complexity

tems like plants and animals that are fed by biochemical energy. The

processing of this energy may result in the formation of macroscopic

patterns like the growth of plants, locomotion of animals, and so

on. But this emergence of order is by no means reserved to living

systems. It is a kind of dissipative (irreversible) self-organization far

from thermal equilibrium that can be found in physics and chemistry

as well as in biology.

Emergence of order seems to contradict the second law of ther-

modynamics. According to that famous law, closed systems without

any exchange of energy and matter with their environment develop

to disordered states near thermal equilibrium. The degree of dis-

order is measured by a quantity called “entropy.” The second law

says that in closed systems the entropy always increases to its max-

imal value. For instance, when a cold body is brought into contact

with a hot body, then heat is exchanged so that both bodies acquire

the same temperature, i.e. a disordered and homogeneous order of

molecules. When a drop of milk is put into coﬀee, the milk spreads

out to a ﬁnally disordered and homogeneous mixture of milky coﬀee.

The reverse processes are never observed [3.31].

In this sense, processes according to the second law of thermo-

dynamics are irreversible with a unique direction of time. But the

symmetry of time is only broken on the macrolevel without contra-

diction to the time reversibility of other physical laws (e.g. quantum

mechanics). The second law of thermodynamics refers to macro-

scopic distributions of particles (e.g. molecules of a gas) and their

time-depending development that is irreversible with high probabil-

ity. On the microlevel, the equations of the particles are still re-

versible (microreversibility). Basically, the thermodynamic arrow of

time is explained by the global expansion of the whole universe lead-

ing from states of symmetry to symmetry breaking and diversity with

increasing entropy [3.32]. But, in a global sea of entropy, local islands

of new order like, e.g. stars, planets and life emerge and disappear.

How is that possible?

The emergence of order is made possible by phase transitions of

open systems interacting with their environment. In hydrodynamics,

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Symmetry and Complexity in Physical Sciences 155

the formation of weather and turbulences are classical examples. The

earth, warmed by the sun, heats the atmosphere from below. Outer

space, which is always cold, absorbs heat from the outer shell of the

atmosphere. The lower layer of air tries to rise, while the upper

layer tries to drop. This traﬃc of layers was modeled in several

experiments by H. B´enard. The air currents in the atmosphere can be

visualized as cross-sections of the layers. The traﬃc of the competing

warm and cold air masses is represented by circulation vortices, called

B´enard cells. In three dimensions, a vortex may have warm air rising

in a ring, and cold air descending in the center. Thus, the atmosphere

consists of a sea of 3-dimensional B´enard cells, closely packed as a

hexagonal lattice. A footprint of such a sea of atmospheric vortices

can be observed in the regular patterns of hills and valleys in deserts,

snowﬁelds or icebergs.

In a typical B´enard experiment, a ﬂuid layer is heated from below

in a gravitational ﬁeld (Fig. 43a). The heated ﬂuid at the bottom

tries to rise, while the cold liquid at the top tries to fall. These

motions are opposed by viscous forces. For small temperature dif-

ferences ∆T, viscosity wins, the liquid remains at rest, and heat is

transported by uniform heat conduction. The external control pa-

rameter of the system is the so-called Rayleigh number Ra of velocity,

which is proportional to ∆T. At a critical value of Ra, the state of

the ﬂuid becomes unstable, and a pattern of stationary convection

rolls develops (Fig. 43b). Beyond a greater critical value of Ra, a

transition to chaotic turbulence is observed [3.33].

Another example from ﬂuid dynamics is the ﬂow of ﬂuid round a

cylinder. The external control parameter is the Reynolds number Re

(a) (b)

Fig. 43. Phase transition and symmetry breaking of a B´enard experiment

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156 Symmetry and Complexity

of ﬂuid velocity. At low speed the ﬂow happens in a homogeneous

manner (Fig. 44a). At higher speeds, a new macroscopic pattern

with two vortices appears (Fig. 44b). With yet higher speeds the

vortices start to oscillate (Fig. 44c–d). At a certain critical value,

the irregular and chaotic pattern of a turbulence ﬂow arises behind

the cylinder (Fig. 44e).

Fig. 44. Phase transitions of ﬂuid dynamics [3.34]

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Symmetry and Complexity in Physical Sciences 157

(a)

(b)

Fig. 45. Phase transitions of a laser [3.35]

A famous example from modern physics and technology is the

laser. A solid state laser consists of a rod of material in which spe-

ciﬁc atoms are embedded. Each atom may be excited by energy

from outside leading it to the emission of light pulses. Mirrors at

the end faces of the rod serve to select these pulses. If the pulses

run in the axial direction, then they are reﬂected several times and

stay longer in the laser, while pulses in diﬀerent directions leave it.

At small pump power the laser operates like a lamp, because the

atoms emit independently of each other light pulses (Fig. 45a). At

a certain pump power, the atoms oscillate in phase, and a single

ordered pulse of gigantic length emerges (Fig. 45b). The laser is an

example of macroscopic order emerging from phase transitions. With

exchange and processing of energy, the laser is obviously a dissipative

system.

Phase transitions in dissipative systems generate a bifurcation

tree with emerging structures of increasing complexity. In this con-

text, the degrees of increasing complexity are deﬁned by the increas-

ing bifurcations that lead to chaos as the most complex and fractal

scenario. Each bifurcation illustrates a possible branch of solution

for the nonlinear equation. Physically, they denote phase transitions

from a state of equilibrium to new possible states of equilibria. If

equilibrium is understood as a state of symmetry, then phase transi-

tion means symmetry breaking being caused by ﬂuctuational forces.

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158 Symmetry and Complexity

Mathematically, symmetry is deﬁned by the invariance of certain

laws with respect to several transformations between the correspond-

ing reference systems of an observer. The hydrodynamical laws de-

scribing a ﬂuid layer heated from below (Fig. 43a) are invariant with

respect to all horizontal translations. Nevertheless, these highly sym-

metric laws allow phase transitions to states with less symmetry. For

example, in the case of a B´enard experiment, the heated ﬂuid layer

becomes unstable, and the state of stationary convection rolls de-

velops (Fig. 43b). This phase transition means symmetry breaking,

because tiny ﬂuctuations cause the rolls to prefer one of two possible

directions. Our examples show that phase transition and symme-

try breaking is caused by a change of external parameters and leads

eventually to a new macroscopic spatio-temporal pattern of the sys-

tem and emergence of order. Obviously, thermal ﬂuctuations bear in

themselves an uncertainty, or more precisely speaking, probabilities.

A particle that is randomly pushed back or forth (Brownian motion)

can be described by a stochastic equation governing the change of

the probability distribution as a function of time. Fluctuations are

caused by a huge number of randomly moving particles. An example

is a ﬂuid with its molecules. Therefore, a bifurcation of a stochastic

process can only be determined by a change of probabilistic distri-

bution and stochastic symmetry breaking. In general, the emergence

of structures in the universe is made possible by decreasing symme-

try (“symmetry breaking”) and increasing complexity during phase

transitions.

3.3 Complexity, Attractors and Dynamical Systems

Emerging structures and entities in nature correspond to solutions of

nonlinear diﬀerential equations modeling the time-depending evolu-

tion of dynamical systems. Why is nonlinearity a (necessary) reason

for the emergence of new structures in dynamical systems? In the

case of a linear equation, the sum of two solutions is also a solution

of the equation. This property is often expressed with the statement:

the whole is equal to the sum of its parts. Thus, the task of ﬁnding

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Symmetry and Complexity in Physical Sciences 159

the general solution for a linear diﬀerential equations can be bro-

ken up into a collection of simpler problems. The threads of causal

developments can more easily be separated and sorted out. In non-

linear systems, such a resolution is not possible because the sum of

two solutions is in general not a solution of the nonlinear equation:

the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts. The whole is

a new dynamic entity and not only a collection of elements. Thus

nonlinearity becomes a source of emergent phenomena.

An example of hydrodynamics is the emergence of solitary waves

from the nonlinear dynamics of water waves. In an experiment, a

solitary wave can be created in a water tank [3.36]. We consider

a column of water that is accumulated at one end of the tank.

Release of this water by lifting a sliding panel generates a solitary

wave that travels to the other end of the tank with the same speed

and amplitude. The traveling wave corresponds to an exact solution

of a nonlinear diﬀerential equation modeling the wave dynamics in

the tank. The equation depends on the speed of amplitude waves

and their dispersion that is determined by, for example, surface ten-

sion and the density of water. The shape of the solitary wave is

made possible, because its eﬀects of dispersion are in balance with

those of nonlinearity. The eﬀect of dispersion is to spread out the

energy of the traveling pulse and the eﬀect of nonlinearity is to draw

it together.

Spreading out and drawing together of energy forms a causal loop

that generates a new dynamic entity. Causal loops correspond to

nonlinear dynamics that cannot be separated into their parts. It is

their dynamic interaction that produces emerging phenomena. Soli-

tary waves are examples of Einstein’s vision that the emergence of

entities in nature can be explained by exact solutions of nonlinear

diﬀerential equations. There is an arbitrary number of solitary waves

with varying speeds and amplitudes which even undergo a collective

collision. In this case, they leave the interaction region of space-time

with the same speeds and amplitudes that they had upon entry.

Therefore, solitary waves are now called solutions, emphasizing their

particle-like character.

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160 Symmetry and Complexity

Hydrodynamic solitary waves are examples of dynamical entities

conserving their energy. But there are also solitary waves that are

generated by a dynamic balance between nonlinear and dissipative

eﬀects. An example is the emergence of the ﬂame of a candle. In

a lighted candle, heat generated by the ﬂame diﬀuses into the solid

wax, causing the release of a vapor that carries energy upward into

the ﬂame. Combustion of the vaporized wax provides the heat. The

closed causal loop between thermal diﬀusion and nonlinear energy

release generates a traveling-wave, moving down the candle at a ﬁxed

speed. This kind of causal loop is an example of nonlinear reaction–

diﬀusion process that cannot only be observed in physics, but also

in chemistry and biology.

Roughly speaking, we distinguish conservative (“closed”) and dis-

sipative (“open”) dynamical systems. More precisely, conservative

as well as dissipative systems are characterized by time-depending

nonlinear diﬀerential equations depending on an external control pa-

rameter that can be decreased and increased to critical values. As

we mentioned in previous sections, Hamiltonian-like equations can be

used to characterize any conservative dynamical system. Its fruitful

idea is to characterize a conservative system by a Hamiltonian func-

tion (or operator), which is the expression for the total energy (which

is the sum of kinetic and potential energy) of the system in terms of

all the position and momentum variables.

The corresponding state spaces allow us the evolution of the dy-

namical systems in each “phase.” Thus, they are called phase spaces.

For systems with n particles, phase spaces have 3n+3n = 6n dimen-

sions. A single point of a phase space represents the entire state of

a perhaps complex system with n particles. The Hamiltonian equa-

tions determine the trajectory of a phase point in a phase space.

Globally, they describe the rates of change at every phase point, and

therefore deﬁne a vector ﬁeld on the phase space, determining the

whole dynamics of the corresponding system.

It is a well-known fact from empirical applications that states

of dynamical models cannot be measured with arbitrary exactness.

The measured values of a quantity may diﬀer by tiny intervals being

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Symmetry and Complexity in Physical Sciences 161

caused by the measuring apparatus, constraints of the environment,

and so on. The corresponding phase points are concentrated in some

small regions of a neighborhood. Now, the crucial question arises if

trajectories starting with neighboring initial states are locally stable

in the sense that they have neighboring ﬁnal states. In this case,

similar initial states lead to similar ﬁnal states. This assumption is

nothing else than a classical principle of causality in the language of

Hamiltonian dynamics: similar causes lead to similar eﬀects.

Due to a theorem of the French mathematician J. Liouville, the

volume of any region of the phase space must remain constant under

any Hamiltonian dynamics, and thus for any conservative dynamical

system. But its conservation does not exclude that the shape of the

initial region is distorted and stretched out to great distances in the

phase space. We may imagine a drop of ink spreading through a

large volume of water in a container. That possible spreading eﬀect

in phase spaces means that the local stability of trajectories is by

no means secured by Liouville’s theorem. A very tiny change in the

initial data may still give rise to a large change in the outcome [3.37].

Nevertheless, Liouville’s theorem implies some general conse-

quences concerning the regions which can be displayed by Hamilto-

nian dynamics, and thus by conservative systems. The mathematical

pendulum without friction is a perfect conservative system without

any loss of energy. As there is no friction, moving the pendulum a

little to the left causes it to swing back and forth indeﬁnitely. The

full trajectory in the state space, corresponding to this oscillating

motion, is a cycle or closed loop around a vortex point of equilib-

rium which is not an attractor (Fig. 46b). If the system is not closed

and the eﬀects of friction are included as in physical reality, then the

equilibrium point at the origin is no longer a vortex motion of the

point (Fig. 46a). It has become a spiraling type of point attractor.

As any motion of the pendulum will come to rest because of friction,

any trajectory representing a slow motion of the pendulum near the

bottom approaches this limit point asymptotically.

In Fig. 46a, trajectories are attracted to a ﬁeld point, and the

volume of an initial area shrinks. In Fig. 46b, the trajectories rotate

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162 Symmetry and Complexity

Fig. 46a. Fixed point attractor Fig. 46b. Vortex point of oscillation

around a vortex point, and the volume of an initial area is conserved.

Thus, due to Liouville’s theorem, we can generally conclude that in

any conservative system attracting points must be excluded. The

eﬀect of shrinking initial areas can easily be visualized for the tra-

jectories of limit cycles, too. Therefore, limit cycles as attractors are

also not possible in conservative systems for the same mathematical

(a priori) reasons [3.38].

A further mathematical result of Hamiltonian (conservative) sys-

tems says that there are irregular and chaotic trajectories. In the

18th and 19th centuries, physicists and philosophers were convinced

that nature is determined by Newtonian- or Hamiltonian-like equa-

tions of motion, and thus future and past states of the universe can be

calculated at least in principle if the initial states of present events are

well known. Philosophically, this belief was visualized by Laplace’s

demon, which like a huge computer without physical limitations can

store and calculate all necessary states. Mathematically, the belief in

Laplace’s demon must presume that systems in classical mechanics

are integrable, and, thus are solvable. In 1892, Poincar´e was al-

ready aware that the non-integrable three-body problem of classical

mechanics can lead to completely chaotic trajectories [3.39]. About

sixty years later, A.N. Kolmogorov (1954), V.I. Arnold (1963) and

J. Moser (1967) proved with their famous KAM theorem that motion

in the phase space of classical mechanics is neither completely regu-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Physical Sciences 163

lar nor completely irregular, but that the type of trajectory depends

sensitively on the chosen initial conditions [3.40].

Since Poincar´e’s celestial mechanics (1892), it was mathemati-

cally known that some mechanical systems whose time evolution is

governed by nonlinear Hamiltonian equations could display chaotic

motion. But as long as scientists did not have suitable tools to deal

with non-integrable systems, deterministic chaos was considered as

a mere curiosity. During the ﬁrst decades of the 20th century, many

numerical procedures were developed to deal with the mathemati-

cal complexity of nonlinear diﬀerential equations at least approxi-

mately. The calculating power of modern high-speed computers and

reﬁned experimental techniques have supported the recent successes

of the nonlinear complex system approach in natural and social sci-

ences. The visualizations of nonlinear models by computer-assisted

techniques promote interdisciplinary applications with far-reaching

consequences in many branches of science. In this scientiﬁc scenario

(1963), the meteorologist Lorenz a student of the famous mathemati-

cian Birkhoﬀ [3.41], observed that a dynamical system with three

coupled ﬁrst-order nonlinear diﬀerential equations can lead to com-

pletely chaotic trajectories. Mathematically, nonlinearity is a nec-

essary, but not suﬃcient condition of chaos. It is a necessary con-

dition, because linear diﬀerential equations can be solved by well-

known mathematical procedures (Fourier transformations) and do

not lead to chaos. The system Lorenz used to model the dynamics of

weather diﬀers from Hamiltonian systems `a la Poincar´e, mainly by its

dissipativity.

Lorenz’s discovery of a deterministic model of turbulence occurred

during simulation of global weather patterns. The diﬀerential equa-

tions describing the B´enard experiment (Fig. 43) were simpliﬁed by

Lorenz to obtain the three nonlinear diﬀerential equations of his fa-

mous model. Each diﬀerential equation describes the rate of change

for a variable x proportional to the circulatory ﬂuid ﬂow velocity,

a variable y characterizing the temperature diﬀerence between as-

cending and descending ﬂuid elements, and a variable z propor-

tional to the deviation of the vertical temperature proﬁle from its

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164 Symmetry and Complexity

Fig. 47. Strange attractor of Lorenz [3.42]

equilibrium value. From these equations, it can be derived that

an arbitrary volume element of some surface in the corresponding

phase space contracts exponentially in time. Thus, the Lorenz model

is dissipative.

This can be visualized by computer-assisted calculations of the

trajectories generated by the three equations of the Lorenz model.

Under certain conditions, a particular region in the 3-dimensional

phase space is attracted by the trajectories, making one loop to the

right, then a few loops to the left, then to the right again, etc.

(Fig. 47). The paths of these trajectories depend very sensitively

on the initial conditions. Tiny deviations of their values may lead to

paths which soon deviate from the old one with diﬀerent numbers of

loops. Because of its strange image, which looks like the two eyes

of an owl, the attracting region of the Lorenz phase was called a

“strange attractor.” Obviously, the strange attractor is chaotic with

fractal dimension. If the attractor is a point (Fig. 46a), the fractal

dimension is zero. For a stable limit circle (Fig. 46b) the fractal

dimension is one. But for chaotic systems the fractal dimension is

not an integer. In general, the fractal dimension can be calculated

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Symmetry and Complexity in Physical Sciences 165

only numerically. For the Lorenz model, the strange attractor has

the fractal dimension D ≈ 2.06 ±0.01.

Phase transitions of complex dynamical systems are associated

with the emergence of new structures. Mathematically, they are so-

lutions of nonlinear equations corresponding to a bifurcation tree of

diﬀerent attractors. Thus, we distinguish a hierarchy of structures

with increasing complexity from ﬁxed point attractors, periodic and

quasi-periodic limit cycles up to chaotic attractors. In former days

of history, scientists would have postulated certain demons or mystic

forces leading the elements of these systems to new patterns of order.

In the mathematical approach of complex systems, the emergence of

macroscopic patterns is explained by the interactions of their micro-

scopic elements. Their sometimes mystic “self-organization” happens

in critical situations of the system during phase transitions which

can mathematically exactly be analyzed. We distinguish phase tran-

sitions in thermal equilibrium and in nonequilibrium (“dissipative”)

systems.

An example of a phase transition in thermal equilibrium is real-

ized by a ferromagnet that passes from a disordered state into an

ordered state of its elements if the system is cooled down below a

critical point. To characterize the variation between the macrostates,

L.D. Landau introduced order parameters as macroscopic variables

whose values are ﬁnite in the ordered state and zero in the disordered

state [3.43]. The ordered state occurs in low temperatures in which

the system exhibits a certain macroscopic structure indicated by a

ﬁnite order parameter. When the macroscopic structure is destroyed

by the random motion of the elements at increased temperatures,

then the order parameter will vanish. In the case of the ferromagnet,

the order parameter is the average magnetization, which vanishes in a

state above the Curie-point of temperature. Below the Curie-point,

the atomic dipoles arrange in a regular pattern on the microlevel

corresponding to the state of magnetization on the macrolevel. In

this case, the ferromagnet is in an equilibrium state corresponding

to a ﬁxed point attractor. For the gas–liquid transition, the order

parameter is the diﬀerence in the densities of the gas and the liquid.

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166 Symmetry and Complexity

Landau distinguishes discontinuous and continuous phase transitions. In dis-

continuous phase transitions, the order parameter jumps at the transition point

with a ﬁnite diﬀerence of the new and past state. In continuous phase transitions,

the order parameter decreases continuously to zero and the diﬀerence between the

two phases becomes inﬁnitesimal small at the transition point. The transition of a

system can be discontinuous or continuous under diﬀerent conditions. For exam-

ple, the condensation of gases is a discontinuous phase transition at low pressures

and a continuous transition at the critical point. At one atmospheric pressure

and 100 degrees Celsius, the densities of steam and water diﬀer by a large factor.

As the pressure increases, the density diﬀerence decreases and ﬁnally vanishes at

the critical point of 217 atmospheres and 374 degrees Celsius. At pressures above

the critical point there are no distinct gas and liquid phases. A ferromagnet is an

example of continuous phase transition.

Pattern formation in dissipative systems can also be explained

by the concept of order parameters [3.44]. We start with an old

structure, for instance, a homogeneous ﬂuid or randomly emitting

laser. In an open system the instability of an old structure is caused

by an increasing input of energy (e.g. increasing velocity of a ﬂuid

or increasing energy pumping of a laser [3.45]). The old structure

breaks down and the system takes a new equilibrium point of sta-

bility which is associated with the emergence of a new macroscopic

pattern of order. With increasing input of energy the system is driven

to new bifurcations of equilibria with the emergence of new macro-

scopic patterns of order with increasing complexity from ﬁxed points

to limit cycles and chaos attractors [3.46]. That is the usual bifurca-

tion tree of nonequilibrium dynamics in open (dissipative) systems

(Fig. 48).

How does the concept of order parameters come in? Close to

an instability point we can distinguish between elements with sta-

ble and unstable behavior (modes) on the microlevel of the system.

The few unstable modes grow to amplitudes of macroscopic scale and

inﬂuence the stable ones. They become macroscopic order param-

eters dominating the whole macrodynamics of the complex system

(Fig. 49). Thus, it is suﬀcient to analyze some few order parameters

to understand the macrodynamics of a complex system with many

elements.

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Symmetry and Complexity in Physical Sciences 167

Fig. 48. Bifurcation and emergence of order

Fig. 49. Self-organization and order parameters

Mathematically, the nonequilibrium dynamics of order param-

eters can be modeled by the well established method of a linear-

stability analysis (Fig. 49) [3.47]. On the microlevel, we start with a

nonlinear equation dx/dt = F(x, α) + f(t) of evolution with a non-

linear function F of the microstates x = (x

1

, . . . , x

n

) of the elements

and a control parameter α at time t. The function f(t) represents

small stochastic forces with additional external eﬀects on the sys-

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168 Symmetry and Complexity

tem which will be ignored in the following. The behavior of stability

is mainly determined by the reaction of a system to perturbations.

Therefore, we consider any well-known state for a given value α

0

of

the control parameter and analyze the dynamic behavior of the sys-

tem in the vicinity of an instability after a small shift of the control

parameter from α

0

to α. In this case, the behavior of the system cor-

respond to a solution x(t) = x

0

+ w(t) with the stationary solution

x

0

(which means F(x

0

, α) = 0) and a small deviation w(t) from the

stationary solution x

0

.

In order to analyze the question of whether x

0

remains a sta-

ble solution of the microscopic evolution equation or whether there

evolves another dynamics after the shift from α

0

to α, the solu-

tion x(t) = x

0

+ w(t) is inserted into dx/dt = F(x, α). In a

next step, we expand the evolution equation F(x

0

+ w(t), α) into a

Taylor series with respect to the deviation w(t). As F(x

0

, α) = 0, we

obtain the equation dw/dt = L(x

0

, α)w +N(x

0

, α, w) with the term

L for all linear terms and N for all nonlinear terms with second and

higher expansion terms. As long as the deviations w(t) are small,

one can neglect the higher terms and only analyze the approximate

linearized equation dw/dt = L(x

0

, α)w. The problem of stability is

now reduced to a linear equation which can be solved by elementary

methods.

By analyzing the corresponding eigenvalue equation, the linear-

stability analysis allows to distinguish between unstable and stable

elements on the microscopic level. Their unstable modes grow ex-

ponentially with time so that the linearized equation of evolution

becomes invalid. The stationary solution becomes unstable and the

corresponding linearized term of deviation must be substituted by

an equation distinguishing between the amplitudes of the unstable

modes and those of the stable ones. While the amplitudes of unsta-

ble modes begin to increase exponentially, the stable modes decrease

exponentially. The unstable amplitudes grow to macroscopic order

and thus become order parameters of the system.

H. Haken called this process a “slaving principle” because the

stable modes are “enslaved” by the unstable modes. Mathemati-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Physical Sciences 169

cally, the adaption behavior of the stable modes to the unstable ones

can in a ﬁrst approximation be described by a so-called adiabatic

elimination. In this case, the stable amplitudes can be expressed

by the unstable ones and in this sense eliminated. It is suﬃcient

to analyze the macroscopic order parameters of some few unstable

modes to understand the whole dynamics of the system. An immense

reduction of complexity has taken place: instead of dealing with bil-

lions of microscopic equations for all molecules in a ﬂuid or atoms

and photons in a laser it is now suﬃcient to treat the equations for

a few macrovariables or order parameters characterizing collective

patterns of a ﬂuid or light modes and collective atomic behavior in

a laser. The mathematical formalism of linear-stability analysis and

adiabatic elimination can be generalized for huge classes of complex

systems with nonequilibrium dynamics. Thus, order parameters are

a universal instrument to model the emergence of complex structures

in nature.

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Chapter 4

Symmetry and Complexity in

Chemical Sciences

Physics, chemistry and biology have become intimately intertwined.

Theoretical boundaries that historically were once assumed to exist

between inanimate and animate world have turned out to be un-

tenable. A uniﬁed theory of the natural sciences is beginning to

develop, in which the classical disciplines investigate more or less

complex subsystems having emerged in cosmic evolution. Examples

of increasing complexity and decreasing symmetry are strings, ele-

mentary particles, atomic nuclei, atoms, molecules, crystals, genes

and cells. On the scale of complexity, chemistry is a bridge between

the microworld and macroworld. Chemistry is not just the science

of electrons, atoms and molecules, but also of macroscopic objects

such as crystals and gas clouds. Nevertheless, molecular structures

are a key concept of chemistry with fascinating features of symmetry

and complexity. Molecules have more or less symmetric and com-

plex structures that can be deﬁned in the mathematical framework

of topology, group theory, dynamical systems theory and quantum

mechanics. But symmetry and complexity are by no means only the-

oretical concepts of research. Modern computer aided visualizations

show real forms of matter that nevertheless depend on the techni-

cal standards of observation, computation and representation. Their

symmetries often have aesthetical qualities that seem to be inspired

by the platonic idea of beauty.

4.1 Symmetry in Chemistry

Chemical symmetries depend on molecular structures. The molecu-

lar structure hypothesis states that a molecule is a collection of atoms

171

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172 Symmetry and Complexity

linked by a network of bonds. Since the 19th century the molecular

structure hypothesis has been a successful concept of ordering and

classifying the observations of chemistry. But this hypothesis cannot

directly be derived from the physical laws governing the motions of

the nuclei and electrons that make up the atoms and the bonds. It

must be justiﬁed that all atoms exist in molecules as separate deﬁn-

able pieces of the 3-dimensional (“real”) space with properties that

can be predicted and computed by the laws of quantum mechanics.

The well-known models of molecules with diﬀerent information for a

chemist are derived from the molecular structure hypothesis: (1) The

3-dimensional ball-and-stick model with balls for the atomic nuclei,

sticks for the atomic bonds and their angles, (2) its 2-dimensional

representation as structural formula, and (3) its 1-dimensional repre-

sentation as linguistic name which can be derived from the structural

formula. Graphic models are applications of mathematical graph

theory that is a part of combinatorical topology. This mathemati-

cal theory became fundamental for chemistry, when in the midst of

the last century the molecular structure of chemical substances were

discovered [4.1]. Pasteur recognized that the relationship between

symmetry of reﬂection and optical activity is not a function of the

crystal structure of a substance. With certain water-soluble crystals,

for example, the symmetry of reﬂection can be demonstrated both

in the solid state and in the liquid state. Pasteur investigated tar-

taric acid and found a counterclockwise and a clockwise form, which

are called L-tartaric acid and D-tartaric acid (D = dextro = right)

respectively. He also isolated a third form of tartaric acid (meso-

tartaric acid), which cannot be separated into one of the other forms.

To explain the optical activity, it was therefore necessary to inves-

tigate more fundamental structures than crystals or even molecules

and the orientation of atoms. R.J. Ha¨ uy had already suspected that

the form of crystals and their constituent components were images

of one another. Pasteur therefore inferred the symmetric form of the

crystal’s components from the crystal reﬂections [4.2].

Another important step was Kekul´e’s investigation of quadriva-

lent carbon atoms, for whose multiple bonds he also introduced a

structural formula notation being still used in today’s organic chem-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Chemical Sciences 173

istry [4.3]. An essential advance occurred in 1864, when the Edin-

burgh chemist A. Crum Brown introduced his version of the graphic

notation. Each atom was shown separately, represented by a letter

enclosed in a circle, and all single and multiple bonds were marked

by lines joining the circles. Crum Brown’s system is more or less the

one in use today, except that the circles are now usually omitted. His

notation was soon accepted everywhere, after some resistance from

Kekul´e and others. Its acceptance was partly due to its success in ex-

plaining the strange fact that there are pairs of substances that have

the same chemical composition, although their physical properties

are diﬀerent. The graphic notation made it clear that this is because

the atoms are arranged in diﬀerent ways in the diﬀerent substances.

This well-known chemical phenomenon is called isomerism, and in

many cases there are more than two isomers with the same constitu-

tional formula. In 1874, the great British mathematician A. Cayley

wrote a paper “On the mathematical theory of isomers” inspired by

the fusion of chemical and mathematical ideas. But the experiments

of J.H. van’t Hoﬀ and J.A. Le Bel were decisive for the assumption

of a 3-dimensional molecular structure [4.4]. In 1874, independently

of one another, they established a relationship between optical activ-

ity and 3-dimensional orientation of atoms. The initial example was

the carbon atom, whose four valences were arranged in the form of

a tetrahedron. A tetrahedral conﬁguration with the carbon atom in

the center makes possible the existence of two diﬀerent arrangements

being mirror images of each other (Fig. 50a). Tartaric acid has two

carbon atoms which are each connected to the atoms or groups of

atoms H, C, OH and COOH. For this combination, there are two

arrangements (L- and D-tartaric acid) being mirror images of each

other and one arrangement (meso-tartaric acid) which is reﬂective

symmetric in itself (Fig. 50b).

Van’t Hoﬀ’s stereochemistry regarding the 3-dimensional struc-

ture of the atom must initially have appeared to a highly speculative

idea, which betrayed a certain proximity to Platonic forms. Kekul´e

may have been particularly adept at 3-dimensional visualization as a

result of his prior study of architecture. Simultaneously with stere-

ochemistry, geometry and algebra were also undergoing a fruitful

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174 Symmetry and Complexity

Fig. 50a. Symmetry of carbon atom with tetrahedral structure

Fig. 50b. Symmetry of L-, D-, and meso-tartaric acid

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Symmetry and Complexity in Chemical Sciences 175

development [4.5]. Van’t Hoﬀ’s success in experimental explanation

and prediction made his geometry and algebra of the molecules soon

a method accepted by chemists. But it lacked any deﬁnitive physical

justiﬁcation. At this stage of development, stereochemistry remains

a successful heuristic approach meeting chemists’ need for a means

by which they can visualize their structural analyses.

From an experimental point of view the shape of molecules can be

illustrated by an outer envelope of their electronic charge distribu-

tions. These representations are similar to the pictures of atoms that

we can today obtain experimentally by the scattering of electrons in

super microscopes or from the scanning tunnelling electron micro-

scope. It is the distribution of charge that scatters the X-rays or

electrons in these experiments. Thus, it is the distribution of charge

that determines the form of molecular matter in 3-dimensional space.

Mathematical methods of diﬀerential topology enable us to iden-

tify atoms in terms of the morphology of the charge distribution. The

charge density p(r) is a scalar ﬁeld over 3-dimensional space with

a deﬁnite value at each point. Positions of extrema in the charge

density with maxima, minima or saddles where the ﬁrst derivatives

of p(r) vanish can be studied in the associated gradient vector ﬁeld

∇p(r). Whether an extremum is a maximum or a minimum, is deter-

mined by the sign of the second derivative or curvature at this point.

The gradient vector ﬁeld makes visible the molecular graph with a

set of lines linking certain pairs of nuclei in the charge distribution.

Local maxima of electronic charge distribution are found only at

the positions of nuclei. This is an observation based on experimental

results obtained from X-ray diﬀractions and on theoretical calcula-

tions on a large number of molecular systems. Thus, a nucleus seems

to have the special role of an attractor in the gradient vector ﬁeld of

the charge density. In short: the topology of the measurable charge

density deﬁnes the corresponding molecular structure.

In the mathematical framework of dynamical systems theory the

global arrangements of molecular forces can be represented by phase

portraits with attractors as nuclei and trajectories representing the

vector ﬁeld. For example, Fig. 51 shows maps with nuclei and the

symmetric structure of the ethylene molecule. Only those trajecto-

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176 Symmetry and Complexity

ries are shown which terminate at the position of the nuclei. They

deﬁne the basins of the nuclear attractors. In Fig. 51a only those

trajectories are shown which terminate at the position of the nuclei.

They deﬁne the basins of the nuclear attractors. Fig. 51b includes

the trajectories terminating and originating at certain critical points

(denoted by full circles) in the charge distribution. The pair of tra-

jectories terminating at these critical points mark the intersection

of an interatomic surface with the plane of the ﬁgure. The gradient

paths originating at these critical points and deﬁne the bond paths

are shown by the heavy lines. Fig. 51c shows a superposition of the

trajectories associated with these critical points on a contour map of

the charge density. These trajectories deﬁne the boundaries of the

atoms in the nuclear graph.

In general: the molecular graph is the network of bond paths link-

ing pairs of neighboring nuclear attractors. An atom, free or bound,

is deﬁned as the union of an attractor and its basin. Atoms, bonds

and structure are topological consequences of a measurable molecu-

lar charge distribution. In a next step, it is necessary to demonstrate

that the topological atom and its properties have a basis in quan-

tum mechanics. Topological atoms and bonds have a meaning in

real 3-dimensional space. But this structure is not reﬂected in the

properties of the abstract inﬁnite-dimensional Hilbert space of the

molecular state function. The state function ψ contains all of the in-

formation that can be known about a nuclear quantum system. From

an operational point of view, there is too much and redundant in-

formation in the state function because of the indistinguishability of

the electrons or because of the symmetry of their interactions. Some

of it is unnecessary as a result of the two-body nature of the Coulom-

bic interaction. Thus, there is a reduction of information in passing

from the state function in the inﬁnite-dimensional Hilbert space to

the charge distribution function in real 3-dimensional space. But, on

the other hand, we get a description of the molecular structure in

the observable and measurable space.

Quantum chemistry uses several mathematical procedures of ap-

proximation to achieve this kind of reduction [4.7]. A well-known

approximation is the Born–Oppenheimer procedure allowing a sepa-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Chemical Sciences 177

(a) (b)

(c)

Fig. 51. Phase portraits with symmetric structure of the ethylene molecule

rate consideration of the electrons and nuclei of a molecule. We get

the nuclear structure of a molecule beng represented by its struc-

tural formula. In order to distinguish the electrons as quasi-classical

objects in orbitals, the Hartree-Fock method is sometimes an appro-

priate approximation for the electronic state function. The electronic

charge density p(r, X) with the space vector r of an electron and the

collection of nuclear coordinates X can be derived as the quantum

mechanical probability density of ﬁnding any of the electrons in a

particular elemental volume. In the case of molecules in station-

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178 Symmetry and Complexity

ary states, the probability density is deﬁned by the stationary-state

function ψ(x, X) depending on the collection x of electronic space

and spin coordinates and the collection X of nuclear coordinates

[4.8]. This state function is a solution of Schr¨ odinger’s stationary

state equation for a ﬁxed arrangement of nuclei. The coincidence of

the topological deﬁnition and the quantum deﬁnition of an atom in a

molecular structure means that the topological atom is an open quan-

tum subsystem of the molecular quantum system, free to exchange

charge and momentum with its environment across boundaries which

are deﬁned in 3-dimensional real space. In this sense, symmetries of

molecules referring to their topological structure are real forms of

matter that can be calculated by quantum chemistry.

Quantum chemistry and mathematical group theory are the mod-

ern bases of symmetry considerations in stereochemistry [4.9]. In

quantum chemistry the symmetries of molecular systems are rep-

resented by the symmetries of the corresponding molecular Hamil-

tonian operators. In stereochemistry the structure of molecules is

classiﬁed by the symmetry transformations of point groups.

The symmetries of a free molecule (Fig. 52) can be completely

deﬁned by a few types of symmetry transformations. In general, the

selection of the three coordinates axes x, y, z is arbitrary. The triv-

ial symmetry transformation is identity I leaving each molecule un-

changed. An additional symmetry element is the axis of rotation C

n

around which a molecule can be rotated by the angle 2π/n without

changing its position. Linear molecules, in which all atomic nuclei

lie on a straight line (e.g. nitrogen N N or carbon monoxide C O),

can be rotated around the connecting axis by arbitrarily small angles

and have a continuous axis of rotation with inﬁnite fold symmetry

n →∞.

An additional symmetry element is the reﬂection CT on a plane

in which the molecule does not change its position. For example, if

the xy-plane is the plane of reﬂection, then replacing all the atomic

z-coordinates by −z does not change the position of the molecule.

Depending on the selection of the plane of reﬂection, a distinction is

made between a vertical plane of reﬂection σ

n

and a horizontal plane

of reﬂection σ

h

.

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Symmetry and Complexity in Chemical Sciences 179

Fig. 52. Symmetries of a free molecule

The next symmetry element is inversion in which a molecule re-

mains unchanged during a reﬂection of all atomic coordinates (x, y, z)

at the point of inversion to (−x, −y, −z). An additional symmetry

element is rotary reﬂection S

n

= σ

h

C

n

in which a molecule is ﬁrst ro-

tated by an angle 2π/n around the rotary reﬂection axis C

n

and then

reﬂected on the plane σ

h

perpendicular to C

n

through the center of

the molecule, without changing its position.

The remaining symmetry element is rotary inversion in which a

molecule does not change its position in spite of rotation followed

by inversion. It should also be noted that the compound symme-

try transformations of rotary reﬂection and rotary inversion do not

presuppose the partial transformations of rotation, reﬂection or in-

version as symmetry elements of the same molecule. The symmetry

transformations of a molecule, when executed one by one, produce

symmetry transformations.

In general, mathematical symmetries are deﬁnied by automor-

phisms that means self-mappings of ﬁgures or structures whereby

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180 Symmetry and Complexity

the structure remains invariant (example: rotation or reﬂection of

polygons in the plane). The composition of automorphisms satisﬁes

the axioms of a mathematical group. So the symmetry of a molecular

structure is deﬁned by its group of automorphisms. There are con-

tinuous groups of symmetries (for instance, circles and spirals) and

discrete groups (for instance, regular polygons, ornaments, Platonic

bodies).

On account of the ﬁnite number of combinations of symmetry el-

ements, it is clear that there can only be a ﬁnite number of point

groups. Thereby many diﬀerent molecules can belong to the same

point group, i.e. they can have the same symmetry structure. The

classiﬁcation of point groups also makes it possible to explain the

relationship of optical activity and molecular structure in terms of

group theory. According to Pasteur a compound had optical activity,

if the molecule in question could not be made to coincide with its

reﬂection. In that case, Pasteur spoke of dissymmetry [4.10]. Other

terms are “enantiomery,” which in the Greek translation means op-

posite shape, or “chirality,” which alludes to the left and right-

handedness of the reﬂective orientation. In terms of group theory,

it is a matter of determining the elements of symmetry leading to

optical activity. In general, (1) a molecule with any axis of reﬂection

S

n

cannot be optically active, and (2) a molecule without an axis of

reﬂection is optically active.

Point groups describe the symmetries of stationary molecules in

the equilibrium state. Reduced symmetries may be present in the

non-stationary case of translation, rotational motions, oscillations

etc. Scalar characteristics such as mass, volume or temperature,

which have only an amount but no direction, are apparently inde-

pendent of the symmetry operations. But characteristics having not

only an amount but also a direction can aﬀect the symmetry.

So far we have discussed the symmetries of the structures of molec-

ular nuclei. What symmetries do determine the electron orbitals of

the molecules? Molecular orbitals ψ are frequently introduced by

approximation as linear combinations of the atomic orbitals χ

i

, of

the individual atoms of the molecule (Linear Combination of Atomic

Orbitals = LCAO method) with ψ =

¸

i

c

i

χ

i

. Kekul´e’s famous ring

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Symmetry and Complexity in Chemical Sciences 181

structure of benzene provides a clear example of orbital symmetry.

The ﬂat molecule C

6

H

6

consists of six carbon atoms which form a

regular hexagon, and each of which is bonded to a single H atom.

Each carbon atom has six electrons, two of which are in closed s-

shells, while the others are distributed into s and p orbitals. In

Fig. 53a, one valence electron of the carbon is required to bond an

H atom. Two valence electrons are required for the σ bond between

the carbon atoms. The σ bonds are produced by a suitable mixing

(hybridization) of the s, p

x

and p

y

atomic orbitals of the carbon.

The fourth valence electron corresponds to the p

z

orbital, which

is above and below the plane with its two dumb-bells, each perpen-

dicular in the nodes of the carbon atom. The p

z

orbitals overlap

with their respective neighbors and form a π bond. Fig. 51b shows

a π orbital of benzene. In contrast to the σ bond, the π bond is

weak, so that the π electrons can easily be inﬂuenced by extremal

forces, and thus determine many of the spectroscopic characteristics

of benzene. σ and π orbitals of benzene can be distinguished by their

symmetry behavior in a reﬂection on the xy-plane. While σ orbitals

ϕ

σ

do not change their sign during the reﬂection z → −z and are

therefore symmetric, antisymmetry occurs with the π orbitals ϕ

π

:

ϕ

σ

(x, y, −z) = ϕ

σ

(x, y, z)

ϕ

π

(x, y, −z) = −ϕ

π

(x, y, z)

The system of π electrons oﬀers a simpliﬁed way to calculate

the energy levels of the benzene molecule. In the H¨ uckel model

[4.11], we ﬁrst consider π electrons, since it is assumed that the π

molecule orbitals are signiﬁcantly higher in energy than σ orbitals

and can therefore be considered separately. Calculating ψ orbitals

according to the LCAO method is therefore restricted in the H¨ uckel

model to the atomic orbitals χ

i

which form π molecular orbitals.

That is another major simpliﬁcation, of course, but one which has

proven valuable in actual practice, e.g. in the calculation of benzene

orbitals.

The π orbitals of benzene are eigenfunctions of a Hamilton oper-

ator of the π electrons, which is invariant with respect to symmetry

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182 Symmetry and Complexity

(a) (b)

Fig. 53. Symmetries of electron orbitals

operations of point group D

6h

of the regular hexagon with horizon-

tal reﬂection σ

h

. Physically, therefore, the potential energy of the n

electrons is not changed when the benzene molecule is rotated, e.g.,

by 60

◦

around the center. The H¨ uckel model and the orbital sym-

metries thereby assumed are also used to predict chemical reactions,

as expressed in the Woodward–Hoﬀmann rules. One requirement

is that the orbital symmetry is conserved during reactions, i.e., the

symmetry of all occupied orbitals remains unchanged during the re-

action with respect to each symmetry element shared by the reacting

and resulting molecules [4.12].

In contrast to low-molecular chemistry, high-molecular or macro-

molecular chemistry is concerned with compounds which are com-

posed of a great many atoms, and therefore have high molecular

masses [4.13]. From the standpoint of symmetry, polymerizations

are nothing more than polyadditions of monomers, the structural

formulas of which form certain chains like those known from the

frieze groups. These structural formulas recall the artful friezes

in mosques, “structures of altogether unusual simplicity, unity and

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Symmetry and Complexity in Chemical Sciences 183

beauty” (W. Heisenberg) [4.14]. But with regard to the symmetries

of the friezes of chemical structural formulas, we have to consider

that these are only 2-dimensional projections of 3-dimensional struc-

tures. For crystal polymers in particular, X-ray diﬀraction spectra

reveal stable conformations with well-deﬁned symmetries.

The signiﬁcance of macromolecules in nature becomes clear when

we investigate the structure and metabolism of living organisms.

For example, their high molecular masses make it possible to con-

struct solid and simultaneously ﬂexible structures. On the other

hand, their complex atomic structure makes it possible to regulate

metabolic processes and to store information. From the standpoint

of symmetry, proteins are of fundamental interest [4.15]. These are

macromolecules of many amino acids of 20 diﬀerent types in nature.

Protein analysis shows that amino acids have an antisymmetrical car-

bon atom and occur only in the left-handed conﬁguration in nature.

If we investigate the 3-dimensional conformation of various amino

acid units in the protein, we encounter a characteristic antisymme-

try of the protein, in which the antisymmetry of its components

is continued.

L. Pauling, who detected a spiral structure in certain crystal pro-

tein ﬁbers, called it α-helix. The α-helix consists of 18 monomer

units on 5 revolutions each, which, among other things, are stabi-

lized by intramolecular hydrogen bonds. One of the characteristic

symmetry breakings of biopolymers is therefore the fact that pro-

teins in nature form only left-handed spirals. Of course, reﬂections

of the protein components also occur, but they cannot be ﬁtted into

Fig. 54. Antisymmetry of protein

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184 Symmetry and Complexity

the molecular chains of proteins. Certain proteins diﬀer from the reg-

ular helix structure. One well-known example is hemoglobin, whose

stereochemical structure was reconstructed by the Nobel Prize win-

ner M. Perutz, among others. To be precise, hemoglobin consists

of a spherical protein (globin) and a complicated compound of iron

(heme), which is not a protein. Hemoglobin is characterized by the

double axis of rotation of its molecular chains [4.16].

X-ray crystallography now makes it possible to systematically an-

alyze the symmetry structures of crystallized proteins and to explain

them in terms of group theory. The mathematical structure of crys-

tals is altogether independent of their physical or chemical interpre-

tation. In biochemistry, atoms are not selected as structural units,

but molecules. Since amino acids naturally occur in proteins only

as left-handed conﬁgurations, certain symmetry elements of crystals

requiring an equal number of left-handed and right-handed conﬁg-

urations, such as the plane of reﬂection, glide reﬂection and center

of inversion, are a priori excluded. Mathematically speaking, from

the 230 possible crystal groups only the ﬁrst 65 ones with intrinsic

movements remain. These 65 discrete intrinsic motion space groups

in which biological macromolecules such as proteins can crystallize

are therefore also called “biological” space groups [4.17]. They are

used in the investigation of enzymes, for example.

4.2 Symmetry Breaking and Chirality

The fundamental symmetries of physics are at the origin of conserved

quantities or constants of molecular processes, permanent and im-

mutable for eternity. But, small violations of these symmetries lead

to slight disturbances in this static world and introduce some possi-

bilities for the emergence of new chemical phenomena. In traditional

quantum molecular and particle physics it was assumed that the

Hamiltonian of a molecular or particle quantum system is invariant

under the following fundamental three operations: (1) P-operation

of parity, i.e. the inversion of all particle coordinates in the center

of mass with x → −x, y → −y, z → −z; (2) T-operation of time,

i.e. time reversal t →−t ; (3) C-operation of charge, i.e. the exchange

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Symmetry and Complexity in Chemical Sciences 185

of all particles by their antiparticles. In elementary particle physics,

these three symmetries are all more or less inexact or violated, while

the combined operation CPT is still assumed to be an exact sym-

metry. Parity-violation has immediate consequences in molecular

chemistry with perhaps even eﬀects on the origin and evolution of

life.

In general, the symmetry of reﬂection (inversion) means that

right-handed and left-handed structures of chiral molecules can be

distinguished in space. But energetically they seem to be completely

equivalent. It was van’t Hoﬀ who found the geometrical explanation

of chiral and optically active molecules. Mathematically, we can use

coordinate systems with right and left orientation to distinguish both

forms of chirality. In quantum chemistry the symmetry of chirality

is represented by a quantum number (“parity”) with two possible

values +1 for positive parity and −1 for negative parity.

But the symmetry of chirality is violated by observations and mea-

surements in the laboratories of biochemists. Macromolecules like,

for instance, L-amino acids or D-sugars which are building blocks of

living systems possess a characteristic homochirality or dissymmetry.

Sometimes the enantiomers (i.e. the reﬂections of isomers) can be dis-

tinguished by simple tests of taste: S-asparagin has a bitter taste,

while R-asparagin has a sweet taste. We can perceive this kind of

symmetry breaking, because our body is a handed (chiral) biochemi-

cal system. In the 19th century Pasteur already presumed that living

systems are characterized by typical dissymmetries of their molecu-

lar building blocks having emerged during biological evolution. Then

the handed receptor molecules of our taste organs ﬁt the chiral forms

of the tasted molecules such as the right or left hand ﬁts the right or

left glove. But it cannot be explained why the actual molecular form

of symmetry breaking was realized during the evolution and why the

other form was unable to survive.

As usual in classical physics, the two stable enantiomers can be

illustrated by two minima of a symmetric potential curve V (q) where

q is the reaction coordinate for the chemical transformation of the

molecular substituents. Mathematically the potential curve of the

reaction equation is assumed to be completely symmetric with re-

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186 Symmetry and Complexity

spect to inversion. There are three solutions as equilibrium points

with the two stable minima of the left- and right-handed forms and

an unstable solution of a symmetric achiral form. The symmetry is

broken by the actually realized stable form with respect to peculiar

supplementary conditions. In quantum chemistry the framework of

classical physics must be replaced by the principles of quantum me-

chanics. Molecular states are described by wave functions that can

be superposed as pure entangled states according to the superposi-

tion principle. Thus for every temperature and energy there is not

only the possibility of chiral molecules with either a left-handed or

right-handed form, but also a third possible form which is both left-

handed and right-handed. Spontaneous symmetry breaking in quan-

tum chemistry can be introduced by superselection rules forbidding

the symmetric achiral superposition states that can be realized by a

special physico-chemical environment (e.g. certain radiation ﬁelds).

The classical and quantum mechanical concept of spontaneous

symmetry breaking can only explain that a chiral molecule must

emerge under some supplementary conditions. But it cannot explain

why the actual form was realized instead of the other possibility.

Therefore, the question arises if a selection happens by chance or

by the necessity of a natural law. An explanation has been sug-

gested with respect to the parity violating weak interaction that

can be evaluated at least numerically in chiral molecules. In case

of parity (P)-symmetry the right- and left-handed forms would be

energetically exactly equivalent, transformed into each other by in-

version. But parity was violated by the symmetry breaking of weak

interaction during the cosmic evolution. Thus, if the parity viola-

tion can be measured by a small energy diﬀerence ∆E

pv

, we get

the non-equivalence of the two isomers or enantiomers which are

no longer simple mirror images of each other. The corresponding

potential curve is no longer symmetric, but the two minima diﬀer

with the energy diﬀerence ∆E

pv

. Obviously the chemical law itself

is no longer symmetric [4.18]. Then the actually realized forms of

chiral biomolecules can be explained by their greater stability with

respect to the parity violating energy. The emergence of a chemical

phenomenon is reduced to a physical symmetry breaking.

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Symmetry and Complexity in Chemical Sciences 187

Fig. 55. Parity violation by small energy diﬀerence

As these energy diﬀerences are extremely small, they have so far

not been measured in laboratories although schemes for such exper-

iments have been proposed [4.19]. Nevertheless, such experiments

in combination with accurate calculations provide insight in a fun-

damental link between cosmology, particle physics, molecular chem-

istry, and evolution. Even if these tiny energy diﬀerences increase

proportionally during polymerization they still remain very small

under laboratory conditions. But in evolution, nature itself was the

laboratory [4.20]. For amino acids, for example, we can accurately

calculate the prebiotic evolutionary conditions in which homochiral-

ity can be selected, e.g. in a lake with a certain volume of water and

over a certain period of time. These calculations are based on an ab

initio method (Hartree method) of numerical quantum chemistry,

which currently has the best claim to accuracy. Therefore homochi-

ral biochemistry can be interpreted as a direct result of the parity

violation of weak interaction.

Pasteur’s suspicion of a universal dissymmetrical force in nature

is therefore reasonable, at least in terms of quantum chemistry. We

could go even further and classify the chirality of biomolecules in a

sequence of symmetry breakings that took place in the cosmologi-

cal growth of the universe. Elementary particle physics intends to

unify all the known physical interactions by deriving them from one

interaction scheme based on a single symmetry group. Physicists

expect to arrive at the actually observed and measured symmetries

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188 Symmetry and Complexity

of fundamental forces and their elementary particles of interaction

by spontaneous symmetry breaking processes. Electromagnetic and

weak forces could already be uniﬁed by very high energies in the lab-

oratories of high energy physics (for instance the accelerator ring of

CERN). That means that at a state of very high energy the particles

of weak interaction (electrons, neutrinos, etc.) and electromagnetic

interaction cannot be distinguished any longer. They can be de-

scribed by the same symmetry group U(1) ×SU(2). At a particular

critical value of lower energy the symmetry breaks down in two par-

tial symmetries U(l) and SU(2) corresponding to the electromagnetic

and weak force. The emergence of weak interaction with its particu-

lar violation of parity would be a result of cosmic symmetry breaking

during the expansion of the universe. “C’est la dissym´etrie qui cr´ee

le ph´enom`ene,” said P. Curie in 1894 [4.21].

Molecular dissymmetry, asymmetry and time irreversibility seem

to be consequences of cosmic evolution with decreasing symmetry

and simplicity and increasing complexity and variety [4.22]. Obvi-

ously, biopolymers of life are made of L-amino acids and D-sugars and

not L-sugars and D-amino acids. We live in a world of matter and not

of antimatter, which occurs only in small amounts as an exception

such as with positrons from β-decay. Time seems to exclusively run

forward, never exactly backwards in the molecular and macroscopic

world. Parity, charge and time violation seem to result from early

phase transitions of the universe. Symmetry breaking of time starts

with the cosmic expansion of the tiny early quantum universe. C-

violation of matter and antimatter happens after symmetry breaking

of the uniﬁed strong-weak-electromagnetic force. A tiny surplus of

matter had become the stuﬀ of future galaxies, our earth and life.

Symmetry breaking of the uniﬁed weak-electromagnetic force caused

parity-violation with the selection of biomolecules.

This apparent symmetry breaking in the molecular world should

be related to the fundamental CPT-symmetry of quantum chem-

istry. It turns out that chiral molecules provide an ideal test of

CPT-symmetry. Tests of CPT-symmetry have been concerned

with comparing the mass of proton and antiproton, proving equiva-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Chemical Sciences 189

lence and thus CPT-symmetry at a level of precision measured by

∆m/m ≈ 10

−9

of mass m and mass diﬀerence ∆m. Further on, it has

been suggested to compare the optical spectra of, for example, hy-

drogen and antihydrogen atoms with an accuracy in the test of about

∆m/m ≈ 10

−18

. Spectroscopic experiments on chiral clusters and

their antimatter equivalents are planned for testing the validity of

CPT-symmetry at about 10

−30

relative precision. They include the

synthesis of chiral antimatter molecules. Tiny diﬀerences in these ex-

periments between spectra of left-handed and right-handed molecules

and clusters could lead to a complete revision of the traditional be-

lief in fundamental symmetries. These observations of matter versus

antimatter, left and right handedness of space and time directions

forward and backward would not be granted with CPT-symmetry

being valid.

Besides spatial symmetries chemists are involved in the fundamen-

tal problems of time symmetry. While the laws of classical physics

and quantum chemistry assume symmetry with respect of time inver-

sion, the factual chemical reactions in the laboratories proceed only

in one direction to the chemical equilibrium. Chemical processes are

irreversible. Their reversion seems to be unnatural. Since Boltz-

mann’s statistical interpretation of the second law of thermodynam-

ics irreversible processes have been discussed for complex molecular

systems like gases, ﬂuids, etc. The second law states that closed

systems irreversibly approach the thermal equilibrium of maximal

entropy. It is remarkable that Prigogine explains the irreversibility

of dissipative processes far from thermal equilibrium by a universal

symmetry breaking of time. Time has now the status of a mathe-

matical operator only allowing physically asymmetric states. While

the spontaneous symmetry breaking of elementary particles in high

energy physics assumes the symmetry of its laws with respect to uni-

tary (gauge) groups, Prigogine’s time operator delivers (non-unitary)

semi-groups representing both directions of time [4.23]. The second

law of thermodynamics is a kind of selection principle for the real-

ized symmetry breaking process. In short: the law itself has become

asymmetric.

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190 Symmetry and Complexity

4.3 Complexity, Dissipation and Nanosystems

Complex structures in nature are generated by conservative and dis-

sipative self-organization. Dissipative systems are not closed like

conservative systems, but open with interacting exchange of energy

and matter with their environment. Thus, living organisms are typ-

ical examples of dissipative systems. But even in physics and chem-

istry, we can study dissipative self-organization. The emergence of

dissipative structures far from thermal equilibrium is an irreversible

process of symmetry breaking which can be geometrically illustrated

by a bifurcation scheme. In other words: the bifurcation tree of a

dissipative system represents the growth of forms in an irreversible

time direction.

In physics, ﬂuid dynamics provide an example of pattern forma-

tion with increasing complexity if the system is driven away from

equilibria by increasing velocities of ﬂow. In chemistry, a dissipative

system in which chaotic motion has been studied experimentally is

the BZ-reaction. In this chemical process an organic molecule is oxi-

dized by bromate ions, the oxidation being catalyzed by a redox sys-

tem. The rates of change for the concentrations of the reactants in a

system of chemical reactions are again described by a system of non-

linear diﬀerential equations with a nonlinear function. The variable

signaling chaotic behavior in the BZ-reaction is the concentration of

the ions in the redox system. Experimentally, irregular oscillations

of these concentrations are observed with a suitable combination of

the reactants. The oscillations are indicated by separated colored

rings (Fig. 56). This separation is a ﬁne visualization of nonlinear-

ity. Linear evolutions would satisfy the superposition principle. In

Fig. 56. Oscillation of Belousov–Zhabotinsky reaction

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Symmetry and Complexity in Chemical Sciences 191

this case the oscillating rings would penetrate each other in superpo-

sition. Analogously to ﬂuid dynamics or laser systems, the pattern

of oscillation is destroyed and transformed to chaos if the input rate

of energetic substances surpasses certain thresholds of a control pa-

rameter [4.24].

The class of oscillatory, metal ion catalyzed oxidation of organic compounds

by ionic bromate is an example of autocatalytic diﬀusion-reaction processes. This

class of reactions involves the nonlinear diﬀusion of both excitatory and inhibitory

molecules supporting self-exciting ring waves on the macroscopic level. In the

language of chemistry, the autocatalytic process in a simpliﬁed case is modeled

by reaction schemes with variable substances X = HBrO

2

, Y = Br

−

, Z = Ce

4+

,

P = HOBr and constant substances A = BrO

−

3

and B = BrMS:

A+X → X +P

A +Y → 2P

A+X → 2X +Z

2X → A +P

B +Z → fY

A chemical autocatalytic term, e.g., in the third reaction rule, corresponds to a

mathematical nonlinearity. Thus, in the language of mathematics, we get three

diﬀerential equations of chemical concentrations c

X

, c

Y

and c

Z

with constants k

i

of velocity of the i-th chemical reaction equation:

dc

X

/dt = k

1

c

A

c

Y

−k

2

c

X

c

Y

+k

3

c

A

c

X

−2k

4

c

X

2

dc

Y

/dt = −k

1

c

A

c

Y

−k

2

c

X

c

Y

+fk

5

c

B

c

Z

dc

Z

/dt = k

3

c

A

c

X

−k

5

c

B

c

Z

The phase transition of the BZ-reaction is represented by typical patterns of

time series analysis from periodicity to chaos. Chemical oscillations can also be

represented by trajectories running into a limit cycle or chaos attractor of the

corresponding phase space.

The phase transitions of the BZ-reaction are associated with sym-

metry breaking of spatial patterns. While the homogeneous surface

of the chemical liquid in the equilibrium state has full symmetry, the

emergence of ring waves and ﬁnally fractal chaos break the spatial

symmetry, phase by phase. Again, decreasing symmetry is accompa-

nied with increasing variety of complex structures. In the framework

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192 Symmetry and Complexity

(a)

(b)

Fig. 57. Molecular self-organization of complex crystals with symmetric atoms

[4.25]

of dynamical systems theory, this kind of space and time symmetry

breaking refers to phase transitions of complex open (dissipative) sys-

tems far from thermal equilibrium. Macroscopic patterns (“attrac-

tors”) arise from the nonlinear interactions of microscopic elements

(i.e. atoms, molecules) when the energetic and material interaction

of the dissipative (open) system with its environment reaches some

critical value (“dissipative self-organization”). Phase transitions of

closed systems near to thermal equilibrium are called conservative

self-organization creating ordered structures with low energy at low

temperature. An example at the boarderline of physics and chem-

istry is the growth of crystals by annealing the system to a critical

value of temperature.

Fig. 57a shows the molecular growth of complex crystals with

translation symmetry from highly symmetrical metallic atoms. In

Fig. 57b, the growth of crystals starts with molecular building blocks

having the shape of Platonic bodies. Under more extreme conditions

after the input of acid, they arrange themselves in complex crystals

of metallic oxide. Their periodicity seems to be typical for the inan-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Chemical Sciences 193

imate molecular world. In the biosphere, we will ﬁnd non-periodic

structures with symmetry breaking which inspired E. Schr¨ odinger

to introduce his famous concept of “aperiodic crystals” for living

organisms.

In supramolecular chemistry, conservative self-organization plays

a tremendous role. In this case molecular self-organization means the

spontaneous association of molecules under equilibrium conditions

into stable and structurally well-deﬁned aggregates with dimensions

of 1–100 nanometers (1 nm = 10

−9

m = 10

˚

A). Nanostructures

may be considered as small, familiar or large, depending on the view

point of the disciplines concerned. To chemists, nanostructures are

molecular assemblies of atoms numbering from 10

3

to 10

9

and of

molecular weights of 10

4

to 10

10

daltons. Thus, they are chemi-

cally large supramolecules. To molecular biologists, nanostructures

have the size of familiar objects from proteins to viruses and cel-

lular organelles. But to material scientists and electrical engineers,

nanostructures are the current limit of microfabrication and thus are

rather small [4.26].

Nanostructures are complex systems that evidently lie at the in-

terface between solid-state physics, supramolecular chemistry and

molecular biology. It follows that the exploration of nanostructures

may provide hints about both the emergence of life and the fabrica-

tion of new materials. But engineering of nanostructures cannot be

mastered in the traditional way of mechanical construction. There

are no man-made tools or machines for putting together their build-

ing blocks like the elements of a clock, motor or computer chip. Thus,

we must understand the principles of self-organization used by nanos-

tructures in nature. Then, we only need to arrange the appropriate

constraints under which the atomic elements of nanostructures as-

sociate themselves in a spontaneous self-construction: the elements

adjust their own positions to reach a thermodynamic minimum with-

out any manipulation by a human engineer.

In the beginning of nanoscience there was the vision of an inge-

nious physicist. In an article entitled “There’s Plenty of Room at

the Bottom”, Feynman declared that the principles of physics do not

speak against the possibility of maneuvering things atom by atom

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194 Symmetry and Complexity

[4.27]. Feynman proclaimed his physical ideas of the nanoworld in

the late 1950s. The belief in a new world needs new instruments of

observation and measurement for conﬁrmation. Since the start of the

1980s, the nanoworld could actually be explored using the scanning

tunnel microscope. At the end of the 1980s, E. Drechsler described a

revolutionary vision of technological applications [4.28]. With nan-

otechnology, atoms will be speciﬁcally placed and connected in a

fashion similar to processes found in living organisms.

Historically, the idea of a supramolecular interaction dates back

to the famous metaphor of E. Fischer (1894), who described a selec-

tive interaction of molecules as the lock and key principle. Today,

supramolecular chemistry has by far surpassed its original focus.

Molecular self-assemblies combine several features of covalent and

non-covalent synthesis to make large and structurally well-deﬁned

assemblies of atoms. Single van der Waals interactions and hydrogen

bonds are weak relative to typical covalent bonds and comparable to

thermal energies. Therefore, many of these weak non-covalent inter-

actions are necessary in order to achieve molecular stability in self-

assembled aggregates. In biology, there are many complex systems

of nanoscale structures such as proteins and viruses formed by self-

assembly. Living systems sum up many weak interactions between

chemical entities to make large ones. How can one make structures

of the size and complexity of biological structures, but without using

biological catalysts or the informational devices coded in genes?

Many non-biological systems also display self-organizing behavior

and furthermore provide examples of useful interactions. Molecu-

lar crystals are self-organizing structures. Liquid crystals are self-

organized phases intermediates between crystals and liquids with re-

gard to order. Micelles, emulsions and lipids display a broad variety

of self-organizing behavior. An example is the generation of cascade

polymers yielding molecular bifurcacional superstructures of fractal

order [4.29]. Their synthesis is based on the architectural design of

trees. Thus, these supramolecules are called dendrimers (from the

Greek word “dendron” for tree and “polymer”). The construction of

dendrimers follows two basic procedures of monomer addition. Di-

vergent construction begins at the core and builds outward via an

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Symmetry and Complexity in Chemical Sciences 195

increasing number of repeating bifurcations. Convergent construc-

tion begins at the periphery and builds inward via a constant number

of transformations. The divergent construction displaces the chem-

ical reaction centers from the center to the periphery, generating a

network of bifurcating branches around the center. The bifurcations

increase exponentially up to a critical state of maximal size. They

yield fractal structures such as molecular sponges which can absorb

smaller molecules, which can then be dispersed in a controlled way,

e.g., for medical applications.

Examples of cave-like supramolecules are the Buckminster-

fullerenes, forming great balls of carbon atoms [4.30]. The stabil-

ity of these complex clusters is supported by their high geometric

symmetry. The Buckminsterfullerenes are named after the geodesic

networks of ball-like halls constructed by the American architect

R. Buckminster Fuller (1895–1983). The cluster C

60

of 60 carbon

atoms has a highly Platonic symmetry of atomic pentagons forming

a completely closed spheroid.

Cave-like supramolecules can be arranged using chemical tem-

plates and matrices to produce complex molecular structures. Sev-

eral giant clusters comparable in size to small proteins have been ob-

tained by self-assembly. Giant clusters may have exceptional novel

structural and electronic properties: there are planes of diﬀerent

magnetization being typical for special solid-state structures and

of great signiﬁcance for material sciences. A remarkable structural

property is the nanometer-sized cavity inside the giant cluster. The

use of templates and the selection of appropriate molecular arrange-

ments may well remind us of Fischer’s lock and key principle [4.31].

Molecular cavities can be used as containers for other chemicals

or even for medicaments needing to be transported within the hu-

man organism. An iron-storage protein that occurs in many higher

organisms is ferritin. It is an unusual host-guest system consisting

of an organic host (an aprotein) and a variable inorganic guest (an

iron core). Depending on the external demand, iron can either be

removed from this system or incorporated into it. Complex chemi-

cal aggregates like polyoxometalates are frequently discovered being

based upon regular convex polyhedra, such as Platonic solids. But

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196 Symmetry and Complexity

their collective electronic and/or magnetic properties cannot be de-

duced from the known properties of these building blocks. According

to the catch-phrase “from molecules to materials” supramolecular

chemistry applies the “blue-prints” of conservative self-organization

to build up complex materials on the nanometer scale with novel cat-

alytic, electronic, electrochemical, optical, magnetic and photochem-

ical properties. Multi-property materials are extremely interesting.

The exploration of the nanoworld and applications in nanotech-

nology depend on better instruments of observation and measure-

ment. The scanning force microscope is a further development of

the scanning tunnel microscope and can be used like a fountain pen

to write down molecular structures of nano size. A thin ﬁlm of

thiolmolecules is used as “nano ink”. In a tiny drop of water the

thiolmolecules organize themselves as monolayer. Nanocrystals of

a few hundred atoms can organize themselves with cadmium ions,

selen ions and organic molecules into a ball-like structure (Fig. 58).

In ultraviolet light they ﬂuoresce with a certain color. Thus, they

could be used as markers (“quantum dots”) of molecules, cells, and

substances in medicine, for example. Complex systems of carbon

molecules can organize themselves as tiny tubes of 1 nm diameter

according to certain catalysts and templates. Their symmetric order

of bonding results in great hardness and toughness. Carbon nan-

otubes might be used as conductors for miniaturized chips beyond

the limits of silicon technology.

Supramolecular transistors are an example that may stimulate

a revolutionary new step in the development of chemical comput-

Fig. 58. Self-organization of complex nanocrystals [4.32]

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Symmetry and Complexity in Chemical Sciences 197

ers. Actually, there is a strong trend towards nanostructures in

electronic systems which may realize small, fast devices and high-

density information storage. But one can also imagine nonelectronic

applications of nanostructures. They could be used as components

in microsensors or as catalysts and recognition elements in analogy

to enzymes and receptors in living systems. In natural evolution

very large complex molecular systems are also produced by step-

wise gene-directed processes. The conservative self-organization pro-

cesses of nanomolecular chemistry are non-gene-controlled reactions.

Only a clever combination of conservative and non-conservative self-

organization could have initiated prebiotic evolution before genes

emerged. But even during the evolution of complex organisms, con-

servative self-organization must have occurred. Open (“dissipative”)

physical and chemical systems lose their structure when the input of

energy and matter is stopped or changed (e.g. laser, BZ-reaction).

Organismic systems (like cells) are able to conserve much of their

structure at least for a relatively long time. On the other hand, they

need energy and matter within a certain interval of time to keep their

structure more or less far from thermal equilibrium. In the technical

evolution of mankind, the principles of conservative and dissipative

self-organization have once more been discovered and open new av-

enues of technical applications.

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Chapter 5

Symmetry and Complexity in

Life Sciences

Biochemistry and molecular biology are the bases of modern biology

and thus serve as the bases for explanations of life processes of or-

ganisms such as bacteria, plants and animals. But organisms are not

merely complex aggregates of atoms and molecules. Some character-

istics of symmetry are determined by the building blocks, of course

(e.g. the dissymmetry of proteins). On the higher level of organiza-

tion of organisms, however, new characteristics of symmetry, dissym-

metry and asymmetry arise, which become necessary as a result of

functional requirements (e.g. adaptation to the environment, preser-

vation of the species, metabolism). The whole, i.e. the organism, is

therefore more than the sum of its parts. It is more correct to say that

the parts of the organism and the environment are connected to one

another by a number of functions which, when separated, lead to the

death of the organism. Mathematically, the wholeness of an organism

corresponds to the nonlinearity of its functional structure. Thus, the

emergence of new forms of life with increasing complexity has been

made possible by the nonlinear dynamics of self-organization. In the

ﬁrst section of this chapter, we analyze the functional symmetries

of organisms. Then, in the following two sections, their evolution

is explained by biological phase transitions and symmetry breaking,

generating the complexity and diversity of life.

5.1 Symmetry in Biology

There are apparent symmetries in the living world. They all seem

to be distinguished by special functions of an organism. But in

199

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200 Symmetry and Complexity

contrast to elementary subatomic particles, atoms and molecules,

the organism as a new and complex living unit cannot be so easily

and clearly deﬁned. All that can be indicated are a few necessary

and by no means suﬃcient characteristics such as metabolism, self-

reproduction, selection and mutation [5.1].

Viruses show how diﬃcult it is to deﬁne life. They are organisms

to the extent that they consist of complicated organic molecules such

as nucleic acids and proteins, and possess genetic information for self-

reproduction. On the other hand, they are constructed too simply

to live and reproduce independently. A virus particle can only repro-

duce in the context of a living cell. Its short nucleic acid molecules

can only carry the information of a few types of proteins. Therefore,

the outer shell of the virus particle must be constructed from these

few protein molecules.

Fig. 59 shows the molecule of an adeno-virus [5.2]. Externally, the

252 capsomeres and 1500 identical protomers form a regular Platonic

body (icosahedron) with 20 equilateral triangles, but where the cap-

someres are not completely identical to one another. The extensions

projecting from the 12 corners infect the host cells. On account of

this extremely symmetrical structure, virus particles can coagulate

to form crystals and thus assume a form of organization like that

found in non-living matter. If we are aware of the eﬀect of the virus

particles in mammals (infection and cancer), the model illustrated

in Fig. 59 has a certain ghostly beauty and recalls an ominous space

ship from an alien microworld.

The virus particle is a clear example of the fact that the dynamics

of life processes require symmetry breakings. As a Platonic body in

Fig. 59, for example, it is quite lifeless. To participate in the life

of the host cell and reproduce, the virus particle must trigger an

infection and thus give up its symmetry.

In the sense of structural symmetry, an organism such as the

amoeba is altogether asymmetrical. But it is an almost perfect sur-

vival system, in which the functions such as metabolism, motion,

nutrient transport etc. are optimally harmonized with one another.

But mathematically, the concept of symmetry is not bound to the

geometric shape. A structure whose elements are functionally har-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Life Sciences 201

Fig. 59. Symmetry of a virus

monized with one another and which remains conserved (invariant)

during self-reproduction in the sense of a mathematical mapping in

itself also forms a symmetry. In contrast to a geometric, structural

symmetry, we therefore speak of a functional symmetry [5.3].

If we establish a scale of aggregates between maximum symme-

try and chaos, for example, from crystals through paracrystals, liq-

uid crystals, gels and real ﬂuids up to ideal ﬂuids and gases, then

living organisms are obviously classiﬁed somewhere in the middle.

Their symmetries are of an altogether statistical nature, since in self-

reproduction invariant patterns of characteristics of course recur, but

more or less random changes also occur, and thus make possible the

variety and individuality of living nature. The sudden changes in the

genome (mutations) are typically local symmetry breaking which is

part of evolution.

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202 Symmetry and Complexity

No two leaves are exactly alike. All that exists is the type of a cer-

tain leaf, around which the real leaves are statistically scattered. Sta-

tistical symmetries are therefore scattered around an average value

with a standard deviation. The patterns of complex cell wall pores

or muscle ﬁbers are microscopic examples while, for example, the

pattern of veins in a leaf or the arrangement of blades of grass in

a meadow is directly visible to the eye. But perfect symmetry in

these cases is merely a human ﬁction that is projected on nature by

abstraction. These are rather the structures of biological growth

programs which are realized in the context of certain statistical

deviations.

Fig. 60. Cellular symmetries of self-reproduction

Among these restrictions, we shall ﬁrst examine the geometric

symmetries of more or less complex organisms, from single-cell organ-

isms through the higher plants up to the animals. Spherical bacteria

and algae can be broken down through many planes into symmetri-

cally equal halves. Single-cell organisms such as the single-cell green

algae frequently have a main axis. Vegetative reproduction then cus-

tomarily takes place by longitudinal and diagonal division of the cell

(Fig. 60). In other bacteria and algae, depending on the variety,

there is a regular division in one, two or all three 3-dimensional di-

rections, which can lead to diﬀerent associations of cells, for example,

chains of streptococci which look like strings of pearls, threads like

the thread-forming conjugatae or colonies which feature a division of

labor among the individual cells [5.4].

In the higher plants, it becomes possible to distinguish the ele-

ments of symmetry such as translation, rotation and reﬂection. Sel-

dom is there a pure translation symmetry, in which the leaves grow

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Symmetry and Complexity in Life Sciences 203

isometrically along with axis of the branch with the same translation

length (e.g. the leaﬂets of the ailanthus tree (Ailanthus altissima)

illustrated in Fig. 61a). More frequently, growth is related to a reg-

ular increase of the translation units, such as in the leaﬂets of the

mountain ash in Fig. 61b. In addition to longitudinal symmetry,

these two examples also exhibit a lateral symmetry, since the left

and right halves of the leaf are symmetrical to one another. On

the other hand, the elm branch in Fig. 61c is generated by a glide

reﬂection, in which a translation and a reﬂection form a combined

symmetry operation.

In the positions of leaves, helical symmetries also occur, in which

the translation of the growth motion is connected with a unit of

rotation. One example is the helical pattern of the leaves of the

branch of a variety of stonecrop, on which each leaf diﬀers from the

preceding leaf by a certain angle.

In a helical motion, in general, every point of the space not laid

on the helical axis describes a helix. The positions that the moving

Fig. 61. Symmetries of leaves

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204 Symmetry and Complexity

point assumes at uniform moments of an interval of time are uni-

formly distributed over this helix, analogous to the steps of a spiral

staircase. It is apparent that the ratios µ/v with which the helix-

like arrangements of leaves are represented are frequently elements

of the Fibonacci sequence (1/1, 1/2, 2/3, 3/5, 5/8, 8/13,. . . ). This

consequence results from the expansion into a continued fraction of

the irrational number (

√

5 − 1)/2, i.e. the proportional ratio of the

Golden Section.

If we replace the cylinder on which the helix moves with a sphere,

we get a symmetry operation in which in addition to translation and

rotation, a dilatation also occurs. One example is the arrangement of

the scales on a pine cone. If we check the Fibonacci numbers on the

scales of the pine cone, we ﬁnd frequent deviations, so that in the best

case, we can only speak of a statistical symmetry of the phyllotaxy.

When the giant sunﬂower (Helianthus maximus) is in bloom, the

Fig. 62a–d. Symmetries of inﬂuorescenes

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Symmetry and Complexity in Life Sciences 205

Fig. 62e. Spiral tendency of nature

small blossoms are arranged in logarithmic spirals, whereby two sets

of spirals occur with opposite directions of rotation (Fig. 62e).

Both Bonnet and in particular Goethe noted the “spiral tendency

of nature” in the latter’s theory of the metamorphosis of plants. For

Goethe, however, the decisive factor was not the arithmetic law of

the Fibonacci sequence, but the regular pattern in which a temporal

rhythm of growth is revealed in three dimensions, and which contains

clues to the shape of an ancestral plant. Spirals of plants occur as

right-hand and left-hand rotations. There is no parity-violation.

A high degree of symmetries of rotation and reﬂection can be

demonstrated in many inﬂorescenes [5.5]. In Fig. 62a, the symmetry

of a geranium is completely deﬁned by the dihedral group D

5

, which

in addition to the rotations by the angle n·360

◦

/5 with 1 ≤ n ≤ 5 also

contains the possible reﬂections. On the other hand, Vinca herbacea

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206 Symmetry and Complexity

is a realization of pure symmetry of rotation C

5

. The narrow-leafed

wild rose in Fig. 62c therefore has only the symmetry D

4

, since its

growth was inﬂuenced by artiﬁcial manipulations of gravity. In na-

ture, there is the bilaterally symmetrical shape (Fig. 62d), which was

prevented by gravity from becoming symmetry of rotation.

As a rule, functional requirements are the reason for the struc-

tural symmetries of animals, the purpose of which is to guarantee

viability and which cannot be explained by molecular reasons alone.

These are of course characteristics that only occur at a certain stage

of evolution on account of new life circumstances (“emergent charac-

teristics”). But we need not assume any “vitalistic” forces of zoology

to explain them. One of the most frequent symmetries in animal bod-

ies is reﬂectional symmetry. More than 95% of all types of animals

are included among the Bilateralia with simply symmetry of reﬂec-

tion [5.6]. Forward motion in a direction at right angles to gravity

is certainly an important objective for crawling, walking, swimming

and ﬂying Bilateralia such as snakes, lizards, ﬁsh, insects and birds.

Since Antiquity, philosophers have speculated whether the bodies of

human beings and animals are designed according to a certain law

of proportion (e.g., the Golden Section). For example, Fig. 63 shows

the proportions of a butterﬂy (b) and a ﬁsh (c). The ratio of the

Golden Section, which occurs in the context of statistical symme-

tries, is determined by the ﬂow conditions of the respective medium

(air or water) in which the motions of ﬂight or the ﬂight-like motions

of swimming must be executed. In place of the Platonic assumption

of an ideal form deﬁned by nature, the theory of evolution suggests

a selection advantage by means of which a certain symmetry is pre-

ferred over another.

Rotational symmetry has advantages in terms of natural selec-

tion for free-ﬂoating or stationary animals. Examples of station-

ary animals (Fig. 64), which must spread their snares in all di-

rections, are sponges (a), rotifers (b), the pterobranchia (c) and

echinoderms (d). The anthozoae, a group which includes the water

lilies and coral polyps, also have almost exclusively rotational sym-

metry. Jellyﬁsh also have rotational symmetry, as recorded in minute

detail by E. Haeckel in his book “Artistic Forms of Nature” (1899)

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Symmetry and Complexity in Life Sciences 207

a

b

c

Fig. 63. Bilateral symmetry of animals [5.7]

[5.8]. Fig. 64f shows an octagonal symmetry D

8

. With a pronounced

Platonic slant, D’Arcy Thompson, in “On Growth and Form” de-

scribes the geometric symmetry of the jellyﬁsh [5.9].

There is also the approximately spherical shape of organisms that

ﬂoat freely in the water. Physically, the sphere always presents the

same resistance to the water. Organisms frequently inﬂate them-

selves with water to achieve a spherical external shape, such as

plankton organisms or marine larvae. The interior of these organ-

isms is in no way constructed centrally symmetrically, but only the

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208 Symmetry and Complexity

Fig. 64. Rotational symmetry of Radiolaria

outer shell, as a result of the above-mentioned physical environmental

conditions.

The Radiolaria have fascinating sphere-like shapes, and Haeckel

and D’Arcy Thompson have already described their siliceous skele-

tons and cell body with extreme precision. The sphere-like symmetry

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Symmetry and Complexity in Life Sciences 209

of the Radiolaria also corresponds to the centric symmetry of the cell.

Fig. 64g shows the skeleton of a Periphylina Radiolaria, whose spher-

ical skeleton is equipped with spines in three planes of reﬂection/lines

of intersection at right angles to one another. The Radiolaria Acan-

tharia in Fig. 64h acts exactly like a space satellite. Haeckel drew

skeletons of various Radiolaria, the symmetries of which are intended

to recall Platonic bodies such as octahedron, icosahedron and dodec-

ahedron. But there is some question about the extent to which his

pen was guided by his desire to stylize the “artistic forms of nature”.

In the animal kingdom, spiral symmetry is found among the

snails. In the shell of the “Turitelle duplicata” (Fig. 64i), the sym-

metry is deﬁned by a continuous group whose symmetry elements

consist of a combination of translation, rotation and dilatation of

the radius of rotation. The dilatation of the size of the successive

helical rotations satisﬁes with approximate accuracy the mathemat-

ical law of a geometric sequence. The snail’s shell holds the animal’s

intestinal cavity which, with increasing age, is wound in a spiral

fashion. The symmetry of this shell can be disrupted by growth and

environmental conditions. Examples are a thickening of the intestine

as the snail ages or the growth of the sexual organs when the animal

reaches sexual maturity, but also changes by deposits of coralline

limestone.

From the standpoint of structural symmetry, therefore, simpler

forms of life such as jellyﬁsh, Radiolaria, snails etc. exhibit a signiﬁ-

cantly higher degree of symmetry than the Bilateralia of ﬁsh, birds,

mammals etc. Apparently, gravity is a central requirement for the

bilaterality of organisms. Gravity makes it possible for the respec-

tive body to be designed as a vector with a pronounced direction

of motion at right angles to gravity. The work of motion on two

reﬂectively symmetrical sides of the animal can itself be bilateral, as

with the simultaneous ﬂapping of wings, in the form of sliding re-

ﬂections as during the walking of two-legged or four-legged animals

(e.g. horses and human beings), helical as with serpents, crawling

animals, etc. In any case, the tendency of organisms to bilaterality,

from the crawling of amphibians to the upright stance of the human

being, is a remarkable symmetry characteristic in evolution.

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210 Symmetry and Complexity

The increasing complexity of types of motion is also character-

istic. A human being does not move in short jerks like a robot or

jumping jack. Only at ﬁrst glance do such mechanical motions have

a greater symmetry than the natural motions of primates. Human

motor skills are characterized by a high degree of ﬂexibility and a

complex coordination of many sequences of motion, which express

high proportionality and thus also symmetry.

The bilaterality of the human body seems to have enforced the

reﬂection symmetry of the two halves of the brain. In general, the

bilaterally symmetrical structure of many animals extends to a cor-

responding structure of the nervous system (Fig. 72). Actually, there

are some neural functions distributed symmetrically on both halves

of the brain. But higher animals also exhibit a symmetry breaking

in that the two halves of the brain do not always retain the same

function: that is, copying the left or right domain of the external

world via organs of touch, sight and hearing. The two halves of

the brain are locally specialized, not only in perception, but also in

higher functions of human intelligence. The cerebral asymmetry as-

sociated with this specialization is now considered to be a result of

evolution. As mirror-image duplication was increasingly dispensed

with, the freed-up capacity could be used by the right and left halves

of the brain for new specializations. Brains are distinguished by high

ﬂexibility. If a local part of one half is damaged, the failing function

can often be compensated by some neural part on the other half of

the brain. Rigid symmetric domains are surpassed in order to guar-

antee the highly complex coordination of the organism. The question

of what role symmetry plays in perception and knowledge involves

cognitive science and philosophy, and is examined in Sec. 8.1.

5.2 Symmetry Breaking and Evolution

In the framework of nonlinear complex systems, the emergence of

new phenomena is made possible by phase transitions in critical

states of a system. The symmetry breaking of phase transitions

can be illustrated by a tree of bifurcation points where old equilib-

ria become unstable and new branches are generated with new local

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Symmetry and Complexity in Life Sciences 211

points of equilibria and the emerging phenomena as leaves (Fig. 48).

In nonequilibrium dynamics, a bifurcation tree spread out with in-

creasing complexity when the dynamical system is driven further

and further away from its initial equilibrium to local equilibria, be-

coming unstable under changing conditions. Mathematically, the

emerging structures at the branches of the bifurcation tree are rep-

resented by order parameters of diﬀerential equations, modeling the

time-depending evolution of the dynamical system. Order param-

eters of complex systems are selected at critical points of instabil-

ity when unstable modes of microscopic elements dominate stable

ones and determine the emergence of new macroscopic phenomena

(Fig. 49). In short: decreasing symmetry (“symmetry breaking”)

and increasing complexity are the ingredients of nonlinear dynam-

ics. That was true in physics and chemistry for reaction-diﬀusion

processes and self-exciting media. It is also true for biological evo-

lution if the mathematical terms of the formalism are interpreted in

an appropriate manner.

In the framework of nonlinear complex systems, many models

have already been suggested to simulate the molecular origin of life.

Complexity on the molecular scale is characterized by a large po-

tential number of states which could be populated given realistic

limits of time and space. Certain microstates may strongly inﬂuence

macroscopic behavior. Such ﬂuctuations may amplify and cause a

breakdown of formerly stable states. Nonlinearity comes in through

processes far from the thermal equilibrium. Classical and only nec-

essary conditions for life demand: (1) self-reproduction (in order to

preserve a species, despite steady destruction), (2) variability and

selection (in order to enlarge and perfect the possibility of a species,

biased by certain value criteria), and (3) metabolism (in order to

compensate for the steady production of entropy) [5.10].

These criteria can be realized by a mathematical optimization

process. In this model, the nucleation of a self-reproducing and fur-

ther evolving system occurs with a ﬁnite expectation value among

any distribution of random sequences of macromolecules such as pro-

teins and nucleic acids. The initial copy choice for self-reproduction

is accidental, but the subsequent evolutionary optimization to a level

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212 Symmetry and Complexity

of unique eﬃciency is guided by physical principles. In this model,

life should be found wherever the physical and chemical conditions

are favorable, although some molecular structures should show only

slight similarity with the systems known to us.

The ﬁnal outcome will be a unique structure, for example, an

optimized molecular sequence. Darwin’s principle of the survival of

the ﬁttest is mathematized by an optimization principle for possible

microstates of molecular sequences. It is assumed that in simple cases

biomolecules multiply by autocatalysis. For instance, two kinds of

biomolecules A and B from ground substances GS are multiplied

by autocatalysis, but in addition the multiplication of one kind is

assisted by that of the other kind and vice versa (Fig. 65a). In

more complicated cases with more kinds of biomolecules, the latter

are assumed to multiply by cyclic catalysis (Eigen’s “hypercycles”)

(Fig. 65b). This mechanism combined with mutations is able to

realize an evolutionary process.

Fig. 65a–b. Cyclic catalysis

According to M. Eigen and P. Schuster (1979), a hypercycle is a

cycle of cycles of cycles [5.11]. The phase transitions of prebioic evo-

lution start at the microlevel with molecular microdynamics driven

by a basic catalytic cycle. An example is the citric acid cycle, which

uses a molecule of oxaloacetate over and over again to extract the

energy from acetic acid, driving a variety of higher level cycles that

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Symmetry and Complexity in Life Sciences 213

Fig. 66. Emergence of prebiotic life by self-organization

require consumption of energy. At a higher macrolevel of organiza-

tion (Fig. 66), several such basic cycles can comprise an autocatalytic

cycle that is able to instruct its own reproduction. The new emerg-

ing macroscopic phenomena are, for example, DNA-protein struc-

tures that can reproduce itself. Several of these autocatalytic cycles

can be organized at yet a higher macrolevel into a catalytic hyper-

cycle (Fig. 66). An example of a new emerging entity at this second

macrolevel is a virus. In Sec. 5.1, a virus was explained as a system

at the threshold of life from a “dead” crystal to a “living organism.”

It is a ﬁrst example of a complex adaptive system [5.12].

Obviously, we get a hierarchy of macrolevels with new emerging

entities of increasing complexity. According to the general scheme of

Fig. 49, each level can be modeled by appropriate diﬀerential equa-

tions. The order parameters of the macrodynamics characterize the

new emerging entities. In the biological context, order parameters

are mainly interpreted as ﬁtness degrees or selection values of molec-

ular species. A simpliﬁed model of an appropriate complex molecular

system is a so-called evolution reactor [5.13]. In the reactor there are

macromolecules such as nucleic acids, which are continuously con-

structed and broken down. Nucleic acids consist of four diﬀerent

building blocks. The population consists of i alternative sequences

or concentrations of uniform chain length. The chain length of the

macromolecules is ν, their coeﬃcient of occupation n

i

, the total num-

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214 Symmetry and Complexity

bers of all sequences z =

¸

i

n

i

. It is assumed that the number 4

ν

of

all combinatorially possible alternative sequences is very small in re-

lation to the total population z. In that case, the expectation value

for the occurrence of a certain sequence of molecules is also very

small and is equivalent to the condition which can be assumed to

have existed at the origin of life.

High-energy molecules are continuously fed to the reactor from

outside to construct the nucleic acids. For that purpose, autocat-

alytic processes of self-reproduction are assumed, which Eigen and

Schuster described in their models of hypercycles. The low-energy

byproducts are continuously removed. A constant total population

can be established and maintained by appropriate regulation from

outside. The construction and destruction of macromolecules takes

place as in independent organisms.

Let the construction parameter of the molecule type n

i

be γ

i

, and the de-

struction parameter δ

i

. Both can be a function of the concentrations n

j

of other

types. As a result of mutations, only a certain fraction of copies of a sequence

will be error-free. The proportion of correct copies is designated by a quality pa-

rameter λ

i

, which is a fraction 0 < λ

i

< 1. The rates of evolution of the changes

of n

i

over time are then dn

i

/dt = (γ

i

λ

i

−δ

i

)n

i

−e(t)n

i

(“evolution equations”),

in which e(t) =

¸

i

(γ

i

−δ

i

)n

i

/z is then the average generation rate of all types of

molecules [5.14]. Then e(t)n

i

in the evolution equations is a destruction quantity

which can be used to designate the proportion of n

i

in the conservation of the

constancy of z.

From the evolution equations, the following necessary characteristics of living

systems can be derived: (1) The metabolism of the open system is measured by

the reaction terms

¸

i

y

i

n

i

and

¸

i

δ

i

n

i

of high-energy and low-energy molecules.

(2) The self-reproduction is expressed in the evolution equations by the fact that

the evolution rate of a molecule type n

i

is proportional to its concentration. Thus

the potential dependence of the construction and destruction parameter γ

i

and

δ

i

on the other concentrations is not aﬀected. (3) The capacity for mutations is

taken into consideration by the quality parameter λ

i

. The evolution equations

thus indeed satisfy the characteristics of molecular Darwinism. The quantity

w

i

= γ

i

λ

i

− δ

i

is interpreted as the selection value of the type of molecule.

This interpretation is justiﬁed because the equations of evolution are written as

dn

i

/dt = (w

i

−e(t))n

i

.

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Symmetry and Complexity in Life Sciences 215

An evolution equation can be understood as an extremal prin-

ciple, according to which the types of molecules are optimized on

the basis of selection values. If the selection value w

i

of one type is

less than the average production rate e(t) of all types, then negative

growth rates occur, and the type dies out. In the other case, there are

positive growth rates. Thus e is constantly pushed upward, while si-

multaneously an increasing number of types have lower selection val-

ues and thus die out. This selection process is stabilized only when

e has reached the maximum selection value w

max

of the production

e →w

max

and the system is in selection equilibrium. But this equi-

librium state is only preliminary. As soon as a new mutant n

i+1

oc-

curs which is more favorable in terms of selection than the dominant

type, the equilibrium collapses. Again, a new selection equilibrium is

then established, which is deﬁned by the now dominant type n

i+1

. A

system of molecules optimizing itself (“evolution reactor”) therefore

runs through a series of selection evolutions, which correspond to an

ascending series of maximum selection values which belong respec-

tively to the currently dominant type w

max 1

< w

max 2

< · · · < w

opt

.

According to S. Wright and Eigen, this optimization path, on

which the system climbs to increasingly higher “peaks” of selection

values, can also be represented in three dimensions [5.15]. For that

purpose, a sequence of molecules is deﬁned with ν positions as a point

in the ν-dimensional sequence space. With 4 possible components,

the ν-dimensional sequence space has 4

ν

points. For simpliﬁcation,

we will limit ourselves to the binary case with two symbols 0 and

1, by means of which, theoretically, the 4 molecular letters A, T, G

and C can also be codiﬁed. The binary system also facilitates the

calculations on a computer. In this case, the ν-dimensional sequence

space has 2

ν

points. Each point has ν neighbor points, each of which

represents a single-error mutant, i.e. mutants which diﬀer by only

one position. Between the two extreme points of a pure 0 and 1

sequence, there are ν! possible connections. Fig. 67 shows examples

of ν-dimensional sequential spaces in the binary case.

The major advantage of this 3-dimensional representation is the

very short distances involved and the dense network of possible con-

nections. For example, the longest distance in the 1000-dimensional

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216 Symmetry and Complexity

Fig. 67. ν-dimensional sequential spaces

space is only 1000 length units (“meters”). In the 23-dimensional

space with 10

14

points, it is only 23 “meters”.

Moreover, the 23-dimensional sequence space is suﬃcient to rep-

resent all points on the surface of the earth at an interval of 1 meter.

In this space, optimal strategies can be pursued to ﬁnd the highest

mountains on the earth. To do that, a value function is used to assign

an “altitude” to each point. On a hike, the strategy is to go uphill as

much as possible, and to lose as little altitude as possible. Therefore

we are looking for a local peak, so that we can then climb to an

adjacent, higher peak, etc. Mathematically, therefore, the gradient

of the hike is “uphill”, and we can make local decisions regarding

which of the next peaks should be climbed next.

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Symmetry and Complexity in Life Sciences 217

On the surface of the earth, therefore, the hiker will try to reach

as many peaks as possible along a 1-dimensional grade or col, with-

out losing too much altitude in between. But the hiker is severely

restricted by the 1-dimensionality of his path. In the 23-dimensional

space, the hiker could go toward each position in 23 diﬀerent direc-

tions, of which k ≤ 23 lead upward and 23-k lead downward. The

probability of ﬁnding maximum peaks in the immediate vicinity is

therefore very great.

In the ν-dimensional space of molecule sequences, the points are

assigned selection values instead of altitudes. Analogous to the al-

titudes of the mountainous landscape, the selection values in the

molecular sequence space are not distributed randomly, but are as-

sembled in regions, so that “mountains” and “plains” can be local-

ized, for example. In this model, the origin of life is a successive

self-optimization of a molecular system which is achieved by means

of a series of intermediate selection steps. It is not a one-time, ran-

dom event, a unique singularity in which, on account of a random

ﬂuctuation of the phase state, the inanimate matter becomes unsta-

ble and spontaneously changes into a new equilibrium state that we

call life. According to nonequilibrium dynamics, life does not arise

as the result of a one-time, spontaneous symmetry breaking but in

a series of local symmetry breakings, in which selection equilibri-

ums that have become unstable are replaced by new and higher-level

equilibria.

The emergence of proteins and DNA-structure would have not

been possible without self-optimizing phase transitions of nonlinear

dynamics [5.16]. Throughout the evolution of life on earth, only

a small fraction of all possible proteins have been generated. In

general, a protein is a polymer of amino acids, coupled by valence

bonds. Because 20 distinct amino acids are available to biological

organisms, there are some 20

200

possible protein molecules that are

composed of 200 amino acids each. There is not enough matter in

the entire universe to construct a single molecule of each possible

protein. Another calculation provides a similar result: the length of

a gene is seldom more than 1000 sequential positions. Thus, for four

symbols, there are 4

1000

alternative genes (“mutations”) of length

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218 Symmetry and Complexity

1000, which means about 10

600

possibilities. We should recall that

the content of matter in the whole universe corresponds to 10

74

genes

and that the age of the universe is less than 10

18

seconds.

Selection values have been recorded in the genetic codes of liv-

ing organisms. The nucleic acids, which are primarily responsible

for transmitting characteristics through generations of living sys-

tems, show characteristic symmetry breakings. Nucleic acids are

macromolecules formed by linear polymerization of certain units (nu-

cleotides). According to the double helix model of J.D. Watson and

F.C. Crick, the DNA molecule consists of two strands of DNA inter-

twined in a regular double helix around a common axis [5.17]. The

two strands are parallel, but in opposite directions. The sequence

of the bases in the one strand determines the sequence in the other

strand, so that an A is always opposite to a T and a G is always

opposite to a C. Antisymmetry is of fundamental importance for the

transmission of genetic characteristics, which can be explained on

the molecular level of DNA helix.

The genetic information of an organism is encoded in its set of

chromosomes (genome) in the form of DNA (Fig. 68). The mecha-

nism of reproduction, which makes possible a clear duplication (repli-

cation or reduplication), can be illustrated very clearly: an enzyme

allows the hydrogen bridges to open and the double helices to sepa-

rate into two strands. Each strand reproduces its exact opposite to

which it is reconnected by hydrogen bonds, thereby forming a new

double helix. On account of the complementary base pair formation

of A-T and C-G, which is expressed in three dimensions in the twist-

ing of the double helix, the accuracy of the copy is guaranteed even

after many reproductions. If the two strands were orientated paral-

lel and symmetric to one another like a ladder, then the accuracy of

the reproductive process would not be guaranteed, with disastrous

consequences for the respective organisms. This case demonstrates

that antisymmetry or parity violation can have a decisive biological

function.

In general, an evolutionary process is expected to produce new

kinds of species [5.18]. A species may be considered as a population

of biomolecules, bacteria, plants or animals. These populations are

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Symmetry and Complexity in Life Sciences 219

Fig. 68. Antisymmetry of DNA

characterized by genes, which undergo mutations producing new fea-

tures. Although mutations occur at random, they may be inﬂuenced

by external factors in the environment, such as changing tempera-

ture or chemical agents. At a certain critical mutation pressure new

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220 Symmetry and Complexity

kinds of individuals of a population come into existence. Genetic self-

organization generates Darwin’s evolutionary tree with local points

of instability and bifurcating branches where new species emerge

(Fig. 69). Obviously, the biological bifurcation tree can be compared

with the bifurcation tree of nonequilibrium dynamics (Fig. 48). In

case of Darwin’s evolutionary tree, ﬂuctuations at the critical points

of bifurcation are interpreted as mutations and biological random

events. Selection is the driving force in the bifurcating branches.

(The numbers at the branches in Fig. 69 measure the substitutions

of nucleotids in the DNA of a species.) Instead of dissipative pattern

formation in, for example, liquids or gas we observe the emergence

of new forms of organisms.

Of course, there are main diﬀerences between pattern formation

in physics, chemistry, and biology. While, for example, physical and

chemical systems lose their structure when the ﬂux of energy and

matter is switched oﬀ, much of the structure of biological systems

is still preserved for a certain time. The reason is that biological

systems do not only consist of dissipative processes, but also con-

servative structures like, for example, the skeleton of human body,

which decay on a longer scale of time than organs or liquids. Further

on, biological systems satisfy certain functions and tasks in a living

organism. But, in the biological context, this kind of purposes is

explained by selection values or ﬁtness degrees which, in nonequilib-

rium dynamics, can be represented by order parameters of nonlinear

diﬀerential equations. When at a critical point of mutation pressure

new kinds of individuals of a population emerge, then the rate of

change of these individuals is described by an evolution equation.

As these individuals have new features, their growth and death fac-

tors diﬀer. A change (mutation) is only possible when ﬂuctuations

occur in the population and the environment. Thus, the evolution

equation determines the rate of change as the sum of ﬂuctuations

and the diﬀerence of growth and death factors.

A selection pressure can be modeled when diﬀerent subspecies

compete for the same living conditions (e.g. the same food supply).

If the mutation rate for a special mutant is small, only that mutant

survives which has the highest gain factor and the smallest loss fac-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Life Sciences 221

Fig. 69. Bifurcation tree of evolution

tor and is thus the ﬁttest. The competition at a critical point of

instability can be formalized by a linear-stability analysis and adi-

abatic elimination: unstable mutants begin to dominate the stable

ones. They determine macroscopic features, which become order pa-

rameters of the new organism and species.

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222 Symmetry and Complexity

Biological organisms function on many levels of dynamic activ-

ities that have emerged step by step during cosmic and biological

evolution [5.19]. The lowest are that of physics and chemistry. The

diagram of Fig. 70 is not deﬁnitive or complete in an ontological

sense. But, from a methological point of view, it represents a formal

scheme of research to explore the hierarchical structure of biological

organisms and, in general, biological systems. There may be further

hierarchical levels between the indicated ones. The hierarchy may

bifurcate for diﬀerent evolutionary trends. New levels may emerge

and disappear under changing circumstances. Thus, the hierarchy

is not static and ﬁxed for ever in the sense of Aristotle’s philosophy

of nature. On the other side, it is not only a mere ordering scheme

which has been invented by human mind for pragmatic concerns,

but a dynamical principle of biological organization which is well

conﬁrmed by observation.

According to the general scheme of nonequilibrium dynamics

(Fig. 49), we start with the microdynamics of a complex system.

It is a question of granulation how “deep” we like to lay the initial

layer of microdynamics. As far as we know at least atomic dynamics

inﬂuence states of living organisms. From the nonlinear dynamics at

each level, there emerge new entities that are characterized by order

parameters. The macrodynamics of these order parameters deter-

mine the microdynamics of the new entities, providing the basis of

macrodynamics on the following level. In principle, the dynamics

of each level could be modeled by appropriate nonlinear diﬀerential

equations. In this case, the succeding hierarchical level could be

mathematically derived from the previous one by a linear-stability

analysis and adiabatic elimination. Actually, in many cases, we only

have simpliﬁed models that may inspire future research. In some

cases there are already well established procedures encouraging the

use of the hierarchical scheme [5.20].

The hierarchical diagram of Fig. 70 is a scheme of self-organization

at several levels in a biological system. According to the laws of quan-

tum dynamics, atoms organize themselves into molecules. Out of

the nonlinear interactions of molecules emerge the proteins acting as

catalysts in biochemical cycles. Biochemical cycles support the repli-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Life Sciences 223

Fig. 70. Emergent structures of life by self-organization

cation of biomolecules. Now, cellular dynamics come in. In the next

step, cells arrange themselves in organs, interacting in organisms.

Their nonlinear interactions determine the population dynamics of a

species, which is embedded in the environmental dynamics of nature.

Each level determines the following one. But sometimes, there are

not only direct feedbacks to the immediately preceding level, but also

to deeper ones. It is a well known fact of medicine that, for exam-

ple, physiology and cytology of our body are inﬂuenced by nutrition,

depending on the conditions of environment. The whole of our body

is more than the sum of its parts.

5.3 Complexity and Biodiversity of Life

The spontaneous emergence of organic forms has seemed to be a

miracle of life. Thus, in the history of science, morphogenesis was a

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224 Symmetry and Complexity

prominent counterexample against physical reductionism in biology.

Today, morphogenesis is a prominent example for modeling biologi-

cal growth by complex dynamical systems. In this context, pattern

formation is understood as a complex process wherein identical cells

become diﬀerentiated and give rise to a well-deﬁned spatial struc-

ture. The ﬁrst dynamic models of morphogenesis were suggested by

N. Rashevsky, Turing, and others [5.21]. In the complex systems

approach, the emergence of cellular patterns is explained by com-

peting interactions of activator and inhibitor molecules. In a math-

ematical model due to A. Gierer and H. Meinhardt, two evolution

equations were suggested, describing the rate of change of activator

and inhibitor concentrations, which depend on the space-time coor-

dinates [5.22]. The change of rates is due to a production rate, decay

rate and diﬀusion term. Obviously, inhibitor and activator must be

able to diﬀuse in some regions in order to inﬂuence the neighboring

cells of some transplant. Furthermore, the eﬀect of hindering auto-

catalysis by the inhibitor must be modeled. The interplay between

activator and inhibitor can even lead to growing periodic and sym-

metric patterns, satisfying functional tasks (compare Figs. 61–63 in

Sec. 5.1).

To derive such patterns, it is essential that the inhibitor diﬀuses

more easily than the activator. Long range inhibition and short

range activation are required for a non-oscillating pattern. By meth-

ods of mathematical analysis, the evolving patterns described by the

evolution equations of Gierer and Meinhardt can be determined. A

control parameter allows one to distinguish the stable ones in the

sense of a linear-stability analysis. According to the mathematical

procedure of an adiabatic elimination, the stable modes can be elim-

inated, and the unstable ones deliver order parameters determining

the actual pattern. Thus, actual patterns come into existence by

competition and selection of some unstable solution. Selection ac-

cording to linear-stability analysis and adiabatic elimination means

reduction of complexity that stems from the huge number of degrees

of freedom in a complex system. Thus, evolution does not only mean

increasing complexity as H. Spencer proclaimed. The evolution of or-

der parameters requires reduction of complexity.

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Symmetry and Complexity in Life Sciences 225

Fig. 71. Phase transition of activator and inhibitor concentrations

Biochemically, this kind of modeling of morphogenesis is based on

the idea that a morphogenetic ﬁeld is formed by diﬀusion and reac-

tion of certain chemicals. This ﬁeld switches genes on to cause cell

diﬀerentiations. Independently of the particular biochemical mecha-

nism, morphogenesis seemes to be governed by a general scheme of

pattern formation in physics and biology. We start with a popula-

tion of totipotent cells corresponding to a system with full symmetry.

Then, cell diﬀerentation is eﬀected by changing a control parameter

that corresponds to symmetry breaking. The consequence is an ir-

reversible phase transition far from thermal equilibrium. In Fig. 71,

the phase transition of activator and inhibitor concentration is illus-

trated in a computer simulation [5.23].

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226 Symmetry and Complexity

Since Antiquity, living systems were assumed to serve certain pur-

poses and tasks. Organs of animals and humans are typical examples

of functional structures that are explored by physiology and anatomy.

The complex bifurcations of vessel networks are examples of fractal

structures. The form of trees, ferns, corals and other growing sys-

tems are well described by fractals. Trees branching into open space

have room to expand. But hearts, lungs and other organs occupy a

limited space. The networks of nerves or vessels that penetrate them

are servants to the principal occupants of the space. The structure

of the microvascular network is virtually completely deﬁned by the

cells of the organ. In skeletal and cardiac muscles the capillaries

are arrayed parallel to the muscle cells, with some cross-branches.

The system is guided in its growth by the need for the nerve or the

vascular system to follow the lines of least resistance.

Fractal illustrations of a bronchial network are an inspiration for

physicians to apply these approaches to the lung. Physical systems,

from galactic clusters to diﬀusing molecules, often show fractal be-

havior. Obviously, living systems might often be well described by

fractal algorithms. The vascular network and the processes of diﬀu-

sion and transmembrane transport might be fractal features of the

heart [5.24]. These fractal features provide a basis which enables

physicians to understand more global behavior such as atrial or ven-

tricular ﬁbrillation and perfusion heterogeneity.

Nonlinear dynamics allows us to describe the emergence of tur-

bulence, which is a great medical problem for blood ﬂow in arteries.

Turbulence can be the basis of limit cycling, as can be shown with

water ﬂowing through a cylindrical pipe. A variety of control systems

produce oscillations. It might also be expected that some oscillating

control systems show chaotic behavior.

Atrial and ventricular ﬁbrillation are the classic phenomena that

appear chaotic. The clinical statement on the heart rate in atrial ﬁb-

rillation is that it is completely irregular. The observations are that

the surface of the atrium is pulsing in an apparently chaotic fashion.

However, the studies of reentry phenomena and of ventricular ﬁbrilla-

tion show that there are patterns of excitation, again illustrating that

this is organized (“mathematical”) chaos [5.25]. Fractal and chaotic

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Symmetry and Complexity in Life Sciences 227

algorithms for this have been described. Nevertheless, chaotic states

cannot generally be identiﬁed with illness, while regular states do

not always represent health. There are limited chaotic oscillations

protecting the organism from a dangerous inﬂexibility. Organs must

be able to react in ﬂexible ways, when circumstances change rapidly

and unexpectedly. The rates of heart beat and respiration are by no

means ﬁxed like the mechanical model of an idealized pendulum.

The coordination of the complex cellular and organic interactions

in an organism needs a new kind of self-organizing controlling. That

was made possible by the evolution of nervous systems that also en-

abled organisms to adapt to changing living conditions and to learn

from experiences with its environment. In Fig. 72 the levels of or-

ganization in the nervous system of the human body are illustrated

[5.26]. The hierarchy of anatomical organizations varies over diﬀer-

ent scales of magnitude, from molecular dimensions to that of the

entire central nervous system (CNS).

The scales consider molecules, membranes, synapses, neurons, nu-

clei, circuits, networks, layers, maps, systems and the entire nervous

system. On the right side of the ﬁgure, a chemical synapse is shown

at the bottom, in the middle a network model of how ganglion cells

could be connected to simple cells in visual cortex, at the top a sub-

set of visual areas in visual cortex, and on the left side the entire

CNS.

The research perspectives on these hierarchical levels may con-

cern questions, for example, of how signals are integrated in den-

drites, how neurons interact in a network, how networks interact in

a system like vision, how systems interact in the CNS, or how the

CNS interact with its environment. Each stratum may be character-

ized by some order parameters determining its particular structure,

which is caused by complex interactions of subelements with respect

to the particular level of hierarchy. Beginning at the bottom we may,

for instance, distinguish the orders of ion movement, channel conﬁg-

urations, action potentials, potential waves, locomotion, perception,

behavior, feeling and reasoning.

The neurons of animal organisms have been generated by evolu-

tion to carry impulses of electric voltage from one to another along

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228 Symmetry and Complexity

Fig. 72. Emergent structures of the nervous system

interconnecting ﬁbers or axons. Axons can be considered as tubes

of membrane which are semipermeable to ions of sodium (Na

+

) and

potassium (K

+

). In the early 1950s, A. Hodgkin and A. Huxley mea-

sured the sodium and potassium components of membrane ionic cur-

rent for several squid axons [5.27]. From these data they formulated

phenomenological expressions for the ion current ﬂowing out the cell

per unit area of the membrane. Furthermore, they introduced vari-

ables to represent the opening and closing of ionic channels across

the membrane. These empirically measured activities were modeled

by a nonlinear diﬀusion–reaction equation with an exact solution of

a traveling wave (Fig. 73), giving a precise prediction of the speed

and shape of the impulse of electric voltage.

On a ﬁber with x-direction, V (x, t) is the transverse voltage across the

cell membrane and i(x, t) the electric current, ﬂowing through the tube. Ap-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Life Sciences 229

plying Kirchoﬀ’s voltage and current laws delivers the diﬀerential equations

∂V/∂x = −ri and ∂i/∂x = −c∂V/∂t − j

i

with the longitudinal resistance r

per unit length of the ﬁber, the membrane capacitance c per unit length, and

the total ionic current j

i

ﬂowing across the membrane per unit length. The term

c∂V/∂t represents a displacement current ﬂowing through the membrane capaci-

tance. The ionic current is carried across the membrane through protein pores or

channels. The combination of these two equations delivers the Hodgkin–Huxley

equation ∂

2

V/∂x

2

−rc∂V/∂t = rj

i

. A nerve impulse as solution of this equation

is transmitted in the x-direction without attenuation because of the nonlinearities

in the representation of the ionic current [5.30].

Although the large amplitude impulse in Fig. 73 is a stable solitary

wave, moving with ﬁxed shape and speed, it diﬀers essentially from

solitons. A collision between two nerve impulses destroys both of

them. The Hodgkin–Huxley equation is no Hamiltonian with conser-

vation of energy, but a nonlinear diﬀusion equation. A linear-stability

analysis conﬁrms empirical evidence that impulses of greater speed

and amplitude are stable, whereas the slower and smaller travelling-

wave solution is unstable. The unstable wave in Fig. 73 determines

Fig. 73. Emergence of a nerve impulse [5.28]

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230 Symmetry and Complexity

threshold conditions for igniting the stable impulse. In general, nerve

impulses emerge as exact solutions of nonlinear diﬀerential equations.

Thus, they are new dynamical entities like ring waves in BZ-reactions

or ﬂuid patterns in nonequilibrium dynamics. They are the units of

neural interactions which provide the dynamics of neural pattern

formation, representing all kinds of motor, sensory or cognitive ac-

tivities of the brain. In short: they are the “atoms” of the complex

neural dynamics.

In order to model the brain and its complex abilities, it is quite

adequate to distinguish the following categories. In neuronal-level

models, studies are concentrated on the dynamic and adaptive prop-

erties of each nerve cell or neuron, in order to describe the neuron as

a unit. In network-level models, identical neurons are interconnected

to exhibit emergent system functions. In nervous-system-level mod-

els, several networks are combined to demonstrate more complex

functions of sensory perception, motor functions, stability control,

etc. In mental-operation-level models, the basic processes of cogni-

tion, thinking, problem-solving, etc. are described.

According to the complex systems approach, we have to deﬁne the

state variables and their dynamical equations generating the patterns

of interaction for each hierarchical level. On the neural basis, we

distinguish neurons and synapses between them. Neurons have two

possible microstates, ﬁring and non-ﬁring a nerve impulse. In the

ﬁring state, the axon of a neuron opens small caves (vesicles) in its

end, ﬁlled with chemical substances (neurotransmitters) which are

transmitted into the synapses in order to activate a further neuron.

A neuron receives several input signals from a dendritic tree of input

channels. It ﬁres a nerve impulse if the weighted sum of its inputs

exceeds some threshold.

In 1949, D. Hebb already emphasized that to comprehend the

activity of the brain one should not only focus attention on isolated

neurons, but on cell assemblies [5.30]. He suggested that the brain

functions not merely by ﬁring and non-ﬁring neurons, but by acti-

vating assemblies of neurons. As in the evolution of living organisms,

the belief in organizing “demons” is dropped and replaced by self-

organizing procedures of the complex system approach. Roughly

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Symmetry and Complexity in Life Sciences 231

speaking, Hebb’s synaptic rule demands that the synaptic connec-

tion between two neurons should be strengthened if both neurons

ﬁred at the same time. Thus, the complex system approach oﬀers a

view of self-organizing networks changing their synaptic connections,

which are induced by synaptic activation and depend on the degree

of activation.

In the framework of neural complex systems, the microscopic level

of interacting neurons is distinguished from the macroscopic level

of global patterns produced as cell assemblies by self-organization.

Neural self-organization means that an assembly is formed by syn-

chronous activation according to a Hebb-like rule. C. von der Mals-

burg modiﬁed Hebb’s hypothesis by demanding that assembly for-

mation is produced by rapid synaptic changes [5.31]. Thus, there

is no “mother neuron” that can feel, think, or, at least, coordinate

the appropriate neurons. The binding problem of pixels and features

in perception is explained by cell assemblies of synchronously ﬁr-

ing neurons dominated by learnt attractors of brain dynamics. The

binding problem asked: How can the perception of entire objects

be conceived without decaying into millions of unconnected pixels

and signals of ﬁring neurons? H.B. Barlow’s theory assumed sin-

gle neurons for each property of a perceived object, other neurons

for clusters of properties, and, ﬁnally, a neuron for the entire object

(“grandmother neuron”) [5.32]. Thus, the brain needs an exploding

number of specialized neurons which must be postulated in ad hoc hy-

potheses for every new perception of changing situations. W. Singer

and others conﬁrmed von der Malsburg’s concept of synchronously

ﬁring neurons through observations and measurements [5.33].

In the complex systems approach, the microscopic level of inter-

acting neurons should be modeled by coupled diﬀerential equations

modeling the transmission of nerve impulses by each neuron. On

the macroscopic level, they generate a cell assembly whose macrody-

namics is characterized by some dominating order parameters. For

example, a synchronously ﬁring cell-assembly represents some visual

perception of a plant which is not only the sum of its perceived

pixles, but characterized by some typical macroscopic features like

form, background or foreground. On the next level, cell assemblies

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232 Symmetry and Complexity

of several perceptions could interact in a complex scenario. In this

case, each cell-assembly is a ﬁring unit, generating a cell assembly of

cell assemblies whose macrodynamics is characterized by some order

parameters. The order parameters could represent similar proper-

ties between the perceived objects. By that, we get a classiﬁcation

of similar objects. For example, several similar plants may belong to

the same botanic category. In a next step, we may reﬂect on botanic

categories in general, and on categories of categories, and so on.

In Fig. 74, we distinguish a hierarchy of emerging levels of cogni-

tion, starting with the microdynamics of ﬁring neurons. Analogous

to Fig. 70, the diagram is not deﬁnitive or complete in an ontological

sense. But, from a methological point of view, it represents a for-

mal scheme of research to explore the hierarchical structure of neural

and cognitive dynamics of the brain. The dynamics of each level is

assumed to be characterized by diﬀerential equations with order pa-

rameters. For example, on the ﬁrst level of macrodynamics, order pa-

rameters characterize a visual perception. On the following level, the

observer becomes conscious of the perception. Then the cell assembly

of perception is connected with the neural area that is responsible for

states of consciousness. In a next step, a conscious perception can be

the goal of planning activities. In this case, cell assemblies of cell as-

semblies are connected with neural areas in the planning cortex, and

so on. Even high-level concepts like self-consciousness or historical

consciousness can be explained by self-reﬂections of self-reﬂections,

connected with a personal or public memory which is represented in

corresponding cell assemblies of the brain [5.34].

Neural states and the macrostates of cell assemblies that interact

to give brain function, generate a variety of pattern formation that is

well known from nonequilibrium dynamics. Brains undergo repeated

phase transitions. For example, locomotion is a state, within which

walking is a rhythmic pattern of activity that involves large parts

of the brain, spinal cord, muscles and bones. The entire neuromus-

cular system changes instantly with the transition to a pattern of

jogging or running. Brains undergo repeated transitions from wak-

ing to sleeping and back again, but still, giving the same persons as

the night before. Personal identity is an example of stability, equilib-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Life Sciences 233

Fig. 74. Emergent cognitive structures of the brain

rium and symmetry of brain states: The state of identity is invariant

with respect to time translation, although there may be local changes

with increasing aging. Brain states emerge, persist for a small frac-

tion of a second, then disappear and are replaced by other states. It

is the ﬂexibility and creativeness of this process that makes a brain

so successful in animals for their adaptation to rapidly changing and

unpredictable environments.

According to nonequilibrium dynamics, we can distinguish three

kinds of attractors. The simplest is the ﬁxed point attractor. In

this case, the system is at rest unless perturbed, and it returns to

rest when allowed to do so. Examples of neural point attractors are

silent neurons or cell assemblies that have been isolated from the

brain. A system that gives periodic behavior is said to have a limit

cycle attractor. When periodic activity of cell assemblies does occur,

it is either intentional, as in rhythmic drumming, clapping and danc-

ing, or it is pathological as in the periodic oscillations of the eyes in

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234 Symmetry and Complexity

nystagmus, or of the limbs during Parkinsonian tremor. The third

type of attractor gives aperiodic and chaotic irregularities of the kind

that is observed in recordings of EEGs. Chaotic dynamics sensitively

depends on initial states. Therefore, the system behavior is unpre-

dictable in the long run, although a deterministic evolution equation

may be deﬁned explicitly. In the case of deterministic chaos, when the

systems only have a small number of components and a few degrees

of freedom, the attractors are mathematically well known. They can

be derived from the corresponding nonlinear diﬀerential equations or

by time-series analysis. They are mainly low-dimensional, stationary

and noisy-free.

Large and complex real-world systems, which include neurons

and neural populations, are noisy, nearly inﬁnite-dimensional, non-

stationary and non-autonomous. These brain states are called

“stochastic chaos” by W. Freeman [5.35]. The source is postulated

to be the synaptic interaction of millions of neurons, which create

local ﬁelds of microscopic noise in the cortex. These activities are

revealed by spatial patterns of amplitude modulation (AM patterns)

of a spatially coherent aperiodic carrier wave in the gamma range of

the EGG. AM patterns play an essential role for perceptions, which

has been discovered in the olfactory brain by Freeman [5.36]. Percep-

tions are not only passive sensory mappings of the external world like

the pictures of a camera. Perceptions begin with selections according

to goals, motivations and preferences. They are goal-directed actions

through the participation of the limbic system with the neurochem-

ical nuclei in the brain stem that express and directly control the

state of the organism, body and brain. The limbic system is the neu-

ral part that provide emotional and motivational states of the brain.

AM patterns represent the intentionality of an individual, guiding

the brain to selected perceptions. In this sense, they can be consid-

ered as order parameters constraining and determining neurons and

cell assemblies for the selected features and context of a perception.

The discovery that brain dynamics operates in chaotic domains

has profound implications for the study of higher brain function.

A chaotic system has the capacity to create novel and unexpected

patterns of activity. Phase transitions between chaotic states consti-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Life Sciences 235

tute the dynamics that we need to understand how brains perform

such remarkable feats as abstraction of the essentials of ﬁgures from

complex, unknown and unpredictable backgrounds, and constant up-

dating by learning. Stochastic chaos attractors are aperiodic with

limitations of long-term predictions and local islands of noise, but

still highly complex correlated mathematical structures. Complete

global noise is a stochastic state without any correlation between its

components. If the brain of an individual is at rest with no evidence

of overt behavior, then it is in a state of noise. The neurons ﬁre con-

tinually, but not in concert with each other. Any correlation between

neurons and assemblies has decayed. Therefore, the state of noise

has continual activity with no history of how it started and without

chance of prediction of when the next pulse and which next state will

occur. Nevertheless, noise is the substrate from which chaos and all

the other attractors emerge. Noise is essential for maintaining the

health of neurons, because they must stay active in order to survive.

Brains of animals are no isolated monads, but embedded in the

social dynamics of their species. Animal populations can be charac-

terized on a scale of greater or lesser complexity of social behavior.

There are populations of insects with a complex social structure,

which is rather interesting for sociobiology. The interactions be-

tween individuals are physically realized by sound, vision, touch and

the transmission of chemical signals. The complex order of the sys-

tem is determined by functional structures like the regulation of the

castes, nest construction, formation of paths, the transport of materi-

als or prey, etc. Ants synthesize chemical substances, which regulate

their behavior. They have a tendency to follow the same direction

at the place where the density of the chemical molecules reaches a

maximum. Collective and macroscopic movements of the animals are

regulated by these chemical concentrations.

In order to model the collective movements, two equations are

suggested, considering the rate of change for the concentrations of

insects and chemical substances. There is a critical value of an order

parameter (“chemicotactic coeﬃcient”) for which a stationary ho-

mogeneous solution becomes unstable. The system then evolves to

an inhomogeneous stationary state. Accordingly, diﬀerent branching

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236 Symmetry and Complexity

Fig. 75. Bifurcation tree and attractors of ant population

structures will appear, as observed in diﬀerent ant societies. Fig. 75

shows the collective movement of ants with two types of structure

characteristic of two diﬀerent species [5.37].

The social complexity of insects can also be characterized by such

coordinated behavior as nest construction. This activity has been

well observed and explored by experimental studies. A typical ob-

servation is that the existence of a deposit of building material at

a speciﬁc point stimulates the insects to accumulate more building

material there. This is an autocatalytic reaction which, together

with the random displacement of insects, can be modeled by three

diﬀerential equations. These equations refer to the observation that

the termites, in manipulating the construction material, give it the

scent of particular chemical substance, which diﬀuses in the atmo-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Life Sciences 237

sphere and attracts the insects to the points of highest density, where

deposits of building material have already been made.

Thus, the ﬁrst equation describes the rate of change of the con-

centration of building material, which is proportional to the concen-

tration of insects. A second evolution equation refers to the rate of

change of the scent with a certain diﬀusion coeﬃcient. A third evo-

lution equation describes the rate of change of the concentration of

insects including the ﬂow of insects, diﬀusion and motion directed

toward the sources of the scent.

The complex social activity of nest construction corresponds to

the solutions of these equations. Thus, an uncoordinated phase of

activity in the beginning corresponds to the homogeneous solution

of these equations. If a suﬃciently large ﬂuctuation with a larger

deposit of building material is realized somewhere, then a pillar or

wall can appear. The emergence of macroscopic order, visualized in

the insect’s architecture of nests, has been caused by ﬂuctuations

of microscopic interactions. There is no insect as commander-in-

chief with a master plan in its brain, but a chemical diﬀusion ﬁeld,

guiding the local activities of individuals. The guiding ﬁeld can be

represented by an order parameter, which is sometimes called “swarm

intelligence”: the swarm knows more than its individuals. Again, the

whole is more than the sum of its parts.

Insect colonies are only examples of populations in complex

ecosystems that have been generated during evolution. Ecosystems

are the results of physical, chemical and biotic components of na-

ture acting together in a structurally and functionally organized sys-

tem. Ecology is the science of how these living and nonliving com-

ponents function together in nature. Obviously, in the framework of

the complex system approach, ecology has to deal with dissipative

and conservative structures of very high complexity depending on

the complexity of the individual physical, chemical and biotic sys-

tems involved in them and the complexity of their interactions [5.38].

Since the co-evolution of human civilization, the ecological equilibria

on earth have become highly critical. It is a challenge of complexity

research to support a sustainable future of ecological dynamics on

earth.

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Chapter 6

Symmetry and Complexity in

Economic and Social Sciences

Sociodynamics of human societies have emerged from population dy-

namics during the evolution of life on earth. After thermodynamic,

genetic, and neural self-organization, we have to explore a new kind

of complex systems dynamics. The self-organization of social and

economic structures is explored in social and economic sciences. In

this context, symmetry is a functional principle that is associated

with basic ideas of social organization. Justice in law, equality of

people in constitutions, human welfare, social and economic stability

have been founded by principles of symmetry. In early cultures, so-

cial symmetry was ontologically identiﬁed with the symmetry of the

universe. In modern societies, it is a dynamical principle that can be

modeled in the framework of nonequilibrium dynamics. Symmetry

breaking and socio-economic transitions are related to critical insta-

bilities and shifts of historical, economic, and political developments.

In the age of globalization, local regions, nations and industries com-

pete in global markets and political conﬂicts of high instability. The

increasing complexity of social, economic, political and cultural prob-

lems is a challenge of global governance, which means the decision

on the order parameters of human future.

6.1 Symmetry, Social Balance, and Economic Equilibrium

In all early cultures of mankind, the stability of a society has been

associated with ideas of symmetry. For example, justice means a

state of completion if the society is arranged in its harmonic propor-

239

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240 Symmetry and Complexity

tions in equilibrium, like the static balance of a scale. In a picture of

ancient Egypt (2nd century B.C.), Gods arrange the “last judgment

of Osiris” with a divine scale (Fig. 76). According to Confucian, as

well as Greek philosophers, the rules of justice are founded on the

cosmic laws of harmony (compare Sec. 1.1).

Fig. 76. Divine balance in the last judgment of Osiris

In modern times, symmetry and equilibrium of societies have been

conceived in the framework of classical physics. Since the religious

and political unity had been destroyed in Europe in long civil wars,

people longed for security and peace. T. Hobbes (1588–1679), for

example, projected a mechanistic model of society and state at the

end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of modern times [6.1]. In

order to guarantee the “law of peace”, all citizens have to transfer

their natural right of power to an absolute sovereign (“Leviathan”)

who is alone legitimated to apply political power and to rule the

state. Thus, Hobbes’ social contract legitimates the state’s monopoly

of power in order to keep society in an absolute equilibrium. The

“phase transition” from the natural state of chaos to political order

and equilibrium is realized by a social contract of all citizens. In

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Symmetry and Complexity in Economic and Social Sciences 241

the same manner, the economic system was modeled by the physio-

cratic economists as a mechanistic clockwork of cog wheels, springs,

and weights [6.2]. A clock is a sequentially operating system with

programmed functions. Analogously, the physiocratic economy can-

not regulate itself. Advances in agriculture, which are the driving

forces of the physiocratic economy, are compared with the weights

and springs of a clock. Economic production was referred to the

composed movements in a clock. Consequently, economic prosperity

is only guaranteed by a regular economic circulation like a clock-

work. Its causal determinism without any kind of self-regulation

or individual freedom corresponds completely to the political sys-

tem of absolutism during the 17th and 18th century. The citi-

zens are reduced to functioning elements in a political and economic

machine.

While the physiocrats designed their economic model against the

Cartesian background of a mechanistic clockwork, Smith referred to

Newton’s classical physics. In Newton’s celestial mechanics, material

bodies move in a system of dynamical equilibrium that is determined

by the invisible forces of gravitation. The physical concept of freely

moving individuals in dynamical equilibrium corresponds to the lib-

eral ideas of a free economy and society with the division of indepen-

dent political powers. Contrary to the liberal ideas, the Cartesian

clockwork of nature seems to accord with the state machinery of

absolutism with its citizens as cog wheels. Locke’s liberal ideas of

democracy with division and balance of power mainly inﬂuenced the

American and French constitutions.

In his famous “Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth

of Nations” (1776) [6.3], Smith emphasized that human self-interest

is not a theoretical construction of economists, but an empirical fact

of experience. Self-interest is a strong and natural impulse of single

human beings, and therefore a human right. But the interactions

of several single micro-interests achieve the common macro-eﬀect of

welfare by the mechanism of the market. The mechanism of the

market is regulated by supply and demand, driving the competing

micro-interests to the macro-eﬀect of welfare and the “wealth of the

nation” in the equilibrium of the market. In the mechanistic view, the

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242 Symmetry and Complexity

micro-interests seem to be drawn to the common macrostate of equi-

librium by an “economic demon” or mechanical spring. According

to the Newtonian method, Smith prefers the picture of an “invisible

hand” directing the micro-interests like the “invisible” long-distance

force of gravitation in astronomy. Obviously, Smith describes an

economy as a complex system of many competing micro-interests

[6.4]. The dynamics of their interactions is a self-organizing process

of competition with a ﬁnal state of equilibrium between supply and

demand.

Smith provided the ﬁrst model of an economic equilibrium theory

that has become the hard core of classical and neo-classical eco-

nomics. In the 19th century, predecessors of modern mathemati-

cal economics propagated the use of the mathematical methods of

physics in economics [6.5]. They spoke of a more or less rough corre-

spondence between the play of economic forces and mechanical equi-

librium. Actually, much of their vocabulary was borrowed from me-

chanics and thermodynamics, for instance, equilibrium, balance, sta-

bility, elasticity, expansion, inﬂation, contraction, ﬂow, force, pres-

sure, resistance, reaction, movement, friction and so on. A market

exists for a commodity if the commodity can be transferred from

any individual to any other without cost. A market clears when,

at a certain price, the demand and supply of its commodity are in

balance. The price that clears the market is called the equilibrium

price of the commodity. Idealized equilibrium models assume the

existence and clearance of markets for all commodities like physical

equilibrium models without friction.

In order to understand general ideas of economic equilibrium the-

ory, some more economic terminology must be introduced: an econ-

omy is perfectly competitive if all individuals are passive price tak-

ers that cannot inﬂuence prices. Thus, monopolists and oligopolists,

which can inﬂuence prices, are failures of perfectly competitive mar-

kets. The commodities are the resource of an economy. The resource

is allocated through the transformation of commodities in produc-

tion and the transfer of ownership in exchange. The microstates of

these transformations and transfers are called resource allocation. A

competitive equilibrium is a resource allocation in which all markets

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Symmetry and Complexity in Economic and Social Sciences 243

clear. Classical and neo-classical theorists have tried to ﬁnd the con-

ditions under which competitive equilibria exist for perfectly compet-

itive markets. If all engaged individuals of a market are completely

self-interested without any cooperation, all competitive equilibria are

asserted to be Pareto-optimal. An allocation is Pareto-optimal if any

alteration will make at least one individual worse oﬀ.

In the 20th century, economists gave up physical analogies and

tried to found their own mathematical instruments. A milestone

for mathematical equilibrium theory has been von Neumann’s and

Morgenstern’s game theory [6.6]. Game theory aims to understand

situations in which decision-makers interact. Examples are chess

as well as ﬁrms competing for business, politicians competing for

votes, nations competing for dominance or armies in wars [6.7]. A

game is a mathematical description of a strategic interaction. Any

strategic interaction involves two or more decision makers (players),

each with two or more ways of acting (strategies). The outcome

depends on the strategy choices of all the players. Each player has

well deﬁned preferences among all the possible outcomes. A formal

representation of a game makes explicit the rules of interaction, the

players’ strategies, and their preferences over outcomes.

A possible representation of a game is in normal form. A normal-

form game is completely deﬁned by a list of players P

i

(i = 1, . . . , n),

a ﬁnite set of pure strategies s

i

for each player P

i

, and a utility

function u

i

that gives player P

i

’s payoﬀ u

i

(s

1

, . . . , s

n

) for each n-

tuple of strategies. Simple applications are the so-called zero-sum

games of two persons. In this case, the gain of a player P

1

is the loss

of the other player P

2

and vice versa, i.e. u

1

= −u

2

. If each player has

two possible strategies, the possible strategic interactions with their

corresponding payoﬀs are represented in a 2×2 matrix (Fig. 77a). If,

for example, player P

1

chooses strategy s

11

and player P

2

strategy

s

21

, then player P

1

gets payoﬀ 4 and player P

2

the corresponding

loss −4.

Whereas normal-form games are represented by matrices,

extensive-form games are represented by trees. A matrix descrip-

tion shows the outcomes, represented in terms of players’ payoﬀs for

every possible combination of strategies the players might choose. A

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244 Symmetry and Complexity

(a) (b) (c)

Fig. 77. Matrices of strategies in normal-form games

tree representation is sequential, because it shows the order in which

actions are taken by the players. In Fig. 78, the nodes of a game

tree represent events of decisions. The branches are the alternative

decisions. The name of each player P

1

and P

2

is indicated besides

the nodes. After their choices of strategies, the players arrive at the

ﬁnal nodes and get their payoﬀs, which corresponds to the matrix in

Fig. 77a.

A game tree looks like a bifurcation tree of events in nonequilib-

rium dynamics. But, there is a main diﬀerence. What is important,

is not the temporal order of events, but whether players know about

other players’ actions when they have to choose their own. Thus,

the information a player has when he/she is choosing an action is

explicitly represented in a game tree by an information set (closed

curve in Fig. 78). If an information set contains more than one node,

the player who has to make a choice at that information set will

be uncertain as to which node he/she is at. Not knowing at which

node one is means that the player does not know which action was

chosen by the preceding player. If a game tree has information sets

with more than one node, the corresponding game is one of imperfect

knowledge.

Because of its uncertainty, each player tries to minimize the max-

imal disadvantage of its actions. Therefore, player 1 chooses the

maximin-strategy s

i

, for which the minimum min

j

u

i

(s

i

, s

j

) among

all alternatives is maximal. If the corresponding maximum is min-

imal, the strategy is called minimax-strategy. In Fig. 77a player

P

1

will prefer strategy s

12

and player P

2

strategy s

22

. For all

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Symmetry and Complexity in Economic and Social Sciences 245

Fig. 78. Bifurcation tree of strategies in extensive-form games

strategies s

1

of player P

1

, it follows u

1

(s

1

, s

22

) ≤ u

1

(s

12

, s

22

) and

u

2

(s

12

, s

2

) ≤ u

2

(s

12

, s

22

) for all strategies s

2

of player P

2

. Thus,

point (s

12

, s

22

) is called the equilibrium point of this game. No player

can improve his/her situation by changing its strategy. But these in-

equalities of utilities are not true in general. In Fig. 77b, again, player

P

1

will prefer strategy s

12

and player P

2

strategy s

22

. But contrary

to the game in Fig. 77a, the ﬁrst inequality is violated: player P

1

can

improve his/her situation with respect to point (s

12

, s

22

) by choosing

s

11

. Nevertheless, a rational decision is possible if the players change

from pure strategies to mixed strategies.

A mixed strategy s

∗

i

of player i is a probability distribution over its pure

strategies s

i

. For mixed strategies the utility functions of payoﬀs must be ex-

tended to the concept of expected utility. Let us assume that the mixed strategy

s

∗

1

of player P

1

means to use his/her pure strategies s

1k

with probabilities p

k

.

The mixed strategy s

∗

2

of player P

2

may be a randomization over his/her pure

strategies s

2m

with probabilities p

m

. In this case, the function u

∗

i

of expected

utility is deﬁned by u

∗

i

(s

∗

1

, s

∗

2

) = Σ

k,m

p

k

p

m

u

i

(s

1k

, s

2m

) with i, k, m = 1, 2. Von

Neumann proved a fundamental theorem for zero-sum games of two persons: for

each game of this kind, the mixed extension has maximin-solutions s

∗

1

and s

∗

2

with (s

∗

1

, s

∗

2

) as equilibrium point. Under this condition, it is useful to choose a

pure strategy by a procedure of randomization. Appropriate mixed strategies are

found by procedures of linear optimization.

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246 Symmetry and Complexity

If players are allowed to enter into binding agreements before

the game is played, we say that the game is cooperative. Nonco-

operative games instead make no allowance for the existence of an

enforcement mechanism that would make the terms of the agree-

ment binding on the players. The concept of equilibrium points was

extended to noncooperative games by J.F. Nash [6.8]. According to

the central dogma of game theory, rational players will always jointly

maximize their expected utilities. In this sense a Nash equilibrium

speciﬁes players’ actions and beliefs such that (1) each player’s ac-

tion is optimal given his/her beliefs about other players’ choices, and

(2) players’ beliefs are correct. Thus, an outcome that is not a Nash

equilibrium requires either that a player chooses a suboptimal strat-

egy, or that some players misperceive the situation. More formally,

a Nash equilibrium is a vector of strategies (s

1

, . . . , s

n

), one for each

of the n players P

i

in the game, such that s

i

(i = 1, . . . , n) is a best

reply to s

−i

. (All players other than some player P

i

are customarily

denoted as −i). Note that optimality is only conditional on a ﬁxed

s

−i

, not on all possible s

−i

. A strategy that is a best reply to a given

combination of the opponent’s strategies may fare poorly vis-` a-vis

another strategy combination.

A pure-strategy Nash equilibrium is a speciﬁcation of a strategy

for each player, such that no single player can increase his/her payoﬀ

by changing his/her strategy if the rest of the players stick to their

strategies [6.9]. Fig. 77c illustrates a noncooperative game with the

payoﬀs for player P

1

as ﬁrst number and the payoﬀs for player P

2

as

second number. The strategy interaction (s

12

, s

22

) is a Nash equi-

librium point. For player P

1

the situation is like this: if player P

2

adopts the strategy s

21

, then s

12

is the better reply. If player P

2

adopts s

22

, the strategy s

12

is better. Therefore s

12

is the sure-win

choice. Player P

2

reasons similarly. So they end up with the pay-

oﬀ (s

12

, s

22

). But the obviously better strategy interaction (s

11

, s

21

)

with payoﬀ (3,3) is not a Nash equilibrium, for if either player sticks

to it, the other can proﬁt by defecting. The game is an example

of the prisoner’s dilemma. In these situations, the isolated rational

behavior of a player does not provide the socially desired result that

can only be realized by the cooperation of the players.

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Symmetry and Complexity in Economic and Social Sciences 247

A pure-strategy Nash equilibrium does not always exist. But Nash

proved that at least one mixed-strategy Nash equilibrium exists for

any ﬁnite noncooperative game. An example is the so-called battle

of the sexes. A man and a woman engage in a game of deciding

whether to attend a football game or a concert. The man prefers the

game, the woman the concert, but each prefers having the company

of the other to being alone in the preferred activity. They settle in

a Nash equilibrium by ﬂipping a coin to decide where both will go.

Nash’s result generalizes von Neumann’s theorem that every game

with ﬁnitely many strategies has an equilibrium in mixed strategies.

Often a game has a variety of Nash equilibria. Therefore more re-

strictive solution concepts with a reﬁnement of the Nash equilibrium

has been explored [6.10]. A Nash equilibrium needs not be inter-

preted as a unique event. If we think of it as an observed regularity,

we want to know by what process such equilibrium is reached and

what accounts for its stability. When multiple equilibria are pos-

sible, we want to know why players converged to one in particular

and then stayed there. An alternative way of dealing with multiple

equilibria is to suppose that the selection process is made by nature.

An example is the evolutionary stable strategy in biology, in order

to ﬁnd the stable equilibrium composition of a population. In social

sciences, the formalism can also be applied to human populations or

ethnic groups.

In evolutionary game theory, a kind of organism is represented by

a player, biological actions or reactions by strategies, the interactions

of organisms displaying various behaviors by matching various strate-

gies [6.11]. The ﬁtness of a behavior may be the relative growth rate

of the fraction of organisms in the population. With the knowledge

of the ﬁtness, the composition of the population changes in succes-

sive generations can be determined. The game aims to ﬁnd a stable

composition of the population. J. Maynard Smith introduced the

solution of an evolutionary stable strategy (ESS). An ESS is a Nash

equilibrium that is robust or stable in the sense that slight deviations

damp out and the population returns to its equilibrium state [6.12].

In the framework of complex systems, ESS are stable ﬁxed point

attractors of evolutionary dynamics. Thus, the game-theoretical ap-

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248 Symmetry and Complexity

proach can be embedded into the theory of equilibrium dynamics.

But modeling social and evolutionary dynamics needs more than the

analysis of these special attractors of equilibrium: it needs the whole

framework of nonequilibrium dynamics.

6.2 Symmetry Breaking and Socio-economic Transitions

In cultural and social history, symmetry has been associated with

balance and stability of a society. But, actually, as we all know,

phases of stability change with phases of instability and sometimes

chaos. New political and social order emerges and old ones decay

and disappear. Some philosophers (e.g. A.J. Toynbee) suggested a

life cycle theory of civilizations and compared their quasi-cyclic de-

velopment with the stages of childhood, adolescence, maturity, and

old stage of an organism. But metaphoric analogies are no explana-

tions. Critical situations lead to phase transitions of global events

like wars and revolutions, fashions and life styles. Symmetry break-

ing is obviously the driving force of political, economic, and cultural

development [6.13]. How can it be explained in the framework of

complex dynamical systems?

In the complex system approach we distinguish the microscopic

and the macroscopic point of view. On the microscopic level, indi-

viduals interact und generate patterns of behavior, social structures,

order or disorder on the macroscopic level of groups, institutions,

and societies. Collective social order emerges by contributions of in-

dividuals to the macrostate of a society. In a causal feedback loop,

the individuals are also inﬂuenced by the collective order achieved by

themselves. Consider, for example, the voting behavior of people be-

fore a political election. Emerging clusters of individual opinions are

represented by political parties, which are the “order parameters” of

the voting dynamics inﬂuencing the individual behavior [6.14]. This

is the general scheme of emergence and self-organization of order in

complex dynamical systems, which was conﬁrmed in physical, chem-

ical, and biological examples.

Although these systems diﬀer in their microdynamics of atoms,

molecules, cells, or neurons, they have surprising similarities in their

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Symmetry and Complexity in Economic and Social Sciences 249

macrodynamics of attractors. Therefore, we distinguished, for ex-

ample, thermodynamic, genetic, and neural self-organization in the

previous chapters. In these cases, the individual interactions of sys-

tem elements can be modeled by nonlinear equations. The emerging

macroscopic structures correspond to solutions of these equations.

Thus, at least in principle, the macrodynamics can be explained

by the microdynamics of the system. But, in contrast to physi-

cal, chemical, and biological systems, no equations of motion on the

microlevel are available for social systems. People are not atoms or

molecules, but human beings with intentions, motivations, and emo-

tions. In principle, their individual behavior and decision-making

could be explained by their brain dynamics. Cognitive and emo-

tional dynamics are determined by order parameters characterizing

individual thoughts, decisions, and motivations (Fig. 74). But this

is only a theoretical option, because the corresponding neural equa-

tions are not yet known. Furthermore, they would be too complex

to solve them and predict the future behavior of people.

In economics, new classical theorists assume the microeconomic

model of perfectly competitive markets [6.15]. Perfect competition

or perfect market coordination means, for example, perfect wage

and price ﬂexibility. People should behave with economic rational-

ity (“homo economicus”) optimizing their utilities under constraints.

Then, wages and prices should always adjust themselves to clear all

markets. If they are displaced from their equilibrium path by an

exogenous shock (e.g. unemployment), wage and price adjustment

rapidly returns it to equilibrium with a cleared labor market. In this

microeconomic model, people seem to behave like the constituents of

a spin-glass which separately attain their individual optimal states

of lowest energy. Obviously, the new classical economists believe

in equilibrium dynamics. But, the question arises whether wages

and prices always adjust themselves in a suﬃciently short time and

not only “in the long run when we are all dead”, as J.M. Keynes

emphasized. Actually, human agents act neither completely rational

nor completely irrational. They deviate from game-theoretically pre-

dicted equilibria. Complexity, chaos, randomness, and incomplete-

ness of information enforce them to decide and act under conditions

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250 Symmetry and Complexity

of bounded rationality. Bounded rationality results from limitations

on our knowledge, cognitive capabilities, and time [6.16]. Our per-

ceptions are selective, our knowledge of the real world is incomplete,

our mental models are simpliﬁed, our powers of logical deduction

are weak and fallible. Emotional and subconscious factors aﬀect our

behavior. Deliberation takes time and we must often make decisions

before we are ready.

Therefore an alternative approach is suggested which gets along

without microscopic equations, but nevertheless takes into account

the decisions and actions of individuals with probabilistic methods in

order to derive the macrodynamics of social systems. The modeling

design consists of three steps: In the ﬁrst step appropriate variables of

social systems must be introduced to describe the states and attitudes

of individuals. The second step deﬁnes the change of behavior by

probabilistic phase transitions of individual states. The third step

derives equations for the global dynamics of the system by stochastic

methods [6.17].

In a society we can distinguish several sectors and sub-sectors that

are denoted by variables. There are variables for material states, ex-

tensive and intensive personal states. The socioconﬁguration of a so-

cial system is characterized by these material and personal macrovari-

ables. They are measured by usual methods of demoscopy, sociology,

or economics. Like in thermodynamics, there are intensive economic

variables that are independent of the size of a system. Examples

are prices, productivity, and the density of commodities. Extensive

variables are proportional to the size of a system and concern, for

example, the extent of production and investment, or the size and

number of buildings. Collective material variables are measurable.

Their values are inﬂuenced by the individual activities of agents,

which are often not directly measurable. The social and political

climate of a ﬁrm is connected to socio-psychological processes, which

are inﬂuenced by the attitudes, opinions, or actions of individuals and

their subgroups. Thus, in order to introduce the socioconﬁguration of

collective personal variables, we must consider the states of individu-

als, expressed by their attitudes, opinions, or actions. Furthermore,

there are subgroups with constant characteristics (e.g. sections or

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Symmetry and Complexity in Economic and Social Sciences 251

departments of a ﬁrm or an institution), so that each individual is a

member of one subgroup. The number of members of a certain state

is a measurable macrovariable. The socioconﬁguration of, for exam-

ple, a company is a set of macrovariables describing the distribution

of attitudes, opinions, and actions among its subgroups at a partic-

ular time. The total macroconﬁguration is given by the multiple of

material conﬁguration and socioconﬁguration.

If all macrovariables of a macroconﬁguration remain constant over

time, the social system is in a stationary macroscopic equilibrium,

which can be compared to thermodynamic equilibrium. If there are

dynamics, we must consider the transition rate between macrocon-

ﬁgurations by either increasing or decreasing macrovariables. In

the case of material conﬁguration, an elementary change consists

of the increase or decrease of one macrovariable (e.g. the price of

commodities) by one appropriately chosen unit. The elementary

change in the socioconﬁguration takes place if one individual of a

subgroup changes its state, leading to an increase or decrease in the

number of a subgroup by one unit. For example, the variable of

employment is diminished or enlarged by one person or a political

voter changes his preferred party in a certain period of time. These

transitions of individual states should be described by a probabilis-

tic process, because the individual freedom of decision and action

should not be restricted. People are not molecules with determin-

istic microdynamics. Nevertheless, the phase transitions must take

into account running trends and motivations in order to get a re-

alistic estimate of the probabilities. These aspects provide the link

between the microlevel of individual decisions and the macrolevel of

collective behavior. There are well-known statistical procedures of

data-mining to measure probabilistic trends, motivations, and atti-

tudes of people belonging to certain sections and subsections of a

society.

The probabilistic phase transitions can be used for setting up

the macroevolution equation of a social system. The probabilistic

macrobehavior of a society is described by a probability distribution

function over its possible socioconﬁgurations at a certain time. The

distribution function P(m, n; t) can be interpreted as the probability

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252 Symmetry and Complexity

of ﬁnding a certain macroconﬁguration of material conﬁguration m

and socioconﬁguration n at time t. The evolution of the social sys-

tem is the time-depending change of its probabilistic macrobehavior,

i.e. the time derivative of the probability function dP(m, n; t)/dt.

Thus, we get a stochastic nonlinear diﬀerential equation which is

well-known in thermodynamics as master equation [6.18]. In natural

science (e.g. thermodynamics), the evolution of a whole ensemble of

millions of equally prepared but probabilistically evolving systems

(e.g. gas, ﬂuids) can often be measured. Therefore, the master equa-

tion with its probabilistic distribution function of macrostates is ap-

propriate in natural sciences, although only numerical solutions are

in general available. This method of modeling macrodynamics is

called ensemble approach.

But social sciences (e.g. economics, politics, sociology) only dis-

pose of one or at best of a few comparable systems [6.19]. There-

fore, the probability distribution of the master equation contains too

much information in comparison to the available empirical data. So-

ciodynamics focuses on the stochastic evolution of a single system in

which it traverses probabilistically a sequence of system states. In the

corresponding state space of socioconﬁgurations, we get stochastic

trajectories describing the probabilistic dynamics of social systems.

The stochastic evolution of a single social system is determined by

autonomous nonlinear diﬀerential equations for the stochastic trajec-

tories of material, extensive and intensive personal variables. In this

sense, the emergence of social structures and patterns of behavior

can again be modeled by solutions of nonlinear equations.

In the framework of nonlinear dynamics, we can consider phase

transitions as examples of social symmetry breaking [6.20]. An eco-

nomic example is the following model of two competing ﬁrms pro-

viding a bifurcation into winner and loser at a critical value of com-

petition (Fig. 79). In nonlinear dynamics, order parameters of the

macrodynamics of a system are introduced by linear-stability anal-

ysis. The idea of our model is that quality is the order parameter

of competition dominating all other economic aspects. Thus, pa-

rameters of, for example, prices, supply, or purchase activities of

customers can be neglected, and we get an macroevolution equation

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Symmetry and Complexity in Economic and Social Sciences 253

of quality. The evolution of the quality variables q

i

for ﬁrm i = 1

and ﬁrm i = 2 can be investigated numerically. In Fig. 79, their (sta-

tionary) solutions q

i

(φ) are depicted as a function of the competition

parameter φ. It turns out that both ﬁrms have the same stationary

quality q(φ) of their products and also the same stationary market

share, as long as the competition value φ is smaller than a critical

value φ

c

. At φ

c

, a bifurcation occurs and for φ > φ

c

there exist two

stable quality values q

+

(φ) and q

−

(φ). The winning ﬁrm, say i = 1,

will have reached the quality q

+

(φ), whereas the losing ﬁrm, i = 2,

arrives at quality q

−

(φ) with corresponding market shares.

Another example of social phase transitions and symmetry break-

ing is provided by world-wide migration processes. The behavior and

the decisions of people to stay or to leave a region are illustrated by

spatial distributions of populations and their change [6.22]. The

models may concern regional migration within a country, motivated

by diﬀerent economic and urban developments, or even the dramatic

worldwide migration between poor and rich countries in the age of

globalization. The migration interaction of two human populations

Fig. 79. Bifurcation tree of economic symmetry breaking [6.21]

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254 Symmetry and Complexity

may cause several macro-phenomena, such as the emergence of a

stable mixture, the emergence of two separated, but stable ghettos,

or the emergence of a restless migration process [6.23]. In numeri-

cal simulations and phase portraits of the migration dynamics, the

macro-phenomena can be identiﬁed with corresponding attractors.

The empirical administrative data can be used to test the models.

In the case of a stable mixture, the integration of, for example,

two ethnic groups, was successful. The phase portrait of the ”melt-

ing pot” shows a stable point of equilibrium and the corresponding

master equation has a stationary solution with a centralized prob-

abilistic distribution. If two isolated ghettos emerge in the region,

the phase portrait shows two stationary ﬁxed points corresponding

to solutions with separated probabilistic distributions (Fig. 80a,b).

The situation seems to be symmetric, but like scales highly sensible

to tiny ﬂuctuations. In reality, there are not only two subsystems,

but an environment with nonlinear dynamics. Thus, the balance can

break down and end in chaos. Fig. 81 corresponds to a restless

migration process with a strong asymmetric interaction between the

populations. The phase portrait Fig. 81a shows a limit cycle with

unstable origin. The stationary probabilistic distribution of Fig. 81b

has four maximum values with connecting ridges along the limit cy-

cle. This case may be interpreted as sequential erosion of regions by

asymmetric invasion and emigration of the populations. Mathemati-

cally, the limit cycle with unstable origin is similar to the destroying

dynamics of a hurricane.

If we consider more than two populations, deterministic chaos can

emerge in unstable situations. Numerical simulations lead to strange

attractors as ﬁnal states of trajectories. In other cases, a successive

bifurcation becomes more and more complex with a ﬁnal transition

to chaos.

Another challenge of global phase transitions is urbanisation

which means pattern formation of new metropolitan areas [6.26].

Historically, urban evolution started with simple closed patterns of

settlements. In Antiquity, early plans of cities and buildings were

symmetric according to ancient theories of proportionality. Cap-

itals were considered as mirrors of an eternal cosmic order with

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Symmetry and Complexity in Economic and Social Sciences 255

(a) phase portrait with ﬂux lines (b) probabilistic distribution

Fig. 80a–b. Fixed point attractors of migration dynamics [6.24]

(a) phase portrait with ﬂux lines

(b) probabilistic distribution

Fig. 81a–b. Unstable limit cycle of migration dynamics [6.25]

temples, churches, or palaces of emperors in the symmetric center.

Thus, they were planned and built for eternity. In Renaissance and

baroque time, the geometric symmetry of a city, settlement or gar-

den (e.g. French garden) was a symbol of “cartesian” rationality that

was demanded by Descartes, a leading philosopher and mathemati-

cian of the 17th century. Administration and organization of human

life should become completely computable like celestial mechanics.

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256 Symmetry and Complexity

In the 19th century, symmetries of cities became an expression of

the Laplacian spirit of linearity, perfect calculation and centralized

administration. Cities with their rectangular or centralized nets of

streets and avenues were constructed by architects like closed systems

of sub-modules which should be in absolute equilibrium.

But, actually, we observe a historical evolution of cities from sim-

plicity and symmetry to complexity, diversity, and fractality [6.27].

The initial symmetric structures had been broken by urban phase

transitions. Fig. 82 shows the complex dynamics of metropolitan

areas from closed settlements in Antiquity to fractal attractors in

the age of globalization, self-organizing during centuries [6.28]. Gen-

erations of people had been engaged in the global dynamics with

their local activities without a centralized master plan. Even if there

are historical settlements with symmetric regularity, they are nowa-

days embedded and encapsulated as local areas in the complex ur-

ban structure of a metropolis like tissue in a growing cellular or-

ganism. Cities can be considered as complex urban systems with

pattern formation on a square lattice of plots and sociodynamics of

socioconﬁgurations, depending on material variables with, for exam-

ple, numbers of lodgings, factories, or greens, economic capacity of a

plot, extensive personal variables with population of regions, utility

functions and distance-depending transition rates of city conﬁgura-

tion. The distribution of ﬁrms, residential or shopping areas on the

macroscopic level interacts with the material, intellectual, political

and social life of the inhabitants on the microlevel.

With given transition rates between the plots coupled equations

for city and population evolution can be set up. They provide a mas-

ter equation for the probability distribution over city and population

conﬁguration, and equations for stochastic trajectories of the sys-

tems. According to the complex system approach, solutions of these

equations correspond to the emergence of urban substructures. In

computer simulations, the emergence of distributation patterns is vi-

sualized by phase transitions and symmetry breaking. The computer-

drawn pictures show the evolution of the population distribution of a

region that starts oﬀ initially an area with no interaction between lo-

cal centers. The urbanization process is revealed in phase transitions

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Symmetry and Complexity in Economic and Social Sciences 257

Fig. 82. Phase transition and attractors of urban dynamics

with changing local attractors. For example, the urban structure

may start to solidify around some main centers. Finally, a basic

structure may be found which is stable for some time. But, suddenly

by local ﬂuctuations, a center can undergo a process of decays and

new attractors of lodgings, shopping centers, or industrial regions

emerge.

It is remarkable that urban regions change from small to large

ones, and their evolution speed from fast to slow. Actually, we ob-

serve industrial regions with rapidly changing architecture according

to changing economic markets and technical progress. Lodging re-

gions may depend on changing fashions or the attractivity of neigh-

boring regions. Historical centers change very slowly. In this sense,

urban regions may have their own internal time and age. For prac-

tical reasons, computer simulations of urban dynamics help to fore-

cast the future and to support decisions for desired developments. In

computer experiments, diﬀerent scenarios can be tested with chang-

ing data [6.29]. One can trace back the simulation results to special

choices of values and parameters under changing initial conditions,

in order to learn and to optimize one’s decisions.

Phase transitions and symmetry breaking of urban dynamics is

visible in the distribution of real settlements. The dynamics of social

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258 Symmetry and Complexity

groups is mainly invisible, but can nevertheless be studied by ana-

lytical and computer-assisted methods [6.30]. A social group may be

led by ideas and interests of its members with respect to common

or controversial purposes and objectives. Interacting forces between

individuals with diﬀerent material, emotional, and mental needs and

desires lead to a self-organization of social structures, customs and

practices in a society. In the complex system approach, their emer-

gence corresponds to solutions of appropriate equations of sociody-

namics. Norms, rules, and laws of social behavior have the function

of order parameters determining the microdynamics of individuals.

According to the usual methods of sociodynamics, material and

personal variables must at ﬁrst be deﬁned in order to get the so-

cioconﬁgurations of a social group. In a next step, the transition

rates between socioconﬁgurations are estimated with consideration

for motivation potentials and trends in a group. Distribution func-

tions can describe the emergence of, for example, the hierarchical

structure of a group. In this case, the points of a plane represent

the individuals of the population. But their position in this abstract

space has nothing to do with their location in the real space. The

space between the groups represents the crowd of the more or less

leading members of the group. The opinion leaders are in the center

and the other members are distributed in rings of subgroups with

decreasing degree of social inﬂuence. States of balance and equi-

librium may undergo phase transitions with the emergence of new

hierarchical structures.

Political phase transitions relate to changes of very large-scale

events of whole political systems. Political revolutions can be under-

stood as symmetry breaking and phase transition. Social asymme-

tries between poor majorities without rights and rich minorities in

power have often been the driver of political change. For example,

with the assault on the Bastille in the end of the 18th century, the

system of absolutism in France collapsed. A local event made global

history in the sense of the butterﬂy eﬀect. I. Kant and other philoso-

phers celebrated the age of republican freedom as an attractor of civil

history. The Russian revolution in 1917 was also initiated by local

events and local groups in St. Petersburg in the sense of a butterﬂy

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Symmetry and Complexity in Economic and Social Sciences 259

eﬀect. Each of such large-scale phase transitions is a unique event,

because it will never recur in exactly the same way. In each event

of this kind, however, there appear universal structures of human

behavior under special conditions which play a driving role in phase

transitions. This is the motivation to study historical events and

processes from the point of view of sociodynamics.

Obviously, liberal democratic systems have higher degrees of free-

dom than totalitarian ones. In an open society with a democratic

constitution, the freedom of citizens ﬁnds its limitation in the free-

dom of the other individuals. In this framework, the formation of

competing political parties with diﬀerent socio-political concepts is

possible. Power is organized in a complex system of checks and

balances with the fundamental division in legislative, executive and

judicative. The government is approved temporally in elections by

a majority of the people. Contrary to totalitarian systems, democ-

racies need more eﬀorts and time for decisions. Further on, the

balance of social and political equilibrium is more endangered in a

complex open democratic system than in a closed totalitarian sys-

tem with rigid regulations. On the other hand, democracies are self-

organizing systems with higher degrees of tolerance to perturbations

not totally depending on the decisions and regulations of a dictorial

center. Historical experiences show that phase transitions from to-

talitarian regimes to democracies are possible as well as the reversel

process from democracies to dictatorships. There are also limit cy-

cles with repeating change from one totalitarian system to another.

In this case a country is caught in a cyclic attractor with tragic

consequences for its political and economic development (e.g. some

countries in South America in the 1950s and 1960s). It is a chal-

lenge of political science to ﬁnd the indicators of political crises in

the sense of warning systems. Models of complex dynamic systems

provide tools for these activities.

6.3 Complexity and Sociodiversity of Globalization

The dynamics of globalization is surely the most important politi-

cal challenge of complexity in the history of mankind [6.31]. After

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260 Symmetry and Complexity

the Second World War, the confrontation of the Soviet system under

the leadership of the Soviet Union and western democracies under

the leadership of the United States generates a bilateral, but highly

dangerous equilibrium of two political, economic, and military sys-

tems with nuclear weapons. Therefore, the symmetry of power in

the world from 1945 until 1989 was sometimes called the “equilib-

rium of fright.” After increasing economical and political ﬂuctua-

tions and instabilities at the end of the 1980s, the equilibrium system

imploded peacefully, and nonequilibrium dynamics of a worldwide,

multi-centered system started. But there was not only freedom of

the people, but the emergence of many local ethnical and religious

conﬂicts with dangerous butterﬂy eﬀects which are obvious in the

international networks of terrorism. Thus, in the historical phase

transition after 1989, the equilibrium of fright has been replaced by

the fright of nonequilibrium [6.32].

In nonequilibrium dynamics after 1989, the order parameters of

market systems have dominated the political and economic develop-

ment of post-communist states. These phase transitions are com-

plex with states of instability and ﬂuctuations. The national tra-

jectories of European nations run into the strong political and eco-

nomic attractor of the European Union (EU) that has become one

of the powerful economic centers of the world [6.33]. China, India

and other Asian states with dramatically growing populations and

technological-economic power will become dominating centers of the

world, while Africa is in a state of socio-economic stagnation. In

the age of globalization, mankind is in an unstable phase transi-

tion of high complexity, depending on local ﬂuctuations of economic

crises, social tensions, and cultural conﬂicts. Because of the world-

wide nonlinear feedbacks, globalization is no zero-sum game that

can be won by one nation with the loss of the other ones. Sociodi-

versity, with many interests and strategies, opens chances of better

solutions like biodiversity in biological evolution. But we cannot

trust in the self-organization of socio-economic dynamics leading au-

tomatically to welfare and the wealth of nations. It is well-known

that the self-organization of biological evolution generates failures

and sometimes ends in catastrophes with the loss of giant biocapi-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Economic and Social Sciences 261

tal. Human rights demand the realization of a sustainable future for

mankind. Thus, the nonlinear dynamics of globalization need order

parameters of global governance. What do we know about the laws of

globalization?

According to Smith, the “Wealth of Nations” is made possible by

two essential principles [6.34]. At ﬁrst, free markets should organize

themselves under the conditions of the unrestricted competition of

nations. Smith was obviously the ﬁrst prophet of globalization. In

the sense of complex systems, the competition of free markets is a

procedure of economic selection, corresponding to the biological pro-

cess of selection. C. Darwin proclaimed that selection could only

lead to optimally adapted species if there was also a great variety of

organisms (“biodiversity”). In economy, the wealth and welfare of

nations is analogously explained by Smith with the division of labor

relating to an increasing variety of highly specialized jobs. Division

of labor means reduction of incompetence by increasing specialized

know-how and better adaptation to changing conditions. Biodiver-

sity in evolution corresponds to sociodiversity in societies. Smith

analyzed the division of labor during the beginning of the Industrial

Revolution in the end of the 18th century. Another example is the

progress in medicine. Since the 19th century the health of people had

been essentially improved by the specialization of competent experts.

The modernization of the world is a process of increasing granulation

in the division of labor. Eﬃciency by professionalization is the slogan

of the modern world. Obviously, sociodiversity and the division of

labor mean the emergence of a new macroscopic order in a society.

In the sense of complex dynamics, people of similar intelligence and

abilities specialize themselves in diﬀerent classes of jobs. An orig-

inally uniform system is divided into diﬀerent equivalence classes,

symmetry is broken, and order emerges.

Besides selection and diversity, ﬂuctuations are needed as causes

of change. In biological evolution, mutations are random events lead-

ing to new organisms that must survive the biological competition

of selection [6.35]. In economy, technical inventions and scientiﬁc

discoveries are more or less random events leading to innovations

that must become successful products in the economic competition

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262 Symmetry and Complexity

of markets. It is obvious that diversity, self-organizing competition,

and innovation are basic principles of complex dynamical systems in

general. Therefore, globalization is not a political ideology we may

like or dislike. It is a lawful, nonlinear process that we should ana-

lyze in order to handle it and to ﬁnd solutions according to human

interests.

In open complex dynamical systems there are dissipative forces

as drivers of change and conservative forces stabilizing the system.

Only the balance of dissipation and conservation guarantees the ex-

istence of complex systems during the phase transitions of nonlinear

dynamics. In the process of globalization, economy, technology and

science are the driving forces of change, while the national states have

the tendency to conserve the status quo in order to protect the in-

terests of their people. With a dense network of regulations, modern

democracies try to organize the economic welfare for the majority

of their people [6.36]. Social symmetry is no result of competition,

but by regulation of the state. Competition needs asymmetry as

motivation for economic activities. On the other hand, dissipation

of free markets without any social network could lead to social ruin

and destabilize the whole system by a dangerous asymmetry between

the majority of poor people and a minority of rich ones, which was

already prophesied by K. Marx [6.37] in the 19th century. Thus,

modern states tried to stabilize the social balance by a welfare sys-

tem that has been paid by a complex system of direct and indirect

taxes. But over-regulation is a handicap for economic competitors

who try to maximize their proﬁts. They prefer markets with less

regulations and low taxes. Finally national states with highly devel-

oped welfare systems lose jobs necessary to earn the money in order

to ﬁnance their welfare systems. Therefore, overregulated welfare

systems produce high costs of complexity by a feedback cycle which

can also destabilize the whole system. In short and simpliﬁed: one

can accept social asymmetry and get employment, or one can oppose

social asymmetry and get unemployment. It is a challenge of mod-

ern politics to ﬁnd the right balance of dissipative and conservative

forces in socioeconomic systems.

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Symmetry and Complexity in Economic and Social Sciences 263

Under the conditions of nonlinear dynamics, it is not suﬃcient to

have good intentions, which could lead to undesired side-eﬀects in

the long run. Thus, for decisions in nonlinear dynamics, one must

consider an appropriate window of time. Dynamical systems in na-

ture and society have diﬀerent scales of time [6.38]. In democracies,

politicians prefer to take into account short-term eﬀects only, be-

cause they want to be elected again in the next election. Political

power in democracies means power for an elected period. This is the

reason why political decisions with short-term beneﬁts may lead to

disadvantages in the economic system with longer periods of causal

eﬀects [6.39]. If, for example, the central bank of a state enlarges

the set of money, the ﬁrst eﬀect is an expansion of the gross national

product and employment, which is followed by increasing prices and

wages with a contractive eﬀect. On the other hand, the restriction

of money at ﬁrst has a contractive eﬀect on the gross national prod-

uct and employment, which is later on followed by stabilized prices,

wages, and an increasing gross national product. As politicians pre-

fer the short-term beneﬁts, there is permanent inﬂationary tendency

endangering the value of money.

Political and economic systems have their own characteristic dy-

namics and time-scaling. Therefore, they should not be mixed in

order to guarantee the welfare of a nation. In democracies, politi-

cal power is justiﬁed by the principle of majority and consensus. In

economies, the value of products is decided by the competition of free

markets. If an economy is based on democratic majorities, diﬀerent

interests and intentions must be harmonized, competition reduced,

and innovation restricted. The eﬀect is stagnation, administration of

the status quo and ﬁnally pauperization, because no surplus value is

produced. On the other hand, political systems must not be dictated

by the innovation cycles of products. Free markets are not interested

in the social security of people, but in high proﬁts and less burden

by taxes [6.40].

Globalization enlarges free markets from nations to the whole

world. In international competition, the industry of a country is

only competitive as long as the costs of production and services are

not higher than the prices that can be gained for its goods on interna-

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264 Symmetry and Complexity

tional markets. The most important part of costs are the labor costs.

Therefore, the labor costs of a country must not be too high. The

wages generated by international competition are called competitive

wages. They are a critical control parameter for the international

competitiveness of a country. If competitive wages are surpassed by

a country for a longer time, then the economy will decrease with

high unemployment, dramatically diminished exports and enlarged

imports. Finally, the wages must be decreased again. The contrary

eﬀect happens if, on the other hand, the actual wages are massively

lower than the competitive wages. There is a boom with increasing

exports, decreasing imports, growing proﬁts and increasing employ-

ment. With the increasing demand for labor the wages also increase

and adjust themselves to the competitive wages.

Wages consist of the individual wages paid cash and the collective

wages paid to public institutions in order to support people in the

case of illness, unemployment, etc. It is a decision of national social

politics as to how the parts of individual and collective wages should

be weighted. If the welfare system of a country is developed too much

with high costs of collective wages, the will of its people to work and

to produce is diminished. Therefore, the individual wages must not

be reduced too much in order to give suﬃcient stimulus for work. In

the age of globalization there is international competition between

many countries in trying to attract ﬁrms and industries from abroad

[6.41]. They compete with their diﬀerent forms of welfare systems,

taxes, and other local conditions. Again, sociodiversity is a feature of

complex social and economic dynamics. In complex systems, nobody

knows the best solutions. It is a question of learning steps and ex-

perience by trial and error. According to F. von Hayek, competition

is a procedure of discovering the best solutions [6.42]. In the age of

globalization, the discovering process of competition is generalized

for countries and nations. They emerge as global attractors in the

worldwide dynamics of free markets.

On the national level, countries organize themselves with their

political and economic systems. National governance is realized by

national governments legitimated by democratic elections in the best

case. Governance needs power to enforce laws, regulations, and

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Symmetry and Complexity in Economic and Social Sciences 265

norms. How should global governance be made possible in the age

of globalization [6.43]? After the Second World War the General

Agreement on Tariﬀs and Trade (GATT) was the ﬁrst step in this

direction. GATT was a global, political framework of nations that

wanted to take part in free markets. After 1989, GATT was im-

proved by the World Trade Organization (WTO) with free trade of

further products and services [6.44]. With respect to the increasing

importance of inventions and their protection by patents, the WTO

was supplemented by an agreement on Trade Related Aspects of In-

tellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The WTO enforce its national

members to satisfy the global rules of their agreement. Otherwise a

country is excluded from the privileges of free markets by the other

members. But the attraction of free markets is very strong and sup-

ports the national interest of a country. Therefore, any member tries

to avoid such a situation voluntarily. In this sense the WTO has

an eﬀective system of sanctions that are applied by an international

court of trade. It is remarkable that for the ﬁrst time in history a

political-economic system is able to enforce sanctions without mil-

itary power. Military power is even excluded, because otherwise a

country loses the economic beneﬁts of the free WTO-market. The

dream of Smith that war could be avoided by free trade has now a

realistic perspective, at least in the long term.

Mankind’s urgent global problems like war, poverty, and ecologi-

cal pollution cannot be solved, because there are no eﬀective systems

of sanctions. Good intentions are not suﬃcient. The WTO with its

eﬀective sanctions could be a model for successful global governance.

Less developed countries have obviously less chance to compete suc-

cessfully with highly developed countries on the monetary market.

They need help to improve their ﬁnancial systems. Nevertheless

many of them can already compete with their human capital, i.e. the

know-how of their people. Thus the best help is to open the markets

of wealthy OECD countries for these people. There is no better way

to gain the knowledge of competitors than by competing with them.

A sustainable future for mankind depends basically on the solu-

tions for our environmental problems. How can the nonlinear dy-

namics of globalization be harmonized with the complex system of

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266 Symmetry and Complexity

the natural environment on earth? Today, there are 6 billion people

living on earth. Human population will increase to 8 billions in 2025

and 9,4 billions in 2050. These giant numbers are a dramatic burden

on natural resources and climate. On the other hand, it is an empir-

ical fact that the growth of a population can only be stabilized by an

increasing wealth of its people. But increasing wealth needs growing

economies which exhaust natural resources. Therefore, thirty years

ago, the Club of Rome asked for the “Limits to Growth” and tried

to determine a global equilibrium state of economy and environment

[6.45]. Obviously population, industries, capital, services, natural

resources and environment interact in a complex nonlinear system

which needs careful analysis of causal dependencies. Fig. 83 illus-

trates some feedback loops, although they are not complete. In a

further step of modeling the coupled equations of these interacting

quantities must be formulated in order to ﬁnd appropriate solutions

of equilibrium.

Even if there is a strategy of zero-growth, there is no chance of

application without an eﬀective system of sanctions. Wealthy na-

tions will not renounce their welfare systems that need ﬂourishing

economies. Poor nations will try to increase their industrial produc-

tion in order to improve their living standards. Thus, the question

arises as to whether there is an ecologically sustainable strategy of

economic growth accepted by the majority of countries? According

to the WTO, the common agreement must be of urgent national

interest for its members combined with an eﬀective system of sanc-

tions. An economic sanction would be a price mechanism evaluating

natural resources (e.g. climate) as limited goods [6.46]. In an interna-

tional agreement on climate protection, emission rights of hothouse

gas could get a market price used by the countries with respect to

their national interests. Excessive emissions of hothouse gas cause

ﬁnes on single countries to the favor of a world fund. With that a

price is determined for the limited rights of emission. The price can

also be used as reward for renouncing the usage of emission rights.

The reward is paid by the same fund getting the ﬁnes. The agree-

ment demands that the price must be adjusted if the total emission

surpasses or remains under some critical value of a control parame-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Economic and Social Sciences 267

population

annual births

(+)

industrial production

per capita

(+)

birth rate

education and

family planning

annual deaths

death rate

(-)

(-)

public health welfare

services per capita

(+)

capital of

services

industrial production

industrial capital

non-regeneratable

ressources

efficiency

of capital

(-)

investments

investments rate

wear of capital

average using duration of capital

Fig. 83. Nonlinearity of global social, economic, and ecological dynamics

ter. In order to get a growing and ecologically sustainable economy,

price and sanctions of emission rights must be combined with new

innovations and proﬁtable markets. If the price reaches an appropri-

ate value, then it is assumed that new ecologically sustainable tech-

nologies will emerge and produce the same or an even larger gross

national product with essentially less coal, oil, and gas. Agreements

without sanctions (e.g. the Kyoto agreement) and impulses to new

proﬁtable markets only have moral importance.

Globalization does not only mean ecological and economic prob-

lems. After the fall of the Berlin wall, politicians believed in the

linear assumption that coupling the dynamics of free markets and

democracy would automatically lead to a community of modernized,

peace-loving nations with civic-minded citizens and consumers. This

was a terrible error in a complex world! From our point of view,

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268 Symmetry and Complexity

complexity is driven by multi-component dynamics. Politicians and

economists forgot that there is also the sociodiversity of ethnic and

religious groups dominating the whole dynamics of a nation at a crit-

ical point of instability [6.47]. As we all know from complex dynam-

ical systems, we must not forget the initial and secondary conditions

of dynamics. Instability emerges if free markets and elections are

implemented under conditions of underdevelopment.

Recent studies demonstrate that in many countries of Southeast

Asia, South America, Africa, Southeast Europe, and the Middle East

the coupling of laissez-faire economics and electoral freedom did not

automatically lead to more justice, welfare, and peace, but tipped

the balance in these regions toward disintegration and strife [6.48].

One reason is that these countries mainly do not have a broad major-

ity of well-educated people. Thus, minorities of clever ethnic groups,

tribes, and clans come to power and dominate the dynamics of mar-

kets and politics. In the terminology of complex dynamics, they are

the order parameters dominating (“enslaving”) the whole dynam-

ics of a nation. Again, the good intentions of democracy and free

markets are not suﬃcient. We must consider the local conditions of

countries and regions.

In classical philosophy, the transition from an intended develop-

ment to a development contrary to the spirit of the philosophy has

become famous as a contradiction of dialectics (e.g. G.W.F. Hegel).

Good intentions may lead to bad eﬀects. But human agents are

sometimes driven by history to good eﬀects without their subjective

intentions. Hegel called it a “stratagem of reason” (“List der Ver-

nunft”). Actually, it is a well-known eﬀect of nonlinear dynamics.

Therefore, market-dominant minorities are not a priori evil. Minori-

ties are also the driving forces of activity. If they are open-minded

and ﬂexible, they prevent narrow-minded “enslaving” which may be

successful only for a short time. In their own interest, they must

try to stabilize the whole system in the long run. Therefore they

should help dampening the social eﬀects of free markets, bridging

social cleavages, and transcending class division during a phase tran-

sition to democracy and welfare for the majority of the people. But

these phase transitions may be diﬀerent from region to region in the

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Symmetry and Complexity in Economic and Social Sciences 269

world. Responsible decisions require sensitivity to local conditions

in the light of the butterﬂy eﬀect.

There are not only local minorities in regions and countries. Dur-

ing the process of globalization, a minority of nations, institutions,

and companies can come to power and dominate the whole dynamics

of global economics and politics. Recent discussions on globalization

show that a lot of people are not happy with the results of global-

ization. But it is necessary to understand that globalization means

nothing more than the global dynamics of political and economic

systems in the world. Therefore at ﬁrst, it is neither good nor evil

like the dynamics of weather. But contrary to weather, the dynam-

ics of globalization is generated by the interactions of humans and

their institutions. Thus, there will be a chance to inﬂuence global-

ization if we take into account the dynamical laws of complexity and

nonlinearity.

It is a hard fact that the order parameters of globalization have

been deﬁned by a minority of nations. They are the world’s preemi-

nent political, economic, military, and technological powers whether

we like it or not. Philosophers, mathematicians, and systems scien-

tists have no power. But, again, we should use Hegel’s “stratagem of

reason”: minorities are also the centers of driving power that enable

chances for change. Concepts and ideas without political power have

no chance. If the dominating minorities of globalization are open-

minded and ﬂexible, they will prevent narrow-minded “enslaving”

which may be successful only for a short time. In their own interest,

they must try to stabilize the whole system in the long run. There-

fore they should help in dampening the social eﬀects of global free

markets, bridging social cleavages, and transcending class division

during a phase transition to global democracy and welfare for the

majority of the people.

Globalization means the critical phase transition to global gover-

nance in the world. We need new global structures to manage the

political, economic, military, and technological power in the world

according to the interests of the majority of people on earth. Global

structures emerge from the nonlinear interactions of peoples, nations,

and systems. At the end of the 18th century, Kant had already de-

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270 Symmetry and Complexity

manded a law of nations leading “To Eternal Peace” (1795) [6.49].

After the First World War, President W. Wilson of the United States

strongly inﬂuenced the foundation of the League of Nations. After

the Second World War, the United Nations (UN) presented a new

chance to handle international conﬂicts, but they often fail because

of their lack of power. The dilemma of international law is that law

needs power to enforce rights and ethical norms. Therefore nations

have to give up parts of their sovereignty, in order to be dominated

by commonly accepted “order parameters”. Since September 11,

2001, a global network of terrorism has been threatening the preem-

inent political and economic nations of the world. This is the reason

why, especially the United States, which historically helped found

the League of Nations as well as the UN, now hesitates to restrict its

national sovereignty and prefers to organize its own national security

through global military defense.

Clearly it is a long way to global governance among autonomous

nations [6.50]. On the other hand, we must not forget the practical

progress made by new social and humanitarian institutions of the

UN. New economic, technological, and cultural networks of coopera-

tion emerge and let people grow slowly together in spite of reactions

and frictions in political reality. On the way to “eternal peace,” Kant

described a federal (multi-component) community of autonomous na-

tions self-organizing their political, economic, and cultural aﬀairs

without military conﬂicts. But an eminent working condition of his

model is the demand that states organize their internal aﬀairs ac-

cording to the civil laws of freedom. It is a hard fact of historical

experience that civic-mindedness and humanization have sometimes

not only been defended, but also enforced by military power. As

long as the demand for civil laws of freedom is not internationally

fulﬁlled, the organization of military power is an urgent challenge to

globalization.

Globalization and international cooperation is accelerated by the

growth of global information and computational networks like the

internet and wireless mobile communication systems [6.51]. On the

other hand, the electronic vision of a global village implies a severe

threat to personal freedom. If information about citizens can be

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Symmetry and Complexity in Economic and Social Sciences 271

easily gained and evaluated in large communication networks, then

the danger of misuse by interested institutions must to be taken in

earnest. As in the traditional economy of goods, there may arise

information monopolies, acting as dominating minorities prejudicing

other people, classes, and countries. For instance, consider the for-

mer “Third World” or the “South” with its less developed systems

for information services that would have no fair chance against the

“North” in a global communication village.

Are there consequences of symmetry, complexity, and nonlinear

dynamics for management systems in the age of globalization [6.52]?

Linear decision behavior can obviously lead to desired results only

under the conditions of complete information in an environment with

linear dynamics. In complex situations, agents must consider positive

and negative feedback by side eﬀects of their own nonlinear decisions

and by goals and actions of other agents. Short-term thinking is dan-

gerous in a world with delayed and long-term side eﬀects. Learning in

complex organizations means a change of mental models, strategies

and decisions. It requires nonlinear information feedback. Thus, we

should aim at improving complexity in management systems with

respect to structural complexity (e.g. ﬂat hierarchies, short length

of decision processes, appropriate number of controlling units), with

respect to information complexity (e.g. eﬀective knowledge manage-

ment, information symmetry and transparency), and ﬁnally with re-

spect to the individual complexity of co-workers and the diversity of

their diﬀerent creative potentials.

But diversity and complexity do not automatically lead to the

emergence of self-organizing fruitful eﬀects. In ﬁrms, administra-

tions, and other kinds of organizations, we can measure costs of

complexity inﬂuencing their position in economic competition. Di-

rect costs of complexity are distinguished as single direct costs for

too complex products with new expensive materials, tools, and fea-

tures, and permanent direct costs for service and administration of

these products. Indirect costs of complexity are hidden in the or-

ganizational structure of a ﬁrm or administration. An example is

the time of a manager or co-worker not being optimally used. Costs

of complexity inﬂuence all steps of the value chain during an indus-

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272 Symmetry and Complexity

trial production. There are, for instance, the costs of suppliers for

various units of products. Furthermore, costs of complexity emerge

in purchase and logistic, production and construction, marketing,

and administration. If dangerous drivers and traps (“attractors”) of

complexity arise, the capital of a ﬁrm decreases and the energy of

co-workers and managers are dissipated. Examples are oﬀers of ﬁrms

with a too much variety, over-engineering and defects in quality.

Thus, complex nonlinear organizational structures can lead to

increasing butterﬂy eﬀects, spreading to the whole organization

(e.g. costs of complexity) like an epidemic. In complex organiza-

tions, nonlinear processes cannot be forecast in the long run. Early

controlling is necessary to prevent chaotic attractors, i.e. the traps of

complexity. In the competition of globalization, complex organiza-

tions only survive as learning, rapidly adapting, and ﬂexible systems.

In complex organizations, varieties of competent co-workers recog-

nize problems better and react faster than central controlling in an

over-regulated hierarchy. Therefore, we should deregulate and sup-

port self-regulating autonomy. Complex organizations are nonlinear

social systems of people with diﬀerent abilities, attitudes, emotions

and interests. The sociodiversity of people is the human capital for

a sustainable progress, not only in single organizations, but in the

evolutionary process of globalization.

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Chapter 7

Symmetry and Complexity in

Computer Science

The evolution from symmetry to complexity has been analyzed in

the physical, chemical, biological, cognitive, and social sciences. In

all these contexts, the emergence of order and structure is explained

by self-organization with symmetry breaking and phase transition of

complex dynamical systems. The increasing power of modern com-

puter technology allows new insights into their nonlinear dynamics,

which can often not be solved by analytical methods. On the other

hand, the principles of physical, chemical, biological, cognitive and

social self-organization have become the blueprints of computer and

information technologies. Life and computer science are growing to-

gether into a new kind of complex engineering, changing the basic

conditions of human life and society. There is a fundamental reason

for this obvious tendency: according to the principle of computa-

tional equivalence, every nonlinear dynamical system corresponds to

an appropriate computational system. In this sense, atomic, molec-

ular, cellular, organic, and social systems are computational systems

with phase transitions as information processes. Symmetry, sym-

metry breaking and complexity are explained by the principles of

information and computation.

7.1 Symmetry and Complexity in Information Dynamics

According to Shannon’s information theory [7.1], a message from a

sender (e.g. phone, PC) is sent to a recipient by coding the sign of

the message into binary digits (“bits”), representing binary technical

273

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274 Symmetry and Complexity

signals (e.g. electrical pulses), and decoding them when the message

arrives. Communication means the exchange of information. The

information content of a symbol is the number of binary decisions

leading to it. For example, a storage with four symbols a, b, c, d

allows 4 = 2

2

selecting procedures with two binary decisions which

can be represented by a bifurcation tree (Fig. 84). In this sense,

information is generated by digital symmetry breaking.

Fig. 84. Digital bifurcation of information

For N symbols, there are N = 2

I

selecting procedures with I

binary decisions, i.e. I = ld N bits. If the symbols s

i

(1 < i < N)

occurs with diﬀerent probabilities p

i

, then their information content

is I(s

i

) = ld p

−1

i

= −ld p

i

bits. A more probable symbol has less

information content than an improbable one. In this sense, the in-

formation content of a symbol can be considered a measure of news

for the receiver.

The mean information content of a sender with symbols s

i

is the

expectation value of the information contents I(s

i

) of its symbols

s

i

, i.e. H = c

¸

i

p

i

I(s

i

) = −

¸

i

p

i

ld p

i

with

¸

i

p

i

= 1. The mean

information content H can be considered a measure of uncertainty for

the probabilistic distribution of the symbols of a source. The reason

being that in the case of the uniform distribution of probabilities,

the mean information content H

max

of a source is maximal, i.e. the

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Symmetry and Complexity in Computer Sciences 275

uncertainty of a symbol is maximal. For H = 0 is p

i

= 1, i.e. symbol

s

i

is determined by the source.

Information storage and information ﬂow in matter, life, the

brain, and societies depend on the dynamics of complex systems.

The basic concept linking information dynamics with complex sys-

tems is entropy. According to Boltzmann, entropy S is a measure of

the probable distribution of microstates of elements (e.g. molecules

of a gas) in a complex dynamical system, generating a macrostate

(e.g. temperature of a gas), i.e. S = k

B

ln W with k

B

Boltzmann-

constant and W number of probabilistic distributions of microstates,

generating a macrostate [7.2]. According to the second law of ther-

modynamics, entropy is a measure of increasing disorder in isolated

systems. The reversible process is extremely improbable. In infor-

mation theory, entropy can be introduced as measure of uncertainty

of random variables. Random variables are not restricted to ran-

domly produced symbols of a sender. A random variable X denotes

states x which can be generated by any kind of complex system.

The information which is necessary to determine the probabilistic

distributions of microstates, generating the macrostate of a com-

plex system, is given by information entropy. Mathematically, the

information entropy H(X) of random variable X is deﬁned as the

expectation value of the probabilistic distribution of its values x,

i.e. H(X) = −

¸

x

p(x) log p(x). In complex systems, H(X) is the ex-

pectation value of the probabilistic distribution of their microstates.

For H(X) = 0, the process X is deterministic. For H(X) maximal,

there is uniform distribution with maximal uncertainty of x. In-

formation entropy is obviously considered a measure of uncertainty.

Actually, information is the diminution of uncertainty concerning the

state of a complex system [7.3].

In thermodynamical applications, the random variable X of in-

formation entropy is related to the microstates of, for example, the

molecules of a gas. In this case, the entropy of a macrostate cor-

responds to the information which is necessary to determine the

microstates, generating the macrostate, i.e. S = k

B

H [7.4]. Ac-

cording to the second law of thermodynamics, entropy increases in

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276 Symmetry and Complexity

closed systems. Increasing entropy means an increasing number of

probabilistic distributions of microstates, generating a macrostate.

Therefore, the information which is necessary to determine the mi-

crostates, generating a macrostate of a system, also increases. In

this sense, information entropy is sometimes considered a measure of

potential information evolving in dynamical systems [7.5]. How can

we determine potential information in the diﬀerent complex systems

of cosmic, biological, and social evolution? In information theory, in-

formation is reduced to bits, the smallest units of binary alternative

states, which are denoted by the binary digits 0 and 1. In this case,

a state is characterized by a bifurcation tree of binary alternatives

which must be decided for its determination. The alternatives are de-

cided when the corresponding events happen. The evolving potential

information in closed systems can be represented by the spreading

bifurcation tree of alternatives for determining a macrostate.

The basic physical theory of cosmic evolution is quantum me-

chanics. In quantum theory, elementary particles (e.g. photons) have

binary spin-states ↑ (up) and ↓ (down) that can be superposed in co-

herent states. Thus, quantum information theory analyzes quantum

information with superposed quantum bits. Again, any quantum

state could be characterized by the number of quantum alternatives

which must be decided for its determination. The quantum alter-

natives are decided when the corresponding quantum events happen

[7.6]. In this sense, each state of matter can be considered a kind of

potential quantum information.

Quantum bits correspond to the binary alternatives on which the state spaces

of quantum theory can be based. According to C.F. von Weizs¨acker [7.7] the quan-

tum alternatives deﬁne a symmetry group that is isomorphic to the transforma-

tion group of special relativity. In this ﬁrst step, quantum information theory

leads to both the existence of a 3-dimensional real space and the validity of special

relativity theory. Until now, however, the derivation of actual particles and ﬁelds

remains just a program. Its goal is to deduce their existence directly from quan-

tum information theory, while avoiding the divergences of quantum ﬁeld theories

that must presently be evaded by ad hoc renormalization techniques. The gauge

symmetries of the fundamental physical forces and their particles would have

foundations of quantum information theory. In the context of the uniﬁcation of

physics there remains, furthermore, the open problem of the quantum theoretical

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Symmetry and Complexity in Computer Sciences 277

reconstruction of the gravitational ﬁelds of general relativity theory, in which the

linearity and delocalization of quantum theory collide with the nonlinearity and

localization of Einstein’s gravitational equations. If the problems of uniﬁcation

are solved, then quantum information is the original potentiality of the world. In

the beginning there was quantum information with high symmetry.

In previous chapters, the cosmic evolution was described by sym-

metry breaking and phase transitions from early states of high sym-

metry and uniformity to complexity and diversity. According to the

second law of thermodynamics, global cosmic expansion is character-

ized by increasing entropy which means increasing disorder. Local

order of complex structures emerges by self-organization. In this

case, a system takes a local state of higher order resp. lower sym-

metry than its environment. Therefore, local order corresponds to

local diminution of entropy with respect to the equilibrium state. In

this sense, complex structures have less potential information than

states of maximal entropy. But, that is not a contradiction to our

intuition. We must not forget that potential information relates to

the information which is necessary to determine a state. If potential

information increases, then the need for actual information increases

and that means increasing uncertainty. Local order of complex struc-

tures correspond locally to more actual information than the globally

increasing entropy.

The universe, with expanding cosmic dust and background-

radiation, is a global sea of increasing disorder with emerging and

disappearing local islands of order such as galaxies, stars, and plan-

ets. Our earth, for instance, exports entropy by absorption of ra-

diation of a high temperature and re-emission of radiation of a low

temperature. The export of entropy is a necessary condition for the

emergence of structure. In order to prevent the system from run-

ning into the equilibrium state of maximal entropy, the irreversibly

generated entropy in the system must steadily export to abroad. An

example is illustrated by the B´enard-eﬀect (Fig. 43). A stream of

heat of a high temperature is imported from below and a stream of

heat of low temperature is exported from above. The gradient of

temperature is responsible for the pattern formation of macroscopic

convection cells. In the chemical BZ-reaction (Fig. 56) the export of

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278 Symmetry and Complexity

entropy is realized by an autocatalytic diﬀusion-reaction process. In

biology, genotypical uniform cells diﬀerentiate themselves into phe-

notypical diﬀerent tissues during the ontogenesis of organisms. The

growth of an organism is made possible by the import of nutrition

with high structural order and the export of output with less struc-

ture. In sociodynamics, people with similar intelligence and abilities

specialize themselves in diﬀerent classes of jobs. In this case, ex-

port of entropy means reduction of incompetence by specialization,

professionalism, and division of labor. In all these examples, an orig-

inally uniform system is divided into diﬀerent equivalence classes,

symmetry is broken, and order emerges by reduction of entropy and

uncertainty.

Reduction of entropy and uncertainty means loss of potential

information, but gain of actual information. Information systems

reduce uncertainty and enlarge actual information. In this sense,

even clouds, stars, and galaxies with their locally emerging order

and decreasing entropy can be understood as information systems.

Gain of information is by no means restricted to information sys-

tems in exchange with human beings. A molecule combining itself

with other molecules in a new chemical structure reduces entropy

and uncertainty. Therefore, chemists do right to call it “molecular

pattern recognition,” when a molecular structure is “recognized” or

“selected” by a molecule as appropriate compound. These kinds of

information systems need neither sensory perception nor conscious-

ness or biological mechanisms of selection. Nevertheless, in thermo-

dynamic systems, gain of information happens in molecular exchange

of matter and energy.

The laws of thermodynamics are not suﬃcient for an explana-

tion of living systems. After thermodynamic self-organization, the

emergence of life is made possible by genetic self-organization. The

genetic information of an organism is coded by the four chemical

compounds Dadenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G) and uracil (U).

With binary coding A = 00, U = 11, G = 01, and C = 10, we get a

genetic code in bits. Structure and function of living organisms need

giant sets of information. For a virus, one gets 10

4

bits, 10

6

bits for

a bactarium, 10

8

bits for a single-celled organism, and 10

12

bits for

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Symmetry and Complexity in Computer Sciences 279

a mammal. Genetic information of a cell is transferred to proteins

with hereditary dispositions. Information processing is realized by

highly complex molecular pattern recognition. During the evolution

of life, the capacity of information processing was not restricted to

genetic information systems. In higher developed organisms, popu-

lations, and social systems, information processing of nerve systems

and brains play a dominant role. They enabled organisms to learn

and to adapt to changing environments during life time. Learn-

ing and adapting during life time increase the survival of the ﬁttest

and have a great advantage to genetic procedures which only allow

adapting to ecological niches in sequential generations [7.9]. Three

or four billion years ago, genetic information systems emerged and

generated a giant biodiversity of cellular organisms. The increasing

capacity of information storage can be estimated by the growth of

genetic information during evolution [7.10].

In general the information capacity of storage is measured by the logarithm of

its number of diﬀerent possible states. For nucleotide sequences of length n which

consists of four building blocks, there are 4

n

diﬀerent possibilities of ordering. For

bit-units in the binary system, the information capacity is I

c

= ln 4

n

/ ln 2 = 2n.

For polypeptide with twenty diﬀerent building blocks, storage capacity is I

c

=

ln 20

n

/ ln 2 = n · 4.3219 bits. For chromosomes with 10

9

nucleotides the storage

capacity has double length with 2 · 10

9

bits. Information capacity is independent

of the material form of storage. Therefore, diﬀerent information systems can

be compared with, for example, human storage systems like books or libraries.

For one of the 32 letters in the Latin alphabet ln 32/ ln 2 = 5 bits are needed.

Therefore, in a DNA-sequence, 2 · 10

9

bits/5bits = 4 · 10

8

letters could be stored.

For an average length of words with 6 letters, one gets 6 · 10

7

words. If a printed

page has 300 words, then one will gets 2 · 10

5

printed pages. A DNA-sequence of

10

9

nucleotides corresponds to a storage capacity of 400 books with 500 pages.

Biological evolution on earth produced an exponential growth of

genetic information which reached at a maximum of 10

10

bits with

the emergence of human beings after the development of bacteria,

algae, reptiles, and mammals (Fig. 85). A new strategy of infor-

mation systems was initiated by nerve systems and brains. They

started with specialization of few cells for signal transfer. Therefore,

the information sets which could be stored by early nerve systems

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280 Symmetry and Complexity

Fig. 85. Phase transition of genetic information on earth

were essentially smaller than the information sets in genetic informa-

tion systems (Fig. 85). With the emergence of complex organisms

like reptiles, neural information systems surpassed the capacity of

genetic systems. With increasing complexity, all necessary informa-

tion of survival could no longer be stored in organisms, but it had to

be be learnt by experience [7.11].

Sensorial stimuli of the human organism are analogous signals

(e.g. mechanical pressure of skin or muscles, acoustic waves in the

ear, electromagnetic waves of the retina, chemical stimuli in the nose)

which are received by sensorial cells, coded into digital action poten-

tials, and sent as binary codes (ﬁring and non-ﬁring of neurons) in the

central nervous system (CNS) to the brain. Speciﬁc nervous signals

(neural information) are decoded as sensorial perceptions, emotions,

imaginations, or thoughts by speciﬁc areas of the brain. A mechani-

cal stimulus (e.g. stretch of a muscle) is received by a sensorial cell as

an analogous signal and transformed into digital action potentials.

The intensity of the stimulus is coded by the number of equal action

potentials which correspond to bits of digital information.

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Symmetry and Complexity in Computer Sciences 281

Information processing of the human brain is made possible by at

least 10

11

neurons. Each neuron has on average 1000 synaptic con-

nections. Thus, there are 10

14

synaptic connections in a brain which

is a number larger than the set of stars in our galaxy. Informa-

tion is stored in neural networks of synaptic connections [7.12]. The

steadily ﬁring cells produce a global sea of neural ﬂuctuations, noise

and entropy which can be compared with the background radiation of

the universe. Our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions correspond to

neural cell-assemblies which are the emerging and disappearing local

islands of order such as galaxies, stars, and planets in the global sea

of cosmic entropy. In this sense, thoughts, feelings, and perceptions

mean reduction of uncertainty and gain of information.

In general, the concept of information is not restricted to human

information processing with brains and nerve systems. The DNA-

code is understood by proteins on the molecular level, but in general

not by human beings on the level of brains (which nevertheless try to

reconstruct its meaning by scientiﬁc methods). The meaning of our

e-mails is understood otherwise by their human recipients, but not

by molecular pattern recognition of cells. Understanding the codes

of information depends on contexts. That aspect is sometimes called

semantic information. Human brains generate complex cognitive hi-

erarchies of meaning (Fig. 74). Information is represented by signs

like letters of texts, numbers of quantities, symbols of mathematical

relations, notes of music, etc. Visual perception only can recognize

formal (“syntactic”) patterns of signs by the well-known procedures

of sensory cells and ﬁring cell-assemblies. The meaning (“semantics”)

of, for example, a melody represented by notes, needs the neural ac-

tivity of further cell assemblies of acoustic areas and memory which

are linked with the visual areas. If someone is an expert of mu-

sic, she/he will associate the recognized melody with her/his whole

knowledge. Thus, the coding and decoding process of meaning is

based on complex interactions of cell-assemblies. Cognitive hierar-

chies of meaning emerge by neural self-organization. Diﬀerent codes

of knowledge representation are transformed into one another. Be-

sides the syntactic and semantic aspects of information, pragmatic

information is a measure of the eﬀect of information on its recipi-

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282 Symmetry and Complexity

ent. Our intentions are related to eﬀects and changes in the external

world, generating pragmatic information.

Information processing of evolution does not end with brains and

nerve systems of organisms. Even populations of animals such as, for

example, colonies of ants and termites develop collective information

and communication systems for transport nets and arch formation.

In sociobiology, these populations are called superorganisms with

swarm intelligence [7.13]. Animals communicate with chemical dif-

fusion ﬁelds in a self-organizing manner. They specialize themselves

for diﬀerent tasks of labor, transport, and nutrition. Sociodiversity is

represented by diﬀerent clusters of social order. They are the islands

of order and collective information in a sea of uncorrelated activi-

ties, ﬂuctuations and noise. There is no single termite as architect

with a master plan for constructing an arch. The collective infor-

mation of termites for the construction of arch formation is stored

in the chemical diﬀusion ﬁeld of communication like in the neural

cell-assemblies of a brain. Analogously, there is no neuron which can

think, feel, or perceive. Cognitive abilities are generated by popu-

lations of neurons in a certain area of the brain. Besides chemical

hints, traces and signs of nature are understood by higher developed

animals. In populations, collective information is not stored in a

single organism, but in extrasomatic ﬁelds of chemical and visual

communication.

In human societies, brains are not isolated, but communicate by

complex systems of visual and acoustic signs, gestures, and lan-

guages. In early cultures, the collective memory was orally trans-

ferred by traditions from generation to generation. After the inven-

tion of writing, the memory of a society could be stored in libraries as

examples of extrasomatic information storage. After Gutenberg’s in-

vention of printing, information storage in libraries began to surpass

the capacity of information storage in single brains (Fig. 85). Net-

works of telephone, broadcasting and television are further examples

of social information systems with increasing capacities. In the age

of globalization, the internet and other computer networks are giant

information storage systems with exponential growth. Mankind has

initiated a technical co-evolution of extrasomatic information pro-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Computer Sciences 283

cessing in order to manage their worldwide societies of increasing

complexity and sociodiversity.

Obviously, the cosmic, biological, and social evolution from sym-

metry and simplicity to complexity and diversity can be explained by

cosmic, biological and social information dynamics [7.14]. In the be-

ginning there was quantum information with high symmetry and less

entropy. Cosmic expansion is characterized by symmetry breaking

and globally increasing information entropy (potential information).

But thermodynamic, genetic, neural and social self-organization al-

low the emergence of local islands of higher order, less entropy, and

more actual information than global entropy. Galaxies, brains and

societies are examples of information systems generating local or-

der and actual information in the cosmic sea of increasing entropy.

But memories can also be forgotten for ever. Information disappears

in brains when people become older and suﬀer from, for example,

Alzheimer’s disease. Holes of information spread over the whole or-

gan which, in the end, forgets how to live. Dead bodies are relics

of disappeared information systems. Black holes are examples of ex-

treme loss of information, structure and order by dying stars and

imploding matter. Radiating black holes lose energy and mass. In

time, they will disintegrate and, with them, the information of their

original stars will disappear in the surrounding universe. In their

place, memory gaps will appear in the universe. With the collapse of

its galactic structures, a featureless universe expanding into a void

is heading for a “cosmic Alzheimer’s disease” [7.15].

From a physical point of view, it may be comforting to know that

information cannot disappear totally because of symmetry. The ar-

row of time is only a macroscopic phenomenon according to the cos-

mic arrow of expansion and the 2

nd

law of thermodynamics. On

the microlevel, the laws of quantum dynamics demand symmetry

of time. The physical question arises: is information lost in black

hole evaporation or not? If it is, the dynamics is no longer reversible

(“symmetric”) or, in terms of quantum mechanics, unitary. If a book

is thrown into the ﬁreside, its information seems to be hopeless lost.

Is there a method to reconstruct its letter from the radiation and

atomic paths of smoke? Analogously, if a body falls into a black

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284 Symmetry and Complexity

hole, the information of its material structure seems to be lost in

the center of extreme gravitation and high entropy. Quantum eﬀects

cause a black hole to radiate at a steady state. If the radiation from

the black hole is completely thermal, then it cannot carry any in-

formation. What would happen to all the information of died stars

and bodies locked inside a black hole, that evaporated away, and

dissappeared completely? It seemed the only way the information

could come out would be if the radiation was not exactly thermal,

but had subtle correlations of information preserving. Hawking uses

Feynman’s sum over all histories of a black hole: mathematically, he

takes the path integral over metrics of all possible topologies. Thus,

he ﬁnds a reversible process with correlation functions that do not

decay. In general, quantum gravity is conﬁrmed to be unitary and in-

formation is preserved in black hole formation and evaporation: the

symmetry of quantum laws is saved. If a body falls into a black hole,

its mass-energy will be returned to our universe, but in a mangled

form, which contains the information about what it was like, but,

perhaps, in an unrecognisable state [7.16]. Information comes back

in our universe, although we are not always able to recognize it. In

principle, information is conserved as long as the quantum laws of

symmetry are valid. But the economist Keynes was also right with

his famous quotation that in the long run we are all dead. There-

fore, from a human point of view, the conservation of information by

symmetry seems to be a hope for eternity.

7.2 Symmetry and Complexity in Computational

Dynamics

Information processing can be simulated by computers. In this sense,

atomic, molecular, cellular, organic and social systems are considered

computational systems with information processes as phase transi-

tions. Symmetry, symmetry breaking and complexity are explained

by the principles of computation. What do computation and com-

putability mean? Turing’s concept of a computer does not depend

on changing standards of technical development, but it is a general,

logical-mathematical deﬁnition of computation and computability

[7.17].

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Symmetry and Complexity in Computer Sciences 285

A Turing machine consists of

(1) a control box in which a ﬁnite program is placed,

(2) a potentially inﬁnite tape, divided lengthwise into squares,

(3) a device for scanning, or printing on one square of the tape at a

time, and for moving along the tape or stopping, all under the

command of the control box.

If the symbols used by a Turing machine are restricted to a stroke

| and a blank ∗, then every natural number x can be represented by

a sequence of x strokes (e.g. 3 by |||), each stroke on a square of

the Turing tape. The blank ∗ is used to denote that the square is

empty (or the corresponding number is zero). In particular, a blank

is necessary to separate sequences of strokes representing numbers.

Thus, a Turing machine computing a function f with arguments

x

1

, . . . , x

n

starts with tape · · · ∗ x

1

∗ x

2

∗ · · · ∗ x

n

∗ · · · and stops with

· · · ∗ x

1

∗ x

2

∗ · · · ∗ x

n

∗ f(x

1

, . . . , x

n

) ∗ · · · on the tape.

From a logical point of view, a general purpose computer — as

constructed by associates of von Neumann in America and inde-

pendently by K. Zuse in Germany — is a technical realization of

a universal Turing machine which can simulate any kind of Turing

program. Besides Turing machines, there are many other mathemat-

ically equivalent procedures for deﬁning computable functions. All

these deﬁnitions of computability can be proved to be mathemati-

cally equivalent. Each of these concepts deﬁnes a procedure which is

intuitively eﬀective like a Turing machine.

Thus, A. Church postulated his famous thesis that the infor-

mal intuitive notion of an eﬀective procedure is identical with one

of these equivalent precise concepts, such as that of a Turing ma-

chine. Church’s thesis cannot be proved, of course, because mathe-

matically precise concepts are compared with an informal intuitive

notion. Nevertheless, the mathematical equivalence of several pre-

cise concepts of computability which are intuitively eﬀective conﬁrms

Church’s thesis. Consequently, we can speak about computability,

eﬀectiveness and computable functions without referring to particu-

lar eﬀective procedures (“algorithms”). According to Church’s the-

sis, we may say in particular that every computational procedure

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286 Symmetry and Complexity

(algorithm) can be calculated by a Turing machine. So every com-

putable function, as a kind of machine program, can be calculated

by a general purpose computer.

If a physical, biological, or social process can be represented by a

computable function, then by Church’s thesis it can be represented

by a Turing program which can be computed by a universal Turing

machine. Thus, these processes (if they are computable) can be

simulated by a technically eﬃcient general purpose computer. Turing

computability is a theoretical limit of computability according to

Church’s thesis. There are processes with a degree of computational

complexity both below and beyond this limit. Below this limit there

are many practical procedures concerning certain limitations on how

much the speed of an algorithm can be increased. Thus, there are

degrees of computability for Turing machines which can be made

precise in the complexity theory of computer science [7.18].

Complexity classes of functions can be characterized by complex-

ity degrees, which give the order of functions describing the com-

putational time (or number of elementary computational steps) of

algorithms (or computational programs) depending on the length of

their inputs. The length of inputs may be measured by the number

of decimal digits. According to the machine language of a computer

it is convenient to codify decimal numbers into their binary codes

with only binary numbers 0 and 1 and to deﬁne their length by the

number of binary digits. For instance, 3 has the binary code 11

with the length 2. A function f has linear computational time if

the computational time of f is not greater than c · n for all inputs

with length n and a constant c. A function f has quadratic com-

putational time if the computational time of f is not greater than

c · n

2

for all inputs with length n and a constant c. A function f has

polynominal computational time if the computational time of f is

not greater than c · n

k

, which is assumed to be the leading term of a

polynomial p(n). A function f has exponential computational time

if the computational time of f is not greater than c · 2

p(n)

. Many

practical and theoretical problems belong to the complexity class P

of all functions which can be computed by a deterministic Turing

machine in polynomial time. Sometimes it is more convenient to use

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Symmetry and Complexity in Computer Sciences 287

a non-deterministic computer which is allowed to choose a computa-

tional procedure at random among a ﬁnite number of possible cases

instead of performing them step by step in a serial way.

In general, NP means the complexity class of functions which can be computed

by a non-deterministic Turing machine in polynomial time. By deﬁnition every

P-procedure is a NP-procedure. But it is a crucial question of complexity theory

whether P = NP or, in other words, whether procedures which are solved by

non-deterministic computers in polynomial time can be solved by a deterministic

computer in polynomial time. A NP-complete procedure means that any other

NP-procedure can be converted into it in polynomial time. Consequently, if

an NP-complete procedure is actually proved to be a P-procedure, then it would

follow that all NP-procedures are actually in P. Otherwise if P = NP, then no NP-

complete procedure can be solved with a deterministic algorithm in polynomial

time.

How far can we go with Turing’s concept of computability? The

dynamics of physical, biological or social systems could, in princi-

ple, be formalized by axiomatic systems. In this case, mathematical

theorems are represented by formulas. True formulas are proven by

formal derivation from the assumed axioms with logical rules. The

steps of a formal proof correspond to a computer program. Is it pos-

sible to build a computer which can decide for any formula if it is

true or not? Is there a computer which can completely derive all the

truths of a formalized axiomatic theory? It was Turing who, in 1936,

proved that there cannot be such a universal deciding machine. The

reason is that it would be able to determine whether an arbitrary

computer program stops after ﬁnite steps. But Turing proved that

the so-called halting problem is in principle unsolvable.

Turing started his proof with the question, are real numbers computable? A

real number like π = 3.1415926 . . . has an inﬁnite number of digits that seem to

be randomly distributed behind the decimal point. Nevertheless, there are simple

ﬁnite programs for calculating the digits step by step with increasing precision of

π. In this sense, p is called a computable real number. In the ﬁrst step, Turing

constructed an uncomputable real number. Remember that a computer program

of a Turing machine, for example, consists of a ﬁnite list of symbols. Thus, it

can be coded by a natural number called the program number. Imagine a list

of all possible computer programs that are ordered according to their increasing

program numbers p

1

, p

2

, p

3

, . . . . If a program computes a real number with an

inﬁnite number of digits behind the decimal point (e.g. π), then they should be

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288 Symmetry and Complexity

written down behind the corresponding program number. Otherwise, there is a

blank line in the list:

p

1

−.d

11

d

12

d

13

d

14

d

15

d

16

d

17

. . .

p

2

−.d

21

d

22

d

23

d

24

d

25

d

26

d

27

. . .

p

3

−.d

31

d

32

d

33

d

34

d

35

d

36

d

37

. . .

p

4

p

5

−.d

51

d

52

d

53

d

54

d

55

d

56

d

57

. . .

.

.

.

Following Cantor’s diagonal procedure, Turing changed the underlined digits on

the diagonal of the list and put these changed digits together into a new number

with a decimal point in front:

−. = d

11

= d

22

= d

33

= d

44

= d

55

. . .

This new number cannot be in the list because it diﬀers from the ﬁrst digit of

the ﬁrst number behind p

1

, the second digit of the second number behind p

2

, etc.

Therefore, it is an uncomputable real number. With this number Turing got the

unsolvability of the halting problem. If we could solve the halting problem, then

we could decide if the nth computer program ever puts out an nth digit behind

the decimal point. In this case, we could actually carry out Cantor’s diagonal

procedure and compute a real number, which, by its deﬁnition, has to diﬀer from

any computable real.

The unsolvability of the halting problem refutes the idea of a uni-

versal deciding computer. But what can be said about a universal

machine which should derive all the truth of an axiomatic theory

completely? In the case of a uniﬁed theory, all physical truths could

be derived by such a machine automatically. But if there is a com-

plete formal axiomatic system from which all mathematical truth

follows, then it would give us a procedure to decide if a computer

program will ever halt. We just run through all the possible proofs

until we either ﬁnd a proof that the program halts, or we ﬁnd a proof

that it never halts. So if a complete formalization is possible, then

by running through all possible proofs while checking which ones are

correct, we would be able to decide if the computer program halts.

But that is impossible using Turing’s result. This argument con-

ﬁrms G¨odel’s famous incompleteness theorem with the unsolvability

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Symmetry and Complexity in Computer Sciences 289

of the halting problem. There is no omnipotent computer to decide

all problems and to prove all truths. But below these theoretical

limitations many automatical decisions and proofs with more or less

degree of computational complexity are possible.

A formal axiomatic theory which describes a physical, biological,

or social system has the great advantage of compressing a lot of theo-

rems into a set of a few axioms. Thus, it delivers a shorter description

of mathematical truth. Even a physical theory can be understood as

a shorter description of many empirical data. In general, a formal

theory can be considered a computer program that calculates true

theorems or data. The smaller the program is, relative to the output,

the better the theory. Obviously, besides running time, the size of a

computer program is an important measure of computational com-

plexity. As a program is a ﬁnite list of symbols, its length can be

measured by its number of symbols in binary coding. For example,

consider the following sequences of binary digits:

s

1

= 111111111111111111

s

2

= 010101010101010101

s

3

= 011010001101110100

For s

1

and s

2

, there are shorter descriptions or printing programs

than the actual output: “14 times 1” for s

1

and “8 times 01” for

s

2

. But for s

3

, there seems to be no shorter description than the

actual output itself. G.J. Chaitin and Kolmogorov came up with

the idea that the algorithmic complexity of a symbolic s sequence

should be deﬁned by the length of the shortest computer program

for generating s (measured in bits) [7.19]. Algorithmic complexity is

sometimes called the algorithmic information content of a symbolic

sequence, which is the subject of the algorithmic information theory.

As random sequences have no regularities, they cannot be described

by shorter programs. They are incompressible with an algorithmic

complexity equivalent to their length. But, again, we are confronted

with incompleteness and undecidability. The reason is that we can

never decide if an individual string of digits satisﬁes this deﬁnition

of randomness and incompressibility. We can never calculate the

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290 Symmetry and Complexity

program-size complexity, because, in general, it is not decidable if a

certain program is the shortest one. If we have a program generating

a sequence, its size is only an upper bound on the program-size com-

plexity of the sequence. But we can never prove lower bounds. For

practical applications we can at least refer to standard procedures

for detecting regularities in a sequence. If we are not successful, a

sequence is called random with respect to these algorithms [7.20].

The theory of computational complexity provides tools to analyze

the dynamics of physical, biological and social systems. A Turing ma-

chine can be interpreted in the framework of classical physics. Such

a computing machine is a physical system the dynamical evolution

of which takes it from one of a set of input states to one of a set

of output states. The states are labeled in some serial way. The

machine is prepared in a state with a given input level and then, fol-

lowing some deterministic motion, the output state is measured. For

a classical deterministic system the measured output label is a deﬁ-

nite function f of the prepared input label. In principle, the value of

that label can be measured by an outside observer, and the machine

is said to compute the function f. If decimal numbers are coded in

binary ones, then the digits 0 and 1 can be considered alternative

states of a machine representing bits of information. But stochastic

computing machines and quantum computing machines do not com-

pute functions in the above sense. The output state of a stochastic

machine is random, with only a probability distribution function for

the possible outputs depending on the input state. The output state

of a quantum machine, although fully determined by the input state,

is not an observable and so the observer cannot in general discover

its label. What is the reason for this? We must remember some

basic concepts of quantum mechanics which were already introduced

in Sec. 3.1.

Quantum computing relates to the smallest units of matter de-

pending on Planck’s constant and the velocity of light [7.21]. The

classical laws of physics are restricted in these dimensions. Contrary

to classical physics, matter is no longer continuous, but divided into

elementary particles like photons or electrons. Atoms change into

discrete states. Thus, for instance, a hydrogen atom could be con-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Computer Sciences 291

sidered a processor for quantum information in quantum bits. The

ground state corresponds to 0 and the excited state to 1. Even pho-

tons could be used for quantum information processing, because they

have two quantum states of horizontal and vertical polarization, rep-

resented by 0 and 1. Contrary to classical physics, there are also

intermediate states as superpositions of both states 0 and 1. Such a

quantum bit is half 0 and 1. A classical bit is either 0 or 1. According

to quantum mechanics, the two possible states 0 and 1 of a super-

position remain undetermined until it is measured by an observer.

But a superposition can also collapse by a material interaction which

is not intended by the human user. This kind of instability is one

of the technical problems which must be solved in constructions of

practical quantum computers.

In physical terms, classical systems described by a Hamiltonian function are

replaced by quantum systems, e.g. electrons or photons described by a Hamilto-

nian operator. States of a quantum system are described by vectors of a Hilbert

space spanned by the eigenvectors of its Hamiltonian operator. The causal dy-

namics f of quantum states is determined by a partial diﬀerential equation called

the Schr¨odinger equation. While classical observables (e.g. localization or impulse

of a particle) always have deﬁnite values, non-classical observables (operators) of

quantum systems in general have no common eigenvector and consequently no

deﬁnite eigenvalue. A superposition with 0 and 1 is causally determined by the

Schr¨ odinger equation. But the two possible states 0 and 1 remain undetermined

until it is measured by an observer.

The superposition of quantum states opens new avenues of com-

putational parallelism, because myriads of input bits could be super-

posed in a quantum state. Thus, a quantum computer could deliver

the superposition of perhaps billions of parallel computations in a

rather short time, overcoming the eﬃciency of classical computing

systems, working in a serial manner step by step. But quantum com-

puters would still work in an algorithmic way, because their dynamics

would be deterministic. The non-deterministic aspect comes in via

the act of measurement and the collapse of superposition. Thus,

it cannot be expected that quantum computers will perform non-

algorithmic operations beyond the power of a Turing machine [7.22].

But quantum computers will be extremely interesting for computa-

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292 Symmetry and Complexity

tional complexity theory and for overcoming practical constraints of

computation.

The superposition of quantum states also opens new perspectives of quantum

communication [7.23]. According to the EPR-experiments, pairs of elementary

particles (e.g. photons) which are emitted from a central source into opposite

directions remain correlated in the superposition of an entangled quantum state.

If one of two entangled quantum bits is measured at one location of a particle,

then the value of the other quantum bit is instantly determined at the location of

the other particle in opposite distance. Quantum teleporting which is sometimes

used in science ﬁction movies is at least possible. In order to transport a body

from one location to another one, the quantum information of the body’s structure

could be transferred by a kind of EPR-experiment. In order to reconstruct the

body at the distant location, it is necessary to have its materials at this place. In

any case, quantum information could be transported by a new kind of quantum

communication technology.

Quantum computing does not only mean exponential growth of

computational capacity and communication technology. Any kind of

matter stores quantum information. Therefore, any elementary par-

ticle is a processor of quantum information. The computational rules

of these processors are symmetric according to the principles of quan-

tum symmetry. Any computational step is especially reversible ac-

cording to the quantum symmetry of time (microreversibility). Phase

transitions of matter are quantum information processing. The uni-

verse is an expanding quantum computer producing quantum infor-

mation of giant complexity. Furthermore, it is an immense database

conserving all quantum information because of symmetry. We must

not forget that the concept of a computing machine is not restricted

to human technology with symbolic dynamics of data. Symbols only

represent states of dynamical systems for human purposes. Informa-

tion processing does not depend on human purposes and interests.

Human knowledge only relates to a tiny part of the information in

the world. In principle, quantum information does not depend on an

observer or measurement process. Observing and measuring quan-

tum systems is only a special example of an interaction of a quantum

system with another system [7.24].

Cosmic evolution from symmetry to complexity is characterized

by the emergence of new structures. After elementary particles and

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Symmetry and Complexity in Computer Sciences 293

atoms, molecules arrange themselves in more or less complex clusters,

solids, ﬂuids and gases. The emergence of new structures is combined

with the gain of information. Thus, any molecular structure is a kind

of molecular computer with phase transitions as information process-

ing. That is the reason why molecular computing of nature also be-

comes a standard for modern computer technology besides quantum

computing. For a molecular computer billions of molecular building

blocks must be switched to one another. According to nanotechnol-

ogy single atoms molecules can actually be manipulated by scanning

tunnel microscopes. But this technology is not always suﬃcient in

order to arrange millions and billions in certain distances. The the-

ory of complex dynamical systems oﬀers new possibilities. Molecular

building blocks of complex systems can arrange themselves according

to the laws of molecular self-organization and templates of desired

patterns. In Chapter 4 many examples of symmetric structures are

discussed which could be used for molecular computing. All kinds of

smart and intelligent materials could be understood as information

processing systems with molecular computer devices. Symbolic rep-

resentations of molecular computing are only necessary for human

understanding.

The next evolutionary step after quantum and molecular comput-

ing is DNA-computing [7.25]. During evolution genetic information

systems have emerged by DNA-ruled genetic self-organization. In

electronic computers information is coded by sequences of bits 0 or

1. DNA-systems used DNA-sequences of nucleotides which are sym-

bolically represented by the letters A, C, G, T. Information process-

ing in DNA-systems happens by chemical reactions which generate,

divide or recombine DNA-strands. DNA-replication is realized by

a molecule which can be understood as a tiny nano-machine. It

moves along a DNA-strand, recognizes its bases step by step and

generates a complementary DNA-strand according to the DNA-law

of asymmetry. In a mathematical model it is a Turing machine which

implements a sequence of symbols A, C, G, T and prints its com-

plement by rules of simple operations. As a Turing machine is a

universal concept of computability according to Church’s thesis, the

DNA-replication corresponds to a special Turing machine with a cer-

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294 Symmetry and Complexity

tain degree of computability. The biological evolution on earth has

generated billions of nano-machines for particular tasks.

But the fascinating perspective of DNA-computing is less moti-

vated by single nano machines, but by biochemical systems with bil-

lions of simultaneously interacting DNA-strands. They are a complex

system with information processing of massive parallelity. Parallel

computers enable solutions of highly complex problems, which fail

to be solved by serially working von Neumann computers. Because

of their great packing density and high-speed (e.g. 6 gramm DNA

for 1 million tera-operation per second) DNA-computers could be

applied for special computational tasks of high complexity. Nature

only generated special examples of DNA-computers. According to

the laws of genetic self-organization we could develop new types for

human purposes and interests.

After quantum, molecular and DNA-computing, the emergence

of cellular organisms provides the next protype of information and

computing systems. Von Neumann’s concept of cellular automata

gave the ﬁrst hints of mathematical models of living organisms con-

ceived as self-reproducing networks of cells [7.26]. The state space is

a homogeneous lattice which is divided into equal cells like a chess

board. An elementary cellular automaton is a cell which can have

diﬀerent states, for instance “occupied” (by a mark), “free”, or “col-

ored.” An aggregation of elementary automata is called a composite

automaton or conﬁguration. Each automaton is characterized by its

environment, i.e. the neighboring cells which may have a symmetric

form like a square or cross:

Fig. 86. Symmetric environments in cellular automata

The dynamics of cellular automata are determined by syn-

chronous transformation rules. Von Neumann already proved that

the typical feature of living systems, their tendency to reproduce

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Symmetry and Complexity in Computer Sciences 295

themselves, can be simulated by particular cellular automata. In

Conway’s game of life, cellular automata are complex systems gener-

ating patterns of black or colored cells which remind us of growing,

changing, and dying populations of living systems. Even all kinds

of 2-dimensional symmetries can be generated by 2-dimensional cel-

lular automata. But cellular automata are not only nice computer

games. They have turned out to be discrete and quantized models

of complex systems with nonlinear diﬀerential equations describing

their evolution dynamics. Imagine a chessboard-like plane with cells,

again. A state of a 1-dimensional cellular automaton consists of a

ﬁnite string of cells, each of which can take one of two states (“black”

(0) or “white” (1)) and is connected only to its two nearest neighbors,

with which it exchanges information about its state. The following

(later) states of a 1-dimensional automaton are the following strings

on the space-time plane, each of which consists of cells taking one

of two states, depending on their preceding (earlier) states and the

states of their two nearest neighbors. Figs. 87b–e illustrates the time

evolution of four automata. Thus, the dynamics of an 1-dimensional

cellular automaton is determined by a Boolean function of three vari-

ables, each of which can take either the value 0 or 1.

For three variables and two values, there are 2

3

= 8 possibilities

for three nearest neighbor sites. In Fig. 87a, they are ordered accord-

ing to the corresponding three-digit binary number. For each of the

three nearest neighbor sites, there must be a rule determining the

following state of the middle cell. For eight sequences and two pos-

sible states, there are 2

8

= 256 possible combinations. One of these

rule combinations, determining the dynamics of a 1-dimensional cel-

lular automaton, is shown in Fig. 87a. Each rule is characterized

by the eight-digit binary number of the states which each cell of the

following string can take. These binary numbers can be ordered by

their corresponding decimal numbers [7.27].

The time evolution of these simple rules, characterizing the dy-

namics of a 1-dimensional cellular automaton, produces very diﬀer-

ent cellular patterns, starting from simple or random initial condi-

tions. According to S. Wolfram, computer experiments give rise to

the following classes of attractors the cellular patterns of evolution

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296 Symmetry and Complexity

(a)

0

000

1

001

0

010

1

011

1

100

0

101

1

110

0

111

(b) ( c)

(d) ( e )

Fig. 87a–e. Phase transitions and attractors of cellular automata

are aiming at. After a few steps, systems of class 1 reach a homo-

geneous state of equilibrium independently of the initial conditions.

This ﬁnal state of equilibrium is visualized by a totally white plane

and corresponds to a ﬁxed point as attractor (Fig. 87b). Systems of

class 2, after a few time steps, show a constant or periodic pattern

of evolution which is relatively independent of the initial conditions.

Speciﬁc positions of the pattern may depend on the initial condi-

tions, but not on the global pattern structure itself (Fig. 87c). In

a 3rd class, cellular automata produce patterns that seem to spread

randomly and irregularly over a grid (Fig. 87d). In a 4th class, evo-

lutionary patterns with occasional quasi-organic and locally complex

structures can be observed (Fig. 87e). Contrary to 1st and 2nd class

automata, patterns in the 3rd and 4th class sensitively depend on

their initial conditions. Obviously, these four classes of cellular au-

tomata model attractor behavior of nonlinear complex systems, a

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Symmetry and Complexity in Computer Sciences 297

fact well-known from self-organizing processes [7.28]. They remind

us of the familiar classiﬁcations of materials into solids, liquids, and

gases, or living organisms, such as plants and animals. In general,

the cellular automata approach conﬁrms the intuitive idea that com-

plex systems lie somewhere between regular order (like ice crystals

and Buckminsterfullerenes) and complete irregularity or noise (like

molecules in a heated gas). Organisms and brains are highly com-

plex, but they are neither completely ordered nor completely random

and disordered.

Obviously, these four classes of cellular automata model the at-

tractor behavior of nonlinear complex systems, which is well known

from self-organizing processes. In the preceding chapters, we have

seen many examples in physical, biological and social dynamics. In

general, self-organization has been understood as a phase transition

in a complex system. Macroscopic patterns arise from complex non-

linear interactions of microscopic elements. There are diﬀerent ﬁnal

patterns of phase transitions, corresponding to mathematically dif-

ferent attractors.

Predictions of future development are easy for cellular automata

of the ﬁrst two classes. In the 1st class, cellular automata always

evolve after ﬁnite steps to a uniform pattern of rest, which is re-

peated for all further steps in the sense of a ﬁxed point attractor.

As they preserve no information about the arrangement of cells on

earlier steps, the evolution is irreversible: we have no chance to go

backwards and reconstruct the initial conditions from which the au-

tomata actually started. In the 2nd class, the development of re-

peated patterns is obviously reversible and symmetric for all future

developments. It preserves suﬃcient information to allow one to go

backwards or forwards from any particular step. In random patterns

of the 3rd class, all correlations have decayed, and, therefore, the

evolution is irreversible. For localized complex structures of the 4th

class, we perhaps have a chance to recognize strange or chaotic at-

tractors, which are highly complex and correlated patterns, contrary

to the complete loss of structure in the case of randomness.

Of the 256 simplest 1-dimensional cellular automata with nearest

neighbors and binary cellular states (or two colors), only six have

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298 Symmetry and Complexity

symmetric (reversible) behavior. They only generate simple repet-

itive changes in the initial conditions. In these cases, it is always

possible to reproduce the conﬁgurations of all previous steps, start-

ing from any given conﬁguration. In other words, it is possible to

interchange the past and future. The computational system has sym-

metry of time. If we increase the number of cellular states to three,

instead of two, colors, we get 3

3

= 27 possibilities for three nearest

neighbor sites and the gigantic number of 3

27

= 7 625 597 484 987

1-dimensional cellular automata. Among them, there are 1800 re-

versible automata, so starting from any conﬁguration of cells, it is

possible to generate the conﬁgurations of all previous steps. But

some of these 1800 reversible 1-dimensional automata no longer only

deduce simple repetitive transformations of initial conditions, but

show complex, scrambled patterns. Thus, microreversibility with

symmetric microrules can generate complex macro-behavior.

We can construct reversible rules that remain the same even when

turned upside-down. Therefore, the rules of a 1-dimensional cellu-

lar automaton are aﬀected by the dependence on colors two steps

back. In Fig. 88, we take rule 122 of the 256 simplest 1-dimensional

automata with nearest neighbors and binary cellular states (or two

colors). We add the restriction that the new state (color) of a cell

should be inverted if the cell is black (1) two steps back. With

knowledge of not one but two successive steps, it is always possible

to determine the cellular conﬁgurations of future or past steps.

0 1 0 1 1 1 1 0

000 001 010 011 100 101 110 111

0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

1 0 1 0 0 0 0 1

000 001 010 011 100 101 110 111

1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

Fig. 88. Rule of the reversible cellular automaton 122R

The symmetry and asymmetry of time are an important topic of

natural science. All fundamental laws of classical, relativistic, and

quantum physics are reversible: they are invariant with respect to

the two possible directions of time, t or −t. Our everyday experience

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Symmetry and Complexity in Computer Sciences 299

Fig. 89. Computational simulation of the second law of thermodynamics by a

reversible cellular automaton [7.29]

seems to support an irreversible development with one direction of

time. According to the second law of thermodynamics, increasing

disorder and randomness (“entropy”) is generated from simple and

ordered initial conditions of closed dynamical systems. Irreversibil-

ity is highly probable in spite of the symmetry (microreversibility)

of molecular laws. Some cellular automata with reversible rules gen-

erate patterns of increasing randomness, starting from simple and

ordered initial conditions. In Fig. 89, the reversible cellular automa-

ton of rule 122R can start from an initial condition in which all black

cells or particles lie in a completely ordered pattern at the center of

a box. Running downwards, the distribution seems to become more

and more random and irreversible, in accordance with the second

law.

In principle, symmetry of time (reversibility) is possible, analo-

gous to Poincar´e’s famous theorem of reversibility in statistical me-

chanics, but extremely improbable. By starting with a simple state

and tracing the actual evolution, one can ﬁnd initial conditions that

will lead toward to decreasing randomness (Fig. 89). But for cellu-

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300 Symmetry and Complexity

lar automata, the computational amount to go backwards and ﬁnd

these conditions cannot be reduced to the actual evolution from sim-

ple to random patterns: computational irreducibility corresponds to

temporal irreducibility and improbability. Thus, in computer exper-

iments with cellular automata, we get a computational equivalence

of the second law of thermodynamics. Diﬀerent increasingly complex

and random patterns can be generated by the same simple rules of

cellular automata with diﬀerent initial conditions. In many cases,

there is no ﬁnite program to forecast the development of complex

and random patterns. The algorithmic complexity is incompressible

due to its computational irreducibility. In this case, the question

of how the system will behave in the future is undecidable, because

there can be no ﬁnite computation that will decide it. Obviously,

computational irreducibility is connected with Turing’s fundamental

problem of undecidability. Whether a pattern of a cellular automa-

ton ever dies out, can be considered analogous to the halting problem

of Turing machines.

Computational irreducibility means that there is no ﬁnite method

of predicting how a system will behave except by going through

nearly all the steps of actual development. In the history of science,

one assumes that the precise knowledge of laws allows for precise

forecasting of the future. Even in the case of chaos theory, there are

methods of time series analysis that determine, at least, future trends

and attractors of behavior. But in the case of randomness, there is

no short cut to the actual evolution. Wolfram supposes that the

sciences of complexity are basically characterized by computational

irreducibility [7.30]. Even if we know all the laws of behavior on the

microlevel, we cannot predict the development of a random system

on the macrolevel. The brain, as a complex system, is determined by

simple synaptic rules (e.g. Hebb’s rule) on the microlevel of neurons

that are more or less well-known. Nevertheless, there is no chance

of computing pattern formation of neural cell assemblies in all its

details. In a philosophical sense, computational irreducibility seems

to support personal individuality: our personal life is inﬂuenced by

many unexpected and random events. The pattern of our way of life

is highly nonlinear, complex, and random. Thus, there is no short

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Symmetry and Complexity in Computer Sciences 301

cut to predicting life: if we want to experience our life, we have to

live it.

From a methodological point of view, a 1-dimensional cellular au-

tomaton delivers a discrete and quantized model of the phase portrait

which describes the dynamical behavior of a complex system with a

nonlinear diﬀerential equation of evolution, depending on one space

variable. There are many reasons for restricting oneself to discrete

models. The complexity of nonlinear systems is often too great to

calculate numerical approximations within a reasonable computation

time. In that case, computer experiments with discrete models give,

at least, a rough idea and feeling of what is going on, similar to

laboratory experiments.

2-dimensional cellular automata, which have been used in Con-

way’s game of life, can be interpreted as discrete models of complex

systems with nonlinear evolution, depending on two space variables.

Obviously, cellular automata are a very ﬂexible and eﬀective model-

ing instrument when the complexity of nonlinear systems increases

and the possibility of determining their behavior by solving diﬀer-

ential equations, or even by calculating numerical approximations,

becomes more and more hopeless.

In short: all complex dynamical systems are computational, but

they are not always computable. The principle of computational

equivalence requires that there is always a computational model of

a complex dynamical system. For example, in the case of cellular

automata, we can always program the simple rules of interacting

cells on the microlevel. Therefore, every cellular automaton is a

computational system. But, on the macrolevel, an automaton may

nevertheless generate complex patterns which cannot be decided in

the sense of Turing’s halting problem or which cannot be forcast

in the sense of chaos theory. Thus, cellular automata may not be

computable in principle or by practical reasons, because the degrees

of computational complexity increase exponentially with forcasts in

the long term. According to the principle of computational equiv-

alence, the universe could be considered a computational system, if

the basic rules of interacting elementary particles on the microlevel

are well known. Nevertheless, on the macrolevel, the emergence of

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302 Symmetry and Complexity

patterns, clusters and other new phenomena may not be computable

in all cases.

The next evolutionary step after thermodynamic, genetic and cel-

lular self-organization was neural self-organization of nerve systems

and brains. Brains have the possibility to learn and to adapt to

changing conditions of an environment. Therefore, after quantum,

molecular, DNA- and cellular computing the emergence of learning

and cognitive systems in nature is the next standard for new infor-

mation and computing systems. In the ﬁrst logical model of the

brain, which was oﬀered by the McCulloch-Pitt network, the func-

tion of an artiﬁcial neuron is ﬁxed for all time [7.31]. But in order

to make a neural computer capable of complex tasks, it is necessary

to ﬁnd mechanisms of self-organization which allow the network to

learn. In 1949, Hebb suggested the ﬁrst neurophysiological learn-

ing rule which has become important for the development of neural

computers. Synapses of neurons do not always have the same sen-

sitivity, but modify themselves in order to favor the repetition of

ﬁring patterns which have frequently occurred in the past. In 1958,

F. Rosenblatt designed the ﬁrst learning neural computer, which has

become famous under the name “Perceptron” [7.32].

Rosenblatt’s neural computer is a feedforward network with binary threshold

units and three layers. The ﬁrst layer is a sensory surface called a “retina”

which consists of stimulus cells (S-units). The S-units are connected with the

intermediate layer by ﬁxed weights which do not change during the learning

process. The elements of the intermediate layer are called associator cells (A-

units). Each A-unit has a ﬁxed weighted input of some S-units. In other words,

some S-units project their output onto an A-unit. An S-unit may also project

its output onto several A-units. The intermediate layer is completely connected

with the output layer, the elements of which are called response cells (R-units).

The weights between the intermediate layer and the output layer are variable and

thus able to learn.

The Perceptron is viewed as a neural computer which can classify

a perceived pattern in one of several possible groups. In the case of

two groups, each R-unit learns to distinguish the input patterns by

activation and de-activation. The learning procedure of a Perceptron

is supervised. Thus, the desired state (active or not) of each R-unit,

corresponding to a pattern to be learnt, must be well known. The

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Symmetry and Complexity in Computer Sciences 303

patterns to be learnt are oﬀered to the network, and the weights

between the intermediate and output layer are adapted according

to the learning rule. The procedure is repeated until all patterns

produce the correct output. But some simple problems show that

Perceptrons are not universal. For instance, a Perceptron is not able

to distinguish between even and odd numbers. Its limitation depends

on the particular architecture of Perceptron [7.33].

A network of supervised learning which solves the problems of

Perceptron is the Hopﬁeld system [7.34]. It works with feedback

and Hebb-type learning which is practised by biological brains, too.

In the case of a homogeneous network of boolean neurons, the two

states of the neurons can be associated with the two possible values of

electron spin in an external magnetic ﬁeld. A Hopﬁeld model is a dy-

namical system which, by analogy with annealing processes in metals,

admits an energy function. As it is a non-increasing monotonic func-

tion, the system relaxes into a local energy minimum, corresponding

to a locally stable stationary state (ﬁxed point attractor).

Thus, the dynamical evolution of a Hopﬁeld system may corre-

spond to mental recognition. For example, an initial state represent-

ing a noisy picture of the letter “A” evolved towards a ﬁnal state

representing the correct picture, which was trained into the system

by several examples. The physical explanation is given in terms of

phase transition in equilibrium thermodynamics. The correct pat-

tern is connected to the ﬁxed point or ﬁnal state of equilibrium. A

more ﬂexible generation is the Boltzmann machine with a stochas-

tic network architecture of non-deterministic processor elements and

with a distributed knowledge representation, mathematically corre-

sponding to an energy function.

The general idea of relaxation is that a network converges to a

more or less global state of equilibrium on the basis of local interac-

tions. By iterative modiﬁcation of the local connections (for instance,

by a Hebb learning strategy in the case of a Hopﬁeld system) the net-

work as a whole eventually relaxes into a stable and optimal state.

We may say that local interactions lead to a cooperative search which

is not supervised, but self-organized. There are networks which use

the strategy of cooperative search for mental activities like, for in-

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304 Symmetry and Complexity

stance, seeking a probable hypothesis. Imagine that a certain range

of competing hypotheses are represented by neural units which may

activate or inhibit themselves. The system thus moves away from

the less probable hypotheses toward more probable hypotheses.

In 1986, J.L. McClelland and D. Rumelhart used this cognitive

interpretation to simulate the recognition of ambivalent ﬁgures with

two symmetric views in gestalt-psychology. Fig. 90a shows a net-

work for cooperative search simulating the recognition of one of the

two symmetric orientations of a Necker cube. Each unit is a hypoth-

esis concerning a vertex of the Necker cube. Abbreviations are B

(back), F (front), Le (left), R (right), U (upper), Lo (lower). The

network of hypotheses consists of two interconnected subnetworks,

one corresponding to each of the two symmetric interpretations. The

recognition of one of the two views happens by symmetry breaking

[7.35].

Incompatible hypotheses are negatively connected, and consilient hypotheses

are positively connected. Weights are assigned such that two negative inputs

balance three positive inputs. Each unit has three neighbors connected positively

and two competitors connected negatively. Each unit receives one positive input

from the stimulus. The subnet of hypotheses to ﬁnd is the one which best ﬁts the

input. Tiny initial ﬂuctuations (which means a small detail in the special view

of an observer) may decide which orientation is seen in the long run. Obviously,

the decision happens by symmetry breaking of an ambivalent situation.

To visualize the dynamics of symmetry breaking, suppose that all units are

oﬀ. Then one unit receives an input of positive value at random. The network

will evolve toward a state where all units of one subnetwork are activated and

all units of the other network are turned oﬀ. In the cognitive interpretation we

may say that the system has relaxed into one of the two interpretations of the

ambivalent ﬁgure of either a right-facing or a left-facing Necker cube.

Fig. 90b shows three diﬀerent evolution patterns, depending sensitively on

diﬀerent initial conditions. The size of the circles indicates the activation degree

of each unit. In the third run, an undecided ﬁnal state is reached which is never-

theless in equilibrium. Obviously, the architectural principles of this network are

cooperative computation, distributed representation, and relaxation procedure,

which are well known in the dynamics of complex systems.

Pattern recognition is interpreted as a kind of phase transition

by analogy with the evolution equations which are used for pattern

emergence in physics, chemistry, and biology. We get an interdis-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Computer Sciences 305

(a)

(b)

Fig. 90a–b. Symmetry breaking of pattern recognition (Example: Necker cube)

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306 Symmetry and Complexity

ciplinary research program that should allow us to explain neuro-

computational self-organization as a natural consequence of physical,

chemical, and neurobiological evolution by common principles. As in

the case of pattern formation, a speciﬁc pattern of recognition (for

instance a prototype face) is described by order parameters to which

a speciﬁc set of features belongs.

Once some of the features which belonging to the order param-

eter are given (for instance, a part of a face), the order parameter

will complement these with other features so that the whole system

acts as an associative memory (for instance, the reconstruction of a

stored prototype face from an initially given part of that face). The

features of a recognized pattern correspond to the subsystems which

are dominated by the order parameter of the whole pattern.

A new technical approach to model symmetry and complexity of

nature is the concept of cellular neural networks (CNN) [7.36]. The

emergence of CNN has been made possible by the sensor revolution of

the late 1990s. Cheap sensor and MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical

system) arrays are proliferating in all technical infrastructures and

human environments. They have become popular as artiﬁcial eyes,

noses, ears, tastes, and somatosensor devices. An immense number

of generic analog signals have been processed. Thus, a new kind of

chip technology, similar to signal processing in natural organisms, is

needed. Analogic cellular computers are the technical response to the

sensor revolution, mimicking the anatomy and physiology of sensory

and processing organs. A CNN chip is their hard core, because it is

an array of analog dynamic processors or cells.

The CNN was invented by L.O. Chua and L. Yang at Berkeley

in 1988 [7.37]. The main idea behind the CNN paradigm is Chua’s

so-called “local activity principle”, which asserts that no complex

phenomena can arise in any homogeneous media without local ac-

tivity. Obviously, local activity is a fundamental property in micro-

electronics. For example, vacuum tubes and, later on, transistors

became the locally active devices in the electronic circuits of radios,

televisions, and computers. The demand for local activity in neu-

ral networks was motivated by the practical needs of technology. In

1985, J.J. Hopﬁeld suggested his theoretical neural network, which,

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Symmetry and Complexity in Computer Sciences 307

in principle, could overcome the failures of pattern recognition in

Rosenblatt’s “Perceptron”. But its globally connected architecture

was highly impractical for technical applications in the VLSI (very-

large-scale-integrated) circuits of micro-electronics: the number of

wires in a fully connected Hopﬁeld network grows exponentially with

the size of the array. A CNN only needs electrical interconnections in

a prescribed sphere of inﬂuence [7.38]. An immense increase in com-

puting speed, combined with signiﬁcantly less electrical power in the

ﬁrst CNN chips, has led to the current intensive research activities

on CNN since Chua and Yang’s proposal in 1988.

In general, a CNN is a nonlinear analog circuit that processes

signals in real time. It is a multi-component system of regularly

spaced identical (“cloned”) units, called cells, that communicate di-

rectly with each other only through their nearest neighbors. But the

locality of direct connections allows for global information process-

ing. Communication between remotely connected units are achieved

through other units. The idea that complex and global phenomena

can emerge from local activities in a network dates back to von Neu-

mann’s earlier paradigm of cellular automata (CA). In this sense,

the CNN paradigm is an advancement of the CA paradigm under

the new conditions of information processing and chip technology.

Unlike conventional cellular automata, CNN host processors accept

and generate analog signals in continuous time with real numbers as

interaction values. But, actually, discreteness of CA is no principle

diﬀerence to CNN. We can introduce continuous cellular automata

(CCA) as a generalization of CA in which each cell is not just, for

example, black or white, but instead can have any of a continuous

range of grays. A possible rule of a CCA may require that the new

gray level of each cell be the average of its own gray level, and that

of its immediate neighbors. It turns out that in continuous cellu-

lar automata simple rules of interaction can generate patterns of

increasing complexity, chaos, and randomness, which are not essen-

tially diﬀerent to the behavior of discrete CA. Thus, they are useful

in approximating the dynamics of systems that are determined by

partial diﬀerential equations (PDE).

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308 Symmetry and Complexity

Mathematically, a CNN is deﬁned by (1) a spatially discrete set of

continuous nonlinear systems (“cells” or “neuron”) where informa-

tion is processed in each cell via three independent variables (“input,”

“threshold,” and “initial state”) and (2) a coupling law relating rele-

vant variables of each cell to all neighbor cells within a pre-described

sphere of inﬂuence. Many CNN applications use space-invariant stan-

dard CNNs with a cellular neighborhood of 3 ×3 cells and no varia-

tion of synaptic weights and cellular thresholds in the cellular space.

A 3 × 3 sphere of inﬂuence at each node of the grid contains nine

cells with eight neighbor cells, and the cell in its center. In this

case, the contributions of the output (feedback) and input (feedfor-

ward) weights can be reduced to two ﬁxed 3 ×3 matrices, which are

called feedback (output) cloning template A and feedforward (in-

put) cloning template B. Thus, each CNN is uniquely deﬁned by

the two cloning templates A, B, and a threshold z, which consist

of 3 × 3 + 3 × 3 + 1 = 19 real numbers. They can be ordered as a

string of 19 scalars with a uniform threshold, nine feedforward and

nine feedback synaptic weights. This string is called a “CNN gene”,

because it completely determines the dynamics of the CNN. Conse-

quently, the universe of all CNN genes is called the “CNN genome”.

With respect to the human genome project, steady progress can be

made by isolating and analyzing various classes of CNN genes and

their inﬂuences on CNN genomes. A successful application is visual

computing which generates nice models of symmetries, symmetry

breaking and complexity.

Concerning visual computing, the triple {A, B, z}, and its 19 real numbers

can be considered a CNN macro instruction of how to transform an input image

into an output image. Simple examples are subclasses of CNNs with practical

relevance, such as the class C(A, B, z) of space-invariant CNNs with excitatory

and inhibitory synaptic weights; the zero-feedback (feedforward) class C(0, B, z)

of CNNs without cellular feedback; the zero-input (autonomous) class C(A, 0, z)

of CNNs without cellular input; and the uncoupled class C(A

◦

, B, z) of CNNs

without cellular coupling. In A

0

all weights are zero except for the weight of the

cell in the center of the matrix. Their signal ﬂow and system structure can be

illustrated in diagrams that can easily be applied to electronic circuits, as well as

to typical living neurons.

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Symmetry and Complexity in Computer Sciences 309

CNN templates are extremely useful for standards in visual computing. An

example of symmetry and symmetry breaking is the visual illusion where some

images can be perceived in an ambiguous way, depending on the initial thought

or attention. One of the examples of this phenomenon is the face-vase illusion

(Fig. 91), where the image can be interpreted either as two symmetric faces, or

as a vase. Initial attention is implemented by specifying, via a second binary

pattern, one of the two ambiguously interpreted regions. Thus, initial attention

initiates symmetry breaking between two possible solutions in an equilibrium

system. Symmetry breaking of pattern recognition corresponds to symmetry

breaking of pattern formation in nature which was illustrated in Fig. 43 by the

emergence of two kinds of convection rolls with opposite orientation. In Fig. 91,

the pictures consist of 200 × 400 pixels. Feedback-, feedforward-templates and

threshold have the following values:

A =

0 1 0

1 2 1

0 1 0

B =

0 1 0

0 −5 0

0 0 0

z = 0

The emergence of complex structures in nature can be explained

by the nonlinear dynamics and attractors of complex systems. They

result from the collective behavior of interacting elements in a com-

plex system. The diﬀerent paradigms of complexity research promise

to explain pattern formation and pattern recognition in nature by

their speciﬁc mechanisms. From the CNN point of view, it is conve-

nient to study the subclass of autonomous CNNs that cells have no

inputs. These systems can explain how patterns arise, evolve, and

Fig. 91. Symmetry breaking of pattern recognition by a CNN (Example: face-

vase-illusion) [7.39]

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310 Symmetry and Complexity

sometimes converge to an equilibrium by diﬀusion-reaction processes.

Pattern formation starts with an initial uniform pattern in an un-

stable equilibrium that is disturbed by small, random displacements.

Thus, in the initial state, the symmetry of the unstable equilibrium

is broken, leading to rather complex patterns. Obviously, in these

applications, cellular networks do not only refer to neural activities

in nerve systems, but also to pattern formation in general. Thus,

the abbreviation CNN is now understood as “Cellular Nonlinear

Network”.

A CNN is deﬁned by the state equations of isolated cells and

the cell coupling laws. For simulating diﬀusion–reaction processes,

the coupling law describes a discrete version of diﬀusion (with a

discrete Laplacian operator). CNN state equations and CNN cou-

pling laws can be combined in a CNN diﬀusion-relation equation to

determine the dynamics of autonomous CNNs. If we replace their

discrete functions and operators by their limiting continuum ver-

sion, we get the well-known continuous partial diﬀerential equations

of diﬀusion–reaction processes, which have been studied in the com-

plexity paradigms of, for example, Prigogine’s non-equilibrium chem-

istry and Haken’s synergetics. Chua’s version of the CNN diﬀusion–

reaction equation delivers computer simulations of these pattern for-

mations in chemistry and biology (e.g. concentric, auto- and spiral

waves). On the other hand, many appropriate CNN equations can be

associated with any nonlinear partial diﬀerential equation. In many

cases, it is suﬃcient to study the computer simulations of associ-

ated CNN equations in order to understand the nonlinear dynam-

ics of these complex systems. Sometimes, the autonomous CNNs

(like digital cellular automata) are only considered approximations

of nonlinear partial diﬀerential equations for the practical purpose of

computer simulations. But, Chua claims nonlinear partial diﬀeren-

tial equations are limiting forms of autonomous CNNs. Thus, only a

subclass of CNNs has a limiting representation of partial diﬀerential

equations. In short, the CNN paradigm of complexity is more than

the conventional approach with diﬀerential equations.

Pattern recognition is understood in relation to pattern forma-

tion. Coupled CNNs with linear synaptic weights open avenues to

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Symmetry and Complexity in Computer Sciences 311

much richer visual computing applications than uncoupled CNNs. In

coupled CNNs, there are couplings from the outputs of the surround-

ing cells to a cell in the center. Thus, at least one element of the

feedback (output) template A (which is diﬀerent from the coeﬃcient

of the cell in the center) is not zero. Coupled CNNs are, for example,

able to detect holes (i.e. a set of adjacent pixels) on a surrounding

background. In particular, it turns out that the famous connectivity

problem can be solved by a simple coupled CNN of this kind. This

problem is not only important for practical reasons, but also has a

long tradition in the history of cognitive science. How can we recog-

nize connected patterns (“gestalt”), such as shapes, ﬁgures, or faces

from a set of pixels? In a famous proof, M. Minsky demonstrated

that the connectivity of certain patterns could not be recognized by

neural networks like Rosenblatt’s “Perceptron”.

In the case of linear synaptic weights, the characteristics of a

synapse or template element are linear. But in technical applications

(e.g. with voltage- controlled current sources) or living cells with

synaptic communication by neurotransmitter, they are never com-

pletely linear. If we use nonlinear templates for modeling synaptic

dynamics, the analysis becomes more complex. Thus, a compromise

of modeling is the application of uncoupled CNNs with nonlinear,

space-invariant weights.

Besides visual computing, other functions of behavior are also

modeled by neural networks. In nature, complex patterns of move-

ments are not computed and controlled by a central processor, but

by self-organizing learning algorithms of feedback nets. An example

is a grasshopper with six legs and diﬀerent motor modules of lifting,

swinging, and coordinating. External information of an unknown

environment is learned and stored implicitly by the distribution of

synaptic weights in neural nets. During evolution, decentralized net-

work modules could be used as building blocks for diﬀerent organisms

according to changing conditions. These biological insights into mo-

tor information processing are already being applied to robotics and

chip technology (embodied cognition). Soft computing uses fuzzy

logic, genetic and learning algorithms for ﬂexibility, adaptive and

human-like information systems. Aﬀective computing aims at rec-

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312 Symmetry and Complexity

ognizing and modeling emotional states of the brain as information

processing. Cyborgs (cybernetic organisms) represent the vision of a

brain with implanted chips of neural computers. Neural nets could

recognize patterns of brain activities (e.g. EEG signals) correlating to

states of cognition and consciousness. In a next step, patterns of neu-

ral activities could be scanned and downloaded to a supercomputer.

Then, of course, a dramatic ethical problem arises: Could human

personality (not only the DNA-genotype) be cloned and inﬂuenced

by computational systems?

In Sec. 5.3, the brain was introduced as a complex cellular system.

If its motoric, sensory, emotional, and cognitive dynamics are well

understood, then, according to the principle of computational equiv-

alence, they can be modeled by computational systems. Thoughts,

emotions, and even consciousness correspond to complex patterns of

neural cell-assemblies (Fig. 74) emerging from basic synaptic rules

of neural interaction (e.g. Hebb’s rule). But even in the simpliﬁed

case of cellular automata, local rules of cellular interaction can gen-

erate undecidable and chaotic patterns. Thus, the patterns of cell-

assemblies may be too complex to be forecast in all details by ﬁnite

programs. The brain would be a computional system, because its

basic neural rules could be programmed. But, nevertheless, its dy-

namics would not be computable.

Actually, the brain is a stochastic system with global noise of un-

correlated neural ﬁring. Cognitive or emotional states correspond

to locally correlated patterns of synchronously ﬁring cell-assemblies

emerging like islands in a sea of noise and entropy. To forecast a

speciﬁc feeling or thought would be as improbable as forecasting the

emergence of a little wave on the wide ocean. Therefore, people are

characterized by their particular nonlinear dynamics and develop-

ment. They have their own history, personality, and intimacy. In

this sense, robots with artiﬁcial minds like humans could develop

their own identity and emotions, although their basic rules are pro-

grammed by human engineers. In short, to be a computational sys-

tem is no contradiction to the concept of free will. The reason is the

complexity and nonlinearity of computational systems [7.40].

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Symmetry and Complexity in Computer Sciences 313

(a) star

(b) ring

(c) bus

(d) tree

(e) completely meshed

net

(f) partially meshed

net

Fig. 92a–f. Symmetries of network typologies [7.41]

Human brains and artiﬁcial minds are only speciﬁc models of

computational networks with diﬀerent degrees of complexity. Their

topologies and dynamics are a challenge of present and future re-

search. Diﬀerent principles of symmetry are applied in network

topologies determining the physical shape or the layout of compu-

tational networks (Fig. 92). In star topologies (Fig. 92a), all cells

are connected to a central cell. All traﬃc emanates from the central

cell. The advantage of the star topology is that if one cell fails, then

only the failed cell is unable to send or receive data. The star net-

works are relatively easy to install, but have potential bottlenecks

and failure problems at the central cell because all data must pass

through this central cell. In ring topologies (Fig. 92b), all cells are

connected to one another in the shape of a closed loop, so that each

cell is connected directly to two other cells. In most cases, data ﬂows

in one direction only, with one cell receiving the signal and relaying

it to the next cell on the ring. In bus topologies (Fig. 92c), all cells

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314 Symmetry and Complexity

are connected to a central backbone, called the bus. The structure

has a translational symmetry. The bus permits all cells to receive ev-

ery transmission. It is relatively simple to control traﬃc ﬂow among

cells. The main drawback stems from the fact that only one com-

munication channel exists to service all cells of the network. If a

channel between two cells fails, then the entire network is lost. In

tree topologies (Fig. 92d) characteristics of bus and star topologies

are combined. It consists of groups of star-conﬁgured cells connected

to a bus. Tree topologies allow for the expansion of an existing net-

work. In mesh topologies (Fig. 92e), each cell is connected to every

other cell by a separate wire. This conﬁguration provides redundant

path through the network, so if one cell blows up, we do not lose

the network. Thus, the full symmetry oﬀers high security. But it

demands a high amount of technical eﬀort. Fig. 92f shows a ring

Fig. 93a. Fully-contracted CNN with 25 cells [7.43]

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Symmetry and Complexity in Computer Sciences 315

Fig. 93b. Star CNN with 26 cells [7.43]

topology with less symmetry, because it is only partially meshed.

Only critical cells are secured by multiple connections.

A star topology can also be applied to neural networks like CNNs

[7.42]. A star cellular neural network is a new dynamic nonlinear

system deﬁned by connecting N identical dynamical systems, called

local cells, with a central system in the shape of a star. All local

cells communicate with each other through a central system. Thus,

a Star CNN has only N connections from the N local cells to a cen-

tral system. Since a fully-connected CNN has a mesh topology and

self loops, it needs N(N + 1)/2 connections. Fig. 93 shows a fully-

connected CNN with N = 25 cells and a Star CNN with N = 26 cells.

The Star CNN has the same bottleneck as that of the star topology.

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316 Symmetry and Complexity

However, the Star CNN can be easily implemented in hardware us-

ing only N connections, except that a central cell has to supply

complicated signals. A Star CNN can store and retrieve complex

oscillatory patterns in the forms of synchronized chaotic states like

associative memories. Furthermore, the Star CNN can function as

dynamic memories. In this case, its output pattern can occasionally

travel around the stored patterns, their reserved patterns and new

emerging patterns. It is motivated by the observation that a human

being’s associative memory is not always static, but sometimes wan-

ders from a certain memory to another memory, one after another.

New patterns can emerge like a ﬂash of inspiration which is impor-

tant for known memories. Changes of memories also sometimes seem

to be chaotic.

An information storage device is called an associative memory if it

permits the recall of information on the basis of a partial knowledge

of its contents, but without knowing its storage location. A Star CNN

for associative memories usually converges to a stored pattern or to

a new one which spontaneously emerge in a ﬂash of inspiration with

relation to known memories. The emergence of new patterns can be

interpreted as a form of creative activity which is well-known from

the human brain. New patterns are usually made up of combinations

of stored patterns. Figs. 94a–b shows two new symmetric patterns on

the left which are made up of combinations of (right) basic patterns

of symmetry. These results are related to the fact that we generally

solve problems and generate new ideas by combining various notions,

ideas, or memories in our mind, and sometimes have a sudden ﬂash

of inspiration [7.44]. Thus, these combinations of symmetric patterns

are often used in IQ-tests to measure human intelligence. Without

spontaneous memories, the brain would not be capable of learning

anything new, and furthermore it would become obsessed with its

own strongest memories. Spontaneous memories help the brain avoid

this problem and learn something new, albeit similar in some respect

to what is already stored in the network.

According to the principle of computational equivalence, the evo-

lution of complex dynamical systems in nature and society can be

considered evolving computational systems. Actually, computational

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Symmetry and Complexity in Computer Sciences 317

(a)

(b)

Fig. 94a–b. (Left) Spurious patterns which are made up of combinations of

(right) basic symmetric patterns [7.45]

networks describe a wide range of dynamical systems in nature and

society. For example, a cell is best modeled as a complex network

of chemicals connected by chemical reactions. Fads and ideas spread

on social networks, whose nodes are human beings whose edges rep-

resent various social relationships. Their topology and evolution is

governed by principles of self-organization. The development of tech-

nical networks seem to continue the evolution of natural and social

networks in a kind of technical co-evolution. Evolving computational

networks are also characterized by a tendency from symmetry and

simplicity to complexity and diversity. Self-organization is a strat-

egy to handle an increasing complexity of data and information which

can no longer be programmed, monitored and controlled in all details

step by step.

Natural evolution has not focused on single organisms with in-

creasing intelligence based on neural information processing. In

species and populations, we observe increasing degrees of ﬁtness en-

abled by increasing capacities of swarm, collective and distributed

intelligence with extrasomatic information processing. In sociobi-

ology, populations of ants and termites organize complex transport,

information and communication systems through swarm intelligence.

There is no central supervisor over the construction of complex net-

works of paths between their bivouacs. The ordering of the system

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318 Symmetry and Complexity

is self-organizing according to chemical signals between thousands of

animals. In human history, complex transport and information net-

works have emerged with more or less self-organizing behavior. Tele-

phone and railway networks are supervised by global control stations,

while car traﬃc in networks of streets depends on the local behavior

of drivers. Thus, auto traﬃc can be considered a complex dynam-

ical system with typical phenomena of oscillation (“stop-and-go”),

congestion, and chaos.

The capacity to manage the complexity of modern societies de-

pends decisively on an eﬀective communication network. Like the

neural nets of biological brains, this network determines the learn-

ing capability that can help mankind to survive. In the framework

of complex systems, we have to model the dynamics of information

technologies spreading in their economic and cultural environment.

Thus, we speak of informational and computational ecologies. There

are actually realized examples, like those used in airline reservation,

bank connections, or research laboratories, which include networks

containing many diﬀerent kinds of computers.

Traditionally, complex networks have been studied by graph the-

ory. While graph theory focused on regular and symmetric graphs,

large-scale networks with no apparent design principles have been

described as random graphs [7.46]. According to the Erd¨ os-R´enyi

model, a random network starts with N nodes and connect every

pair of nodes with probability p, creating a graph with approximately

pN(N − 1)/2 edges distributed randomly. But observations of real

complex networks clearly indicate that, for example, the Internet

and World Wide Web are neither completely regular and symmetric

nor completely random. They are complex systems, and the ques-

tion arises which principles of self-organization are hidden behind

their observed dynamics. Observations lead to the three spectacular

quantities of average path length, clustering coeﬃcient, and degree

distribution which play a key role in the recent development of com-

plex computational networks.

The small-world concept in simple terms describes the fact that,

despite their often large size, in most networks there is a relatively

short path between any two nodes [7.47]. The distance between

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Symmetry and Complexity in Computer Sciences 319

two nodes is deﬁned as the number of edges along the shortest path

connecting them. A popular manifestation of small worlds is the

“six degrees of separation” concept, assuming that there is a path of

acquaintances with a typical length of about six between most pairs

of people in the United States. The average path length of a network

is deﬁned as the distance between two nodes, averaged over all pairs

of nodes. The diameter of a network is the maximal distance between

any pair of its nodes.

The emergence of clusters in networks was also at ﬁrst observed

in social systems [7.48]. Cliques organize themselves, representing

circles of acquaintances in which every member knows every other

member. A selected node i in the network have k

i

edges which con-

nect it to k

i

other nodes. If the nearest neighbors of the original

node were part of a cluster, there would be k

i

(k

i

− 1)/2 edges be-

tween them. The ratio between the number E

i

of edges between

these k

i

nodes and the total number k

i

(k

i

−1)/2 gives the value of

the clustering coeﬃcient of node i, which is C

i

= 2E

i

/k

i

(k

i

− 1).

The clustering coeﬃcient of the whole network is the average of all

individual C

i

’s. In a random network, since the edges are distributed

randomly, the clustering coeﬃcient is C = p. In most real complex

networks the clustering coeﬃcient is typically much larger than it

is in a comparable random network which has the same number of

nodes and edges as the real network.

The degree distribution is motivated by the observation that not

all nodes in a network have the same number of edges (node degree).

The spread in the node degrees is characterized by a distribution

function P(k), which gives the probability that a randomly selected

node has exactly k edges. Since in a random graph the edges are

placed randomly, the majority of nodes has approximately the same

degree k of the network. The degree distribution of a random graph

is a Poisson distribution with a peak at P(k). But for most large

networks the degree distribution deviates from a Poisson distribu-

tion. Actually, the degree distribution of, for example, the Internet

and the World Wide Web has a power law tail P(k) ∼ k

−γ

. Since

power laws are free of a characteristic scale, such networks are called

scale free.

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320 Symmetry and Complexity

One of the ﬁrst examples of large networks in modern civilization

was phone call networks. A large directed graph was constructed

from long-distance telephone call patterns, where nodes are phone

numbers and every completed phone call is an edge, directed from the

caller to the receiver. In call graph of long-distance telephone calls

made during a single day, the degree distributions of the outgoing and

incoming egdes followed a power law with exponent γ

out

= γ

in

= 2.1.

The sustained, explosive growth of the Internet and the World Wide

Web over the past decade has made them a part of globalization.

They have changed the way we do business, communication, enter-

tainment, education and culture. In an increasing ﬂood of informa-

tion, information retrieval is a challenge of information and computer

technology.

The Internet is a network of physical links between computers and other

telecommunication devices (Fig. 95a). The topology of the Internet has been

studied at two diﬀerent levels. At the router level the nodes are the routers,

and edges are the physical connections between them. At the interdomain (or

autonomous system) level, each domain, composed of hundreds of routers and

computers, is represented by a single node, and the edge is drawn between two

domains if there is at least one route that connects them. In each case, the de-

gree distribution follows a power law. The interdomain topology of the Internet,

captured on three diﬀerent days between 1997 and the end of 1998, resulted in a

degree exponent γ

d

I

≈ 2.2. A 1995 survey of Internet topology at the router level,

containing 3888 nodes, found γ

r

I

≈ 2.48. In a 2000 investigation with a connec-

tivity of nearly 150 000 router interfaces and nearly 200 000 router adjacencies,

the power law scaling was conﬁrmed with γ

r

I

≈ 2.3. Furthermore, the Internet

as a computational network displays clustering and small path length as well.

Between 1997 and 1999, the clustering coeﬃcient of the Internet ranged between

C

I

= 0.18 and C

I

= 0.3, to compare with C

rand

≈ 0.001 for random networks of

similar parameters. The average path length of the Internet at the domain level

was found to be about 4, compared to L

rand

≈ 10 for the corresponding random

graph. At the router level, it was around 9, indicating its small-world character.

The Internet is designed to operate over diﬀerent underlying com-

munication technologies, to support multiple and evolving applica-

tions and services. Thus, it is a computational network of vast diver-

sity, combining diﬀerent kinds of networks. In order to communicate

across diﬀerent kinds of networks, an Internet Protocol (IP) was in-

troduced. The IP number codes the networks which an information

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Symmetry and Complexity in Computer Sciences 321

(a) (b)

Fig. 95. Typology of the Internet (a) and the World Wide Web (b) [7.49]

packet has to pass through. The Internet is a computational network

of routers that navigate information packets from one computer to

another. Contrary to phone call networks, there is no ﬁxed connec-

tion between a sender and receiver. Communication is divided into

information packets of byte size that are transported in the networks

of routers by packet switching. The routers are the nodes of the net-

work determining the local path of each packet by using local routing

tables with cost metrics for neighboring routers. A router forwards

each packet to a neighboring router, at the lowest cost, to the des-

tination [7.50]. In the sense of the CA and CNN paradigms, the

local routing tables can be considered “templates” of local nonlinear

information processing.

As a router can only deal with one packet at a time, other arriv-

ing packets must be stored in a buﬀer. If more packets arrive than a

buﬀer can store, the router discards the overﬂowing packets. Senders

of packets wait for a conﬁrmation message from the destination host.

These buﬀering and resending activities of routers can cause conges-

tion in the Internet. Fluctuations of information packet congestions

can be indirectly observed through echo experiments of control mes-

sages between neighboring routers. A monitoring host between two

routers periodically sends a series of echo packets to both routers.

The packets take a round-trip time (RTT) to the destination and

back. Congestion is associated with higher RTT values. RTT ﬂuctu-

ations increase with the sequence of routers in the Internet network

[7.51].

In automobile traﬃc systems, a phase transition from non-

jamming to jamming depends on the average car density as the con-

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322 Symmetry and Complexity

trol parameter. At a critical value, ﬂuctuations with self-similarity

and power law distribution can be observed. From this analogy, a

control parameter of data density is deﬁned by the propagation of

congestion from a router to neighboring routers and the dissolution

of the congestion at each router. The cumulative distribution of con-

gestion duration is an order parameter of pattern formation [7.52].

There are phase transitions between spare and congestion phases.

The spare phase corresponds to a case in which the mean input of

the information system is smaller than the maximum output. The

critical point condition is when the mean input rate is equal to the

maximum rate.

At a critical point, when the congestion propagation rate is equal

to congestion dissolution, fractal and chaotic features can be ob-

served in data ﬂow. On diﬀerent scales of time series analysis, we

can analyze the self-similarity of the information packet’s ﬂuctua-

tions, which is a necessary (not suﬃcient) condition of strange at-

tractors (Fig. 96). Symmetry as self-similarity is hidden behind the

diversity and heterogeneity of the Internet.

The World Wide Web (WWW) is the largest computational net-

work for which topological information is currently available. The

nodes of the network are the documents (web pages) and the edges

are the hyperlinks (URLs) that point from one document to another

(Fig. 95b). The size of this network was close to one billion nodes at

the end of 1999. The degree distribution of the web pages follows a

power law over several orders of magnitude. Since the edges of the

World Wide Web are directed, the network is characterized by two

degree distributions. The distribution of outgoing edges, P

out

(k), sig-

niﬁes the probability that a document has k outgoing hyperlinks, and

the distribution of incoming edges, P

in

(k), is the probability that k

hyperlinks point to a certain document. Both the in- and out-degree

distributions are found to be in a power law form: P

in

(k) ∼ k

−γ

in

and

P

out

(k) ∼ k

−γ

out

. Studies with diﬀerent subsets of the WWW have

showed that the in-degree distribution of the WWW is γ

in

≈ 2.1,

while its out-degree distribution is ranged somewhere in between

γ

out

≈ 2.38 and γ

out

≈ 2.72.

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Symmetry and Complexity in Computer Sciences 323

Fig. 96. Self-similarity of data traﬃc [7.53]

The directed graph of the WWW does not allow to measure the

clustering coeﬃcient. One way to avoid the diﬃculty is to let the

network be undirected, making each edge bidirectional. It was found

that the clustering coeﬃcient is much higher than that of a random

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324 Symmetry and Complexity

graph of the same sizes and edges, although it is still signiﬁcantly

less than 1. Despite the large number of nodes, the World Wide

Web also displays the small world property. The network structure

plays a crucial role in determining the spread of ideas, innovations,

or computer viruses. In this light, spreading and diﬀusion has been

studied on several types of complex networks regular, random, small-

world and scale-free. It was shown that while for random networks

a local infection (“butterﬂy eﬀect”) spreads to the whole network

only if the spreading rate is larger than a critical value, for scale-

free networks any spreading rate leads to the infection of the whole

network. That is to say, for scale-free networks the critical spreading

rate reduces to zero.

The information ﬂood in the more or less chaotic World Wide

Web is a challenge for intelligent information retrieval [7.54]. Infor-

mation Retrieval (IR) in the WWW can be considered a decisive

procedure for evaluating and selecting the most relevant documents

and information according to certain constraints. Procedures of IR

are also inspired by natural evolution. There are applications of,

for example, genetic algorithms, in order to improve information re-

trieval. Genetic algorithms optimize populations of chromosomes

in sequential generations by reproduction, mutation, and selection.

In information retrieval, they are used for optimizing the queries of

documents. Information retrieval is also realized by neural networks

adapting with synaptic plasticity to the information preferences of

human users.

In sociobiology, we can learn from populations of ants and ter-

mites how to organize traﬃc and information processing through

swarm intelligence. From a technical point of view, we need in-

telligent programs distributed throughout the nets. There are al-

ready more or less intelligent virtual organisms (agents), learning,

self-organizing, and adapting to our individual preferences of infor-

mation, to select our e-mails, to prepare economic transactions, or

to defend against the attacks of hostile computer viruses, like the

human immune system. Virtual agents are designed with diﬀerent

degrees of autonomy, mobility, reactivity, and learning capabilities

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Symmetry and Complexity in Computer Sciences 325

for communicating. They communicate and cooperate with their

virtual environment as local spheres of inﬂuence.

Global networking is becoming one of the exciting challenges

of complexity research. Understanding complex systems in nature

and society supports the eﬀective management of communication

networks. In the 21st century, information, communication, and

biotechnology are growing together. Therefore, information process-

ing requires learning from nature. Information can be generated,

transmitted, stored, processed, and represented in nature by sense

organs, the nervous system, and the brain. Cognitive processes like

learning and thinking, language, motorics, perception, and communi-

cation, are simulated using technology by physical, chemical, and bi-

ological sensors, light-wave conductors, electronic, optical stores, mi-

croprocessors, neural nets, robotics, virtual reality, ubiquitous com-

puting, artiﬁcial life and intelligence [7.55]. Together they aim at

producing learning, adapting, and self-organizing evolutionary com-

plex systems. Therefore, this approach is called organic computing

[7.56].

An exciting example of organic computing is the evolutionary

architecture of future automobiles, integrating all aspects of com-

plexity and self-organization. The automobile industry is still one

of the driving and dominating engines of the global economy. Thus,

complexity research ﬁnds a realistic application in the production

of future cars as learning, adapting, and self-organizing evolution-

ary complex systems. A challenge of the automobile industry is the

increasing complexity of electronic systems. If we consider the elec-

tronic cable systems of automobiles from the beginning through to

today, there will be a surprising similarity to neural networks of or-

ganisms which increase in complexity during evolution. Contrary

to biological evolution, electronic systems of today are rigid, com-

pact, and inﬂexible. So tiny failures can lead to a collapse of the

whole system. In an evolutionary architecture (EvoArch) the nervous

system of an automobile is divided into autonomous units (carlets)

which can conﬁgurate themselves in cooperative functions in order

to solve intelligent tasks. Examples of this are the complex functions

of motor, brake and light, wireless guide systems like GPS, smart de-

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326 Symmetry and Complexity

vices for information processing, and the electronic infrastructure of

entertainment.

According to the complex systems approach, the functions of a car

are considered as macro-features which emerge from self-organizing

interactions and the cooperation of autonomous units on the micro-

level. Examples of autonomous units of a car (carlets) are: switches,

lamps, tuners, controllers, regulators, horns. A car function like

“air conditioning”, “turn signal” or “hazard warning” needs one or

more switches which must be selected from among more than a hun-

dred candidates. Actually, a car function like “turn signal” needs

carlets for a turn signal switch, a terminal switch, turn signal ﬂash-

ing, and several turn signal lamps. In an evolutionary architecture,

cooperations are realized in the EvoArch-arena (Fig. 97), where ac-

tive autonomous units ask for cooperation with passive autonomous

units which have the appropriate features to execute a car function.

Each unit (carlet) has an ID-number for self-identiﬁcation. It can

declare its property (e.g. turn signal) and its intention (e.g. search

for a switch). The interaction of units (carlets) is made possible

by a communication system (carCom) with information retrieval

procedures, protocols, and contracts of cooperation which are well-

known in the Internet like RMI (Remote Method Invocation) and

RPC (Remote Procedure Call). As in the Internet, the network-

management is based on the middleware of routing-procedures with

routing-protocols and routing-tables.

According to the principle of computational equivalence, a car is

an example of a dynamical system which can be considered an in-

formation and computational system. The increasing diversity and

complexity of electronics must be managed by self-organization like

in organisms. Cars have been typical products of classical indus-

tries. In industrial societies, economies have been characterized by

the steps of production, logistics, distribution, marketing and sale

of material goods. In computer-assisted information societies, there

is an oﬀer and demand of virtual information products and services

with steps of information collection, information systematization, in-

formation retrieval, production and trade of information-based sys-

tems. Therefore, economists distinguish material chains of value in

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Symmetry and Complexity in Computer Sciences 327

Fig. 97. Self-organization of car functions in an evolutionary architecture [7.57]

industrial societies and virtual chains of value in information soci-

eties. According to Shannon, the content of information goods is

measured by the degree of news for a receiver. But it is not suﬃ-

cient to be well informed in order to handle our aﬀairs. In the next

step, information of high value must be evaluated and applied to

solve problems. Information must be transformed to knowledge in

the sense of know-how for problem solving.

Besides matter and life, the chief ingredients of the 21st century

are in- formation and knowledge. In a knowledge society, science is

a productive power of economic and social growth which needs new

strategies of cooperation with economy and politics. The “wealth of

nations” (Smith) is the knowledge of their people. Therefore in the

process of globalization with competing nations and societies, edu-

cation must secure the sustainable future of the knowledge society.

The technical evolution of computational systems for information

and knowledge processing is the fundamental challenge of mankind

in the 21st century. Humans will no longer be only products of a

blind evolution, but will try to inﬂuence their development by use of

computational tools.

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Chapter 8

Symmetry and Complexity in

Philosophy and Arts

The message of this book is easy to understand: cosmic evolution

leads from symmetry to complexity by symmetry breaking and phase

transitions. The emergence of new order and structure is explained

by physical, chemical, biological and social self-organization, accord-

ing to the laws of nonlinear dynamics. All these dynamical systems

are considered computational systems processing information and

entropy. Because of symmetry, no information is lost, although it

is sometimes hidden from us. From a philosophical point of view,

the question arises as to whether symmetry and complexity are only

epistemic projections and models of science or whether they can be

understood as universals of reality. In the Platonic tradition, symme-

try was even uniﬁed with truth and beauty. In modern civilizations,

the unity is broken and has been transformed into diversity and het-

erogeneity. Therefore, in the last chapter, the development of arts

from symmetry to complexity is considered in the spirit of nonlinear

science.

8.1 The Philosophy of Symmetry and Complexity

Philosophy is the mother of science. It deals with the origin, princi-

ples, and universals of knowledge. Since the days of Plato and Aris-

totle knowledge has expanded into complexity and diversity. Science

has split oﬀ and specialized in a manifold of disciplines and subdisci-

plines. Obviously science follows the tendency of professionalization

which we discussed in the context of globalization. The growth of

329

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330 Symmetry and Complexity

knowledge is embedded in the dynamics of information. But the

children seem to forget the origin from their mother. Philosophy is

sometimes only a historical relic reminding scientists of their com-

mon origin, like background radiation as cosmic trace of the big bang

and common origin of the universe’s diversity.

Specialization is a necessary tendency of modern science. But

the splitting of knowledge endangers the common orientation and

overview of scientists. Actually, since antique philosophy, mankind

has generated a subtle web of knowledge with meshes of increasing

granulation. Even today all knowledge is connected, although the

connections are often hidden and not easy to ﬁnd, like on a com-

plex map of streets and paths in a modern city. The map models a

landscape of knowledge with valleys, hills and high mountains. In

the valleys, there are the fruitful greens of experience, data, and lab-

oratories, near to the bottom of reality. The hills and mountains

represent more or less abstract concepts and theories with more or

less distance to reality. More or less applied disciplines are linked

like the summits of diﬀerent heights in a mountain-range. On the

top of high mountains, with very general principles and universals,

we have a wide view over-looking many other disciplines and their

network of connections, but in the thin and clear air of abstraction.

This is the area where philosophers feel at home.

Philosophers are specialists for principles and universals of knowl-

edge. In this sense, they are part of science, on the top of some

hills and mountains, sometimes wandering into the valleys to test

their general view and to study concrete models. But philosophy

should not be in the clouds without connection to experience and

science. On the other hand, science should not be encapsulated in

some deep valleys without orientation and connection to the rest of

the world. Aristotle was one of the ﬁrst engineers of knowledge who

designed classiﬁcations of more or less abstract concepts in hierar-

chies of knowledge. On the top of his tree-like hierarchies, there are

the general principles of entities which are divided into less abstract

subconcepts which lead to the concrete concepts of observation and

applied sciences. The Aristotelean taxonomies are called ontology

which is still a term of informatics for knowledge classiﬁcations in,

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Symmetry and Complexity in Philosophy and Arts 331

for example, databases [8.1]. In modern times, knowledge has spe-

cialized, but, nevertheless, deals with general principles. Newton

called his main book “Philosophiae naturalis principia mathemat-

ica” (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy). He analyzed

the general principles of force and mass with mathematical methods

and founded the physical theory of dynamics. It is noteworthy that

he had a chair for natural philosophy. His famous countryman Smith

had a chair for moral philosophy and established the economic the-

ory of sociodynamics. Einstein founded the principles of space-time,

and physicists like Bohr, Dirac or Schr¨ odinger analyzed the quan-

tum principles of matter and energy. Today, thousands of scientists

are engaged in more or less theoretical research and search for the

principles of matter, life, the mind, economies and societies. There-

fore, they all are connected with philosophical principles in the web

of knowledge. Symmetry and complexity are general universals of

structures and systems.

It is amazing that it is not only our image of nature that is de-

scribed by means of ever more complex structures, but human culture

and society as well. In the course of modern time institutions, indus-

tries, markets, social roles, etc., have achieved such complexity and

interconnectedness that the resulting profusion of information can

scarcely be mastered any more. Just as reductions in complexity are

often what make knowledge about nature possible, our social and

political behavior require that we make simpliﬁcations and reduc-

tions so that the complexity of political, economic and social reality

will not render us helpless. Goethe said: to take action one must be

without a conscience. To know anything, one must leave out a piece

of the truth.

Our contemporary image of nature is based on abstract struc-

tural species that are linked by a complicated net of pre-theories,

observations, instruments of observation and work in laboratories.

Structures are mathematical concepts of, for example, abstract sets

or spaces which are characterized by relations, transformations or

operations. Thus, a question arises as to whether they are merely

tools for thought based on axioms for ordering measurement data,

or whether they in any way provide information about structures

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332 Symmetry and Complexity

of nature. In the history of philosophy this question as to the sta-

tus of structures and symmetries is clearly in the tradition of the

quarrel of the universals that was carried out on the eve of modern

philosophy and has subliminally determined the discussions on the

foundations of logic, mathematics and the natural sciences ever since

[8.2]. The example of the concept of structure and symmetry shows

the scale of possible positions in the quarrel of the universals —

from heavily realistic-ontological presuppositions to nominalism and

positivism.

Platonic ontology makes the most ambitious claim. With regard

to the problem of universals one could summarize it in the expres-

sion: “Symmetria est ante res” (symmetry is behind the things). It

holds that symmetrical structures are the real realities, and that we

perceive breaks of symmetry as appearances and “shadows”. Plato

presupposes that perfect and ideal regular bodies are the building

blocks of matter, not approximative models as they occur in some

crystals, for example. In the Christian-Augustinian tradition the Pla-

tonic ideas become the thoughts of God, which give nature its laws.

The ontological-Platonic conception of natural laws is also found in

the early mathematical physicists such as Galileo and Kepler. The

physical world is conceived of as a second scripture (book of nature)

side by side with the Holy Scriptures; God reveals himself to human

beings through both. The book of nature is written in the language

of mathematics, so that in consequence the laws of nature can be

grasped only by one who masters this language.

By contrast, the point of view of the Aristotelian philosophy of

nature can be summarized in the expression: “Symmetria est in re-

bus” (symmetry is in the things). The multifariousness of being is

actualized in the Aristotelian hierarchy of substantial forms. The

pure possibility of matter becomes actuality via intermediate stages.

According to Aristotle, the distinction between matter and form is

only an abstraction we employ to describe the motion of matter.

If one conceives of structures as Aristotelian forms, they are “in

things,” (ﬁguratively speaking). Thus they do not exist separately

from matter. Instead it is in the motions of matter that structures,

as potentialities, are actualized.

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Symmetry and Complexity in Philosophy and Arts 333

In the age of mechanics the Aristotelian doctrine of forms was

often misunderstood and was vehemently attacked as an obstacle

on the way to mathematical physics. Leibniz is an exception. He

interpreted substantial forms as the new mathematical laws of na-

ture. Heisenberg interpreted the operators of quantum mechanics as

potentialities and related them to the Aristotelian doctrine of forms.

Weyl oﬀers an epistemic interpretation of symmetry: the invari-

ance of natural laws shows that their validity is independent of the

diﬀerent frames of reference of diﬀerent observers. In this sense

invariance shows the intersubjective validity of natural laws (cate-

gories): “symmetria est in mente” (symmetry is in mind). According

to Kant, the forms of natural laws (categories) are already pregiven

through our subjective constitution of cognition. Only in this way

is it possible for us to formulate natural laws at all. In speaking

of natural laws Kant uses a typically political metaphor of the En-

lightenment: we human beings do not recognize ontologically alleged

natural laws as thoughts of God. Instead, we ourselves are “law-

givers of nature” in the framework of the constitution of our reason.

Besides making our own laws within the framework of our politi-

cal constitutions, we also achieve autonomy vis-a-vis nature. Thus

structures are products of reason, intuition and imagination and are

applied according to categorial schemata for the purpose of giving

order to the diversity of perceptual phenomena by means of physical

“images” (sic Kant!).

The nominalistic view appears in a philosophically sharper form in

the conventionalistic and instrumentalistic orientations. In these ori-

entations symmetry assumptions, characterized mathematically only

by their simple and transparent formula, must prove their worth

physically in the explanation of measurement data or for purposes

of prognosis. Regarded this way, they are at best appropriate for-

mulas of mathematical formalisms. At ﬁrst glance the advantage

of this position seems to be that mathematical symmetry structures

are not associated with symmetrical entities. Therefore symmetry

is not bought at a high price of ontological assumptions. To some

extent instrumentalism wants to shop for the advantages of sym-

metry assumptions at an ontological discount: “symmetria est vox”

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334 Symmetry and Complexity

(symmetry is sound [of a word, symbol or formula]), one might add

a characterization of nominalism (from Latin “nomen” for name) in

the Middle Ages.

Philosophically, the situation has not changed since the days of

the controversy about universals. Yet today the logical-mathematical

methods are sharper, the results of measurement more exact. For

that reason symmetry can be made mathematically precise as a

canonical universal (“invariance property”). This is a matter of au-

tomorphism groups, as we have seen from many examples in this

book.

After that, however, the philosophical discussion begins again.

Is this structural species a separate immaterial identity “before [all]

things” as is assumed in Platonic tradition? Is it a structure of

reality (“in things”), which we must presuppose in order to be able

to speak mathematically about symmetry in nature? Should we use

Occam’s razor to cut oﬀ the superﬂuous Platonic creation of entities

and conﬁne ourselves to introducing mathematical structures only as

useful and simple instruments for mastering nature?

Now physicists do establish relationships between empirical mea-

sured data (for instance time and position coordinates) by means

of transformations. Consequently the following objection was soon

raised to traditional nominalism which claimed only concrete mea-

surements and observations as statements about reality: individual

measured values cannot be thought of without presupposing a “gen-

eral” one, namely their relationship to other measured values. From

the standpoint of mathematics this objection views what is assumed

to be “general” as a mathematical function or relation. In quantum

mechanics the situation is even more complicated. There the mea-

sured quantities (“observables”) are already abstract mathematical

objects, namely operators over a Hilbert space (thus a function space

and not a number space).

What is the origin of mathematical structures? Structures are fa-

miliar to us from everyday life. In perception we register a ﬁgure as a

totality. In geometry we decompose it into a set of points; for exam-

ple, we distinguish straight lines and curves as subsets of the whole

point set and particular sections, angles, parallels, etc., as relations

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Symmetry and Complexity in Philosophy and Arts 335

between these objects, by establishing their characteristics in axioms

and deﬁnitions. Such a system of sets, subsets and relations is a sim-

ple example of a structure. A population of living organisms can also

be grasped as a structure that is determined by a relational system

of kinship relationships, functional tasks, etc. Likewise an ecosystem

such as a forest consists of a system of organisms and populations

that are structured by a complicated network of relations such as

food chains. As we have seen, a molecule or a crystal is described by

a structure that consists of a set of elements (atoms) among which

relations of sequence, spacing, etc. are deﬁned. Diﬀerent objects can

be examples of the same structure, as is demonstrated by the group

structure of molecules. Thus structures provide the possibility of

classifying the complex variety of appearances into units and wholes

and of making them easy to overview.

In the logical set-theoretical language of modern mathematics

there is, in principle at least, no diﬃculty in deﬁning and classi-

fying structures. On the basis of an axiomatic set theory (for exam-

ple, according to Zermelo–Fraenkel = ZF), structures are introduced

through sets or systems of sets and relations are deﬁned for their

elements [8.3]. Relations are themselves sets of ordered pairs or gen-

eral n-tuples of the basic elements. Thus the 2-tupel relationship

“being married” consists of the set of all couples in the assumed set

of persons who are married to each other.

Likewise the 3-tupel group relationship consists of a set of ordered

triples of elements that fulﬁll the axiomatically deﬁned group charac-

teristics. As has been shown, we can imagine these elements as being

actualized in completely diﬀerent ways, for example, as two rotations

in space that are carried out in succession and that together result

in a third rotation, but also, for example, as two numbers that are

added and provide the result of addition as the third number.

On the basis of an axiomatic set theory (e.g. ZF), mathematics

as a whole can be understood as the theory of abstract structures.

The basic set-theoretical relation x ∈ X denotes that an element x

is element of a set X. Mathematical theories are concerned with the

various kinds of structures that are introduced in set theory and can

be classiﬁed in a coherent manner. That is related to the fact that set

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336 Symmetry and Complexity

theory, together with a standard logic, also postulates strong non-

logical axioms about sets, for instance, that for every set X there

exists also the power set Pot(X) as the set of all subsets of X and

that there are inﬁnitely many sets. For a set X the Cartesian product

X

2

= X × X can be deﬁned as the set of all pairs of elements of X

(in general the set X

n

as the set of all n-tuples of elements of X).

In general a structure is a ﬁnite system of sets whose type and

their species are determined axiomatically. Thus a group (G, g) is

a structure with a basis set G (e.g. real numbers) and a 3-tupel

relation g on G, with the typiﬁcation g ∈ Pot(X

3

). (If g is an

element of the set of all subsets of X

3

, then it is by deﬁnition a 3-

tupel relation.) The structural species is deﬁned by the group axiom

α(G, g) according to which, for example, the operation on G deﬁned

by g fulﬁlls the axiom of the inverse element [8.4]. A set fulﬁlling

the conditions of a certain structure (e.g. real numbers of a group)

is called a model of the structure.

What seems so abstract at a ﬁrst glance provides us with a deci-

sive advantage for the theory of science. Namely, we obtain a single

linguistic framework for formulating with logical precision the enor-

mous multiplicity of all thinkable structures, theories, models, and

their dependencies. This makes available a coherent framework of all

mathematized theories. If it is also possible to connect these struc-

tures by means of appropriate mapping principles with experiments

and measurements, then even a general framework of the empirical

sciences would be at hand.

At ﬁrst this program in philosophy of science seems to recall log-

ical empirism. In the view of logical empiricists like R. Carnap, a

scientiﬁc theory is a set of sentences, deﬁned as the class of logical

consequences of a smaller set, the axioms, laws or hypotheses of that

theory, which are assumed to be true. Thus, a language of formal

logic is needed to formulate a theory [8.5]. Actually, mathematicians,

natural and social scientists are not interested in their language, but

in the speciﬁc objects, structures and models of their theories. In or-

der to present a theory of a speciﬁc symmetry, we deﬁne the mathe-

matical structure of the symmetry and analyze the class of its models

in, for example, physics, chemistry, biology, or social sciences with an

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Symmetry and Complexity in Philosophy and Arts 337

informal natural language [8.6]. In short: a scientiﬁc theory is iden-

tiﬁed with its structure or class of models. Therefore, this approach

is called structuralism or semantic view [8.7].

As an example, consider Newton’s theory of gravitation. Its basic sets are

a set T of points of Newton’s absolute time, a set M of points of Newton’s ab-

solute space and a set P of bodies. These sets are each individually structured

by time metrics and space metrics or functions of masses. In kinematics a con-

nection between points of time, space points, and bodies is produced in such a

way that at a speciﬁc time a speciﬁc body assumes a speciﬁc location. There-

fore, kinematics can be typiﬁed as the structural element kin ∈ Pot(T ×M ×P).

Its structural species is determined by the dynamic law of Newton’s theory of

gravitation, the equations of gravitation. The gravitational equations constitute

a system of diﬀerential equations for real functions, i.e. the motions of bodies

in space and time are mapped onto coordinate systems in real numbers. The

place of physical structure is taken by an isomorphic structure of number sets in

which the physical relationships are mapped. Therefore the corresponding axiom

α(T, M, P;. . . kin. . . ) about the structural species would express that there is a

real coordinate system f in which the basis sets T of time, M of space, P of the

set of solids, and the structure elements such as kin are mapped and the corre-

sponding diﬀerential equations with secondary conditions hold. Obviously this

type of structure diﬀers from group structure only in its greater complexity [8.8].

In order to classify structures by features of symmetry, we subdi-

vide structures (X, s) into basic sets X (abbreviation for X

1

, . . . , X

n

)

and stuctural elements s (abbreviation for s

1

, . . . , s

m

). The struc-

tural type s ∈ σ(X) is established by a ladder set on X, i.e. a set

that comes from X by iteration of the operation power set of a Carte-

sian product. The structural species of (X, s) is established by an

axiom α(X, s), which determines the structure uniquely with respect

to an isomorphism: if (X, s) is isomorphic to (X

, s

), then α(X, s)

and α(X

, s

**) are logically equivalent. This requirement imposed on
**

the structural species says that the axiom α does not change its truth

value if one replaces the structure (X, s) with an arbitrary structure

(X

, s

**) that is isomorphic to it. Isomorphisms deﬁne an equivalence
**

relation. Thus, the class of structures is divided into equivalence

classes with respect to isomorphisms.

For example, the group axioms are valid for the rotations of an

equilateral triangle as well as for the real numbers. The axioms of the

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338 Symmetry and Complexity

Newtonian theory of gravitation are valid for artiﬁcial satellite orbits

as well as for planetary orbits of the solar system. Isomorphisms are

one-to-one (“bijective”) mappings of the basis sets X onto the basis

sets X

**, whereby the typiﬁed set s is mapped onto the corresponding
**

set s

**. The typiﬁcation in that case remains unchanged by this, since
**

the corresponding copy is given by the ladder set σ(X).

Obviously, the general deﬁnition of a structure with respect to

isomorphisms implies an invariance postulate, which we shall char-

acterize in the following as the canonical invariance of a structure.

It can be shown in detail that the various symmetry characteristics

that we elucidated in previous chapters, using examples from natu-

ral and social science, can be generally derived from the canonical

invariance of a structure.

On that subject, let us remember F. Klein’s characterization of geometry

by means of group theory. Let M be the space of the geometry in question

and G a transformation group of the real number space R

n

. Then (M, F) is a

structure with a typiﬁed set F ∈ Pot

2

(M × R

n

) of cooordinate systems and the

structural species α

G

(M, F) wherein the axiom α

G

formulates that F is a set

of global coordinate systems of M over R

n

that is complete with respect to G.

The canonical invariance can easily be proven. Now one can set up a hierarchy

of transformation groups of R

n

and investigate the corresponding geometrical

structures.

Many physical theories can be introduced as an extension of ge-

ometric structures. Thus the Poisson–Newtonian theory of gravita-

tion is an extension of Euclidean geometry, in which a gravitational

ﬁeld and a mass density which satisfy the Poisson–Newtonian grav-

itational equation are added to space and its Euclidean coordinate

systems. Likewise relativistic ﬁeld theory can be considered as an

extension of Minkowski geometry. In each case the extensions are

achieved by the speciﬁcation of supplemental structural types and

axioms for structural species. For example, planetary orbits or el-

ementary particles appear as new structural types in the examples

mentioned. The canonical invariance of the extended structure must

be guaranteed.

Analogously, quantum mechanics can also be introduced by means

of stepwise structural extensions in which the Schr¨odinger equation

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Symmetry and Complexity in Philosophy and Arts 339

is only the ﬁnal step. For that purpose one begins with an Abelian

group G with an addition which is expanded into a complex vec-

tor space by adding a scalar multiplication. Introducing a metric

turns it into a Hilbert space. Next comes a self-adjoint linear oper-

ator

ˆ

H (“Hamiltonian”) over the Hilbert space and the ψ-functions

(“states”) with ψ : R → G, which satisfy the Schr¨ odinger equation.

The structural species introduced in this way is canonically invariant.

The familiar invariance of the Schr¨ odinger equation with respect to

the unitary transformation U with ψ

(t) = Uψ(t) and

ˆ

H

= U

ˆ

HU

−1

is a special case of it.

Symmetries are examples of invariant structures with respect to

automorphism groups. They are one-to-one functions mapping struc-

tures onto their own domain and leaving all relevant structure intact.

In the sense of canonical invariance, automorphisms deﬁne equiva-

lence relations dividing structures and their models into equivalence

classes of partitions with the same symmetric structure. In the pre-

vious chapters we analyzed several structures of symmetry with dif-

ferent models in science, which are collected in Fig. 98: we started

with the (assumed) structure of a supersymmetry with models of

strings and p-branes which until now is only sketched in M-theory

and not yet completely known. The theory of relativity is char-

acterized by space-time symmetries with models of manifolds and

trajectories of photons and gravitons. Conservation laws are conse-

quences of space-time symmetries. Quantum ﬁeld theories provide

dynamical gauge symmetries (e.g. electroweak SU(2)×U(1)-force) as

substructures of the uniﬁed supersymmetry with models of diﬀerent

elementary particles. Therefore, in a bottom up resp. top down ap-

proach of Fig. 98, we get symmetry reduction resp. symmetry break-

ing. Chemistry is characterized by structures of symmetry with mod-

els of atoms, molecules and crystals. In biochemistry, at the board-

erline of life, we found typical structures of asymmetry with models

of DNA. In thermodynamics, the emergence of symmetric patterns

by phase transitions and symmetry breaking provides models of sym-

metric structures. Structures of functional symmetries characterize

models of organisms in biology. Ecological, economic and social bal-

ance deliver models of symmetry in ecology, economics and sociology.

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340 Symmetry and Complexity

models symmetries theories

string theories

theory of relativity

quantum field theories

chemistry

biochemistry

thermodynamics

biology

ecology

economics

sociology

strings, -branes

gravitons, photons

hadrons, leptons, etc.

atoms, molecules, etc.

proteins, DNA, etc.

open systems with

metabolism

organisms

populations

economies, markets

societies

p supersymmetry

space-time symmetries

dynamical symmetries

(e.g., SU(3)xSU(2)xU(1)-forces)

nuclear-, orbital-, crystal symmetries

chirality

dissipative structures of symmetry

functional symmetries

ecological balance

economic balance, economic

equilibrium

social balance, social equilibrium

t

h

e

o

r

y

r

e

d

u

c

t

i

o

n

s

y

m

m

e

t

r

y

b

r

e

a

k

i

n

g

Fig. 98. Theories and models of symmetries in science

But, symmetry breaking of balance is also a characteristic struc-

tural process in these disciplines. In a bottom up approach, Fig. 98

seems to suggest a theory reduction of the social and biological sci-

ences to physics. But, that is only true in the sense that the emer-

gence of social, biological, and physical structures is embedded in

cosmic evolution which started with a supersymmetry, according to

M-symmetry.

Canonical invariance and symmetries of structures do not only

help to classify scientiﬁc theories, but they also support problem solv-

ing in science and situations of the everyday world. If two situations

are isomorphic with respect to their essential features and if we were

successful in one of these situations with a certain strategy, then we

should apply this strategy in the other situation again. Isolating the

relevant structures is equivalent to deﬁning the set of transformations

that leave the problem essentially the same. These transformations

are the symmetries of the problem. Therefore, problems which are

essentially the same must have essentially the same solution. In this

sense, symmetry is a successful principle of methodology.

With specialization of science, theories depend on one another in

a network of increasing complexity. The belief of logical empirism

that isolated theories are tested by “naked” facts of reality becomes

an illusion. There is no absolute empirical basis with sensory and

measured data, propositions of protocol in a language of observa-

tion which would be linked to the theory by rules of correspon-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Philosophy and Arts 341

dence. Measurements and observations already depend on theoretical

assumptions. The domain of reality and the rules of application of

a mathematical theory generally depend on the theory itself. The

part of a domain of reality that is independent of the concerning

theory and its rules of application is called the basic domain of the

theory. However, this basic domain is not independent of all science

and experience.

For example, current does not belong to the basic domain of elec-

trodynamics, since it was ﬁrst deﬁned in this theory. But mechanical

forces are introduced in mechanics and belong in the basic domain

of electrodynamics. For that reason mechanics is called a pre-theory

of electrodynamics [8.9]. For the Newtonian theory of gravitation

the orbit of a satellite belongs to the basic domain. It can be deter-

mined by a pre-theory that includes geometrical optics and terres-

trial geometry and is independent of gravitational theory. Therefore,

a pre-history is pre-given a priori relative to its theory. In this sense

it is the task of philosophy of science to reconstruct the network of

relative dependencies of theories. As all theories depend more or less

on one another, the whole network of knowledge is always faced with

reality. We have to decide on the restrictions and constraints for

concrete observations, tests and experiments.

If a mathematical theory is applied to a domain of reality, then

mathematical models are mapped on data of measurements. An ex-

ample is the results of measurement of planetary orbits according to

which a planet is at a particular location at a particular time. Fac-

tual samples of measurement data provide data models which are

mapped on the mathematical model of an elliptic curve. The ellip-

tic model of planets belongs to the Newtonian theory of gravitation.

A theory is conﬁrmed if those real systems like the planets belong

to the class of models of the theory. Even in Newtonian time, the

theory of gravitation contained a well-known class of real models

like the planetary system, high tide and low tide of the ocean, and

Galileo’s free fall of bodies on earth. But, the mathematical struc-

ture of a theory obviously contains many more models than possible

worlds. Thus, theory construction should be done from two points

of view: the construction of suﬃciently rich models to allow for the

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342 Symmetry and Complexity

possibility of described phenomena, and the narrowing down of the

system of models so as to give the theory greater empirical content.

In theory constructing, there must be a steady interplay between the

theoreticians and experimenters.

A structural analysis reveals the conditions under which one the-

ory provides more information than another about a domain of re-

ality, and thereby also more solutions to problems. These criteria

do not depend upon whether a research group ﬁnds a theoretical

development to be “better” or “worse”. Rather it is a matter of

exactly deﬁning when a structure and the theory characterizing it,

is more information-rich and more comprehensive than another one.

In scientiﬁc practice a case can deﬁnitely occur in which one chooses

the theory that is structurally poorer because under certain research

constraints it provides adequate and fast problem solutions.

A structure is called richer than another if both structures possess

the same basic set and the same typiﬁcation, but the axioms of the

richer structural species include those of the poorer structural species

[8.10]. A mathematical example is the transition from an ordered set

to a lattice structure. Both have the same underlying basic set and

order relation as their structural type. The structural species of the

lattice structure requires more axioms for this structural type than

the usual axioms of order.

A structure is more comprehensive than another if, in addition,

new basic sets, structural types and structural species are added to it.

An example of that is the above-mentioned step-by-step development

of quantum mechanics, which ﬁnally extends from an Abelian group

over Hilbert spaces to the self-adjoint operators of the Schr¨ odinger

equation.

Correspondingly, one theory is called richer in structure than an-

other if the ﬁrst is determined by a richer structure than the other,

but both have the same principal basic domain and the same mapping

instructions for the application of the mathematical theory. Thus,

the more structurally rich theory makes it possible to make more

statements and thereby to provide more information about the same

facts than the other theory does. The structurally richer theory is

therefore a special case of a more comprehensive theory.

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Symmetry and Complexity in Philosophy and Arts 343

Further operations known from mathematical structural analysis

can be carried over without modiﬁcation. Thus, one speaks of one

structure being “embedded” in another one by means of correspond-

ing mappings. In the same way one structure can be “restricted”

to another one by means of corresponding rules. Two theories are

called equivalent if they refer to the same principal basic domain and

if both can be called reciprocally more comprehensive.

Examples from the history of science are at hand. Thus, the

transition from the Newtonian space-time theory to Einstein’s is ob-

viously a transition from a less comprehensive theory to a more com-

prehensive theory. Sometimes the assumption of absolute simultane-

ity in Newtonian space-time and its negation in Minkowski geometry

is depicted as an unbridgeable contradiction that evokes the impres-

sion of erratic theoretical progress. But, from the point of view of

a mathematical structural analysis, this is misleading. In fact, New-

tonian space-time is not false (from the point of view of Minkowski

geometry). Einstein’s theory, namely, can be restricted to a space-

time theory with inertial systems that move slowly, compared with

the speed of light, with respect to the Newtonian inertial system of

the planetary system. Moreover, these subsets of inertial systems

are not, in any case, spread out over too much of the cosmos. Thus

restricted, Einstein’s space-time theory can now be embedded in the

Newtonian theory. Besides, there is at least an approximate region

of absolute simultaneity in which the sun does not move, or moves

only very slowly.

The fact that one theory structure is richer or even more compre-

hensive than another one thus proves to be an objective relationship

between theories that is precisely deﬁneable in logical-mathematical

terms. Such a theoretical transition is therefore just as cumulative

in natural science (such as physics) as in mathematics, as far as in-

crease in complexity, information content and capacity for problem

solving are concerned. Thus, one can talk about “upheaval” and

“revolution” in psychological, sociological and ideological contexts

only where such structural expansions have historically taken place.

This applies to the Copernican change as well as to the histori-

cal, philosophical discussion that has been going on since Einstein’s

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344 Symmetry and Complexity

introduction of the relativity theory in the twenties of the last cen-

tury. Indeed, after the First World War many people felt that Ein-

stein’s relativistic revision of the Newtonian conception of space-time

was the collapse of an old world that had had absolute standards:

“everything is relative” was a popular slogan in an era of disintegrat-

ing values and may have furnished the ideology for a greater accep-

tance of Einstein’s theory by some people or increased reservations

and rejection by others. Even today “postmodern” philosophers de-

mand “relativism” and “destruction” of scientiﬁc objectivity [8.11].

But again, that is a psychological expression of critical feelings in an

era of sceptical attitudes against scientiﬁc and technological progress.

“Postmodern relativism” does not contradict the structural analysis

of mathematical and mathematized theories [8.12].

However, the examples also show that a more comprehensive the-

ory is not necessarily a better one. In many areas of technology —

such as automobiles — where we look at slow speeds compared to the

speed of light, we are working successfully using classical mechanics.

For other areas — such as high-energy — that is no longer true. A

uniﬁed theory of all physical forces promises spectacular insights into

the ultimate solutions of our problems of energy.

The analysis of theoretical structures seems to suggest a static

view of science. Therefore, a model of elements developing in time

(e.g. atoms, planets, people) is called a dynamical system [8.13].

But from a mathematical point of view, a dynamical system is, of

course, a model of a speciﬁc structure with parameters or operators

of time. A dynamical model consists of a multi-component set of

time-depending elements with local states. Their local interactions

determine a global state. The structure of the dynamical models

is characterized by a common state space. Their dynamics, i.e. the

change of system’s states depending on time, are represented by lin-

ear or nonlinear diﬀerential equations. In the case of nonlinearity,

several feedback activities take place between the elements of the

system. These many-bodies problems correspond to nonlinear and

non-integrable equations with instabilities and sometimes chaos. The

emergence of new order and attractors of complex systems corre-

spond to solutions of these equations. Thus, emergence is no mys-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Philosophy and Arts 345

tery, but can be explained by structural analysis. Nevertheless, the

emerging order cannot be reduced to the features of single elements

in a nonlinear dynamical model. Separation of a system into its parts

means mathematically linearization. The emergence of an attractor

of ﬂuid dynamics cannot be explained by the single molecules of the

ﬂuid. The life of an organism cannot be reduced to the sum of its

cells. The emergence of cognitive abilities cannot be explained by

the sum of neural cells in a brain. The famous slogan of philosophers

“The whole is more than the sum of its parts” is true with respect to

the nonlinearity of a dynamical system. In this book, we introduced

the principles of nonlinear dynamical systems. They belong to the

most general theoretical structures of human knowledge which can be

applied in models of physical, chemical, biological, neural, cognitive

and social dynamics. The mathematical structures of these models

do not depend on special, e.g., physical laws. Thus, we demand no

kind of physicalism, but structural analysis of dynamical models in

nature and society.

Another fundamental phenomenon of symmetry and symmetry

breaking can also be explained by structural analysis. On the mi-

crolevel, physical laws are symmetric with respect to time (microre-

versibility), but not at the macrolevel. According to the second law of

thermodynamics distributions of, for example, molecules develop on

the average with irreversibility. For example, elementary particles

are reversible with respect to time. Organisms, people, and social

groups become elder without a chance of reversibility. But from a

structural point of view, microreversibility and macro-irreversibility

are no contradiction. We have to distinguish between the reversible

“exterior” time of a complex dynamical system and its “interior”

time, or its “age”. While the “exterior time” is the usual real time

parameter t that is registered by a clock, the “interior time” is de-

ﬁned as an operator that takes into account the irreversible changes

in the system’s states. As a real parameter, the exterior time appears

merely as an index in a set of trajectories (in classical physics) or in

a wave equation (in quantum mechanics). As an operator, the inte-

rior time permits statements about the temporal development of a

complex ensemble of trajectories or distribution function that serve

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346 Symmetry and Complexity

mathematically as eigenfunctions of the time operator. The con-

nection with the external time rests on the eigenvalues of the time

operators being real lengths of time as registered by a normal clock.

The distribution is graphical representations of the diﬀerent interior

“ages” of a complex system [8.14]. For example, the diﬀerent organs

of a complex system like the human organism wear out at diﬀerent

rates. The time operator assigns a “mean age” to each state of the

system, which increases at the same rate as the exterior clock time.

Thus, “age” is a structural property of complex dynamical systems

and does not depend on special models of, for example, biological sys-

tems. For example, it is not only a metaphor to speak about “old”

and “young” cities, organizations or societies. The phase transition

in political systems may diﬀer according to the periods of election.

Each dynamical system has its own characteristic interior time.

From the viewpoint of the history of philosophy this is reminiscent

of Aristotle, who distinguished between time as “movement” (kivn1ic

and time as “coming into being, growth, and decay”

µ02.þoìn

This

connection can be connected to the concepts of reversible time in me-

chanics and of irreversible time in thermodynamics. Irreversible pro-

cesses are explained according to the second law of thermodynamics

as internal breakings of symmetry (based on the time operator) that

violate time reversal symmetry. The time operator has the remark-

able property that the past and future are separated by an interval

that is quantiﬁable in terms of a characteristic time. Traditionally,

the present is represented as a point on the time axis in which past

and future can come inﬁnitely close. Prigogine therefore speaks of

the “duration” of the present, which he compares to the concept

of duration introduced by the French philosopher H. Bergson [8.15].

The time operator is, however, a mathematically deﬁned functional

operating on distribution functions and not on single elements. It

must not be confused with subjectively experienced time.

There is a precise relation between dynamical systems and com-

putational systems. The dynamics of nonlinear systems is given by

diﬀerential equations with continuous variables and a continuous pa-

rameter of time. Sometimes, diﬀerence equations with discrete time

points are suﬃcient. If even the continuous variables are replaced by

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Symmetry and Complexity in Philosophy and Arts 347

discrete (e.g. binary) variables, we get functional schemes of compu-

tational systems (“automata”) with functional arguments as inputs

and functional values as outputs. Operators (e.g. time-operator of

interior time) can also be digitalized. The structural features of the

systems are represented in programs (“algorithms”). Their degrees

of computational complexity can be determined according to their

size (“algorithmic complexity”) or time length. In Chapter 7, we

explained which degrees of computability can be distinguished and

why computational systems are not necessary computable. Like dy-

namical systems, they can develop all kinds of more or less com-

putable patterns and attractors of nonlinear dynamics. Degrees of

computability and decidability can even depend on procedures which

are unknown and therefore called “oracle”. A so-called ψ-oracle

Turing machine uses the usual rules of a Turing program and an

operation ψ (e.g., “replace the content x of a register by ψ(x)”)

whose computability is unknown. The operation generates values

(“answers”) like an oracle. Functions or functionals which are com-

putable by ψ-oracle Turing machines are called relatively computable

(with respect to the oracle ψ) [8.16]. Actually, many processes in the

world are modeled by tools which are computable or only assumed

without knowing their degree of computability. In this sense, all

kinds of mathematical structures of dynamical models correspond

to degrees of at least relative computability. But they are not all

(Turing-)computable.

These arguments lead us to the fundamental principle of com-

putational equivalence: every dynamical system corresponds to a

computational system. If the world is considered a complex dynam-

ical system, then it can also be considered a computational system.

Quantum-, molecular-, nano-, DNA-, cellular-, neural-, and cogni-

tive computing are only special models of computational structures,

generating diﬀerent kinds of information. There are natural dynam-

ical systems (e.g. quantum-, molecular-, cellular-, neural systems),

which have been generated by cosmic and biological evolution. But

they are also only special models of general structures. Therefore, a

task of science and technology is to ﬁnd and to construct new mod-

els fulﬁlling the principles of computational systems. In this sense,

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348 Symmetry and Complexity

a technical co-evolution was initiated and implemented by humans,

leading to systems with growing capabilities of artiﬁcial life and arti-

ﬁcial intelligence. Scientiﬁc knowledge consists of theories, structures

and models corresponding to computational systems. Thus, the ex-

pansion of science and growth of knowledge can be considered a part

of information dynamics in a world with increasing complexity.

A challenge of complexity is the knowledge representation of all

kinds of theories, structures, models, dynamical and computional

systems. Knowledge representation, which is today used in database

applications, artiﬁcial intelligence, software engineering and many

other disciplines of computer science, has deep roots in logic and phi-

losophy. In the beginning, there was Aristotle who developed logic

as a precise method for reasoning about knowledge. Syllogisms were

introduced as formal patterns for representing special ﬁgures of logi-

cal deductions. According to Aristotle, the subject of ontology is the

study of categories of things that exist or may exist in some domain.

Aristotle distinguished basic categories for classifying anything that

may be said or predicated about anything. Many of these categories

(e.g. substance, quality, quantity, relation, spatiality, and temporal-

ity) are today applied in, for example, data bases. In the Middle

Ages, knowledge representation was illustrated by graphic diagrams

and pictures. In Peter of Spain’s “summulae logicales” (1239), an

ontological hierarchy with Aristotelian categories represented knowl-

edge by genus (supertype) and species (subtype) [8.17]. The features

that distinguished diﬀerent species of the same genus were called

“diﬀerentiae”. R. Lullus (13th century) illustrated an ontological hi-

erarchy by a tree with branches for categories. Leaves corresponded

to questions or to answers which should automatically be found by a

system of rotating disks for combining features of things. Actually,

Lullus applied a kind of British Museum algorithm, the ﬁrst attempt

to develop mechanical aids for problem solving and information

retrieval.

There is a close correspondence between categories, theories and

structures of ontologies and hierarchies of types or classes in object-

oriented programming languages. An object-oriented programming

language (e.g. C

++

, Java) combines a declarative style for specify-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Philosophy and Arts 349

ing objects with a procedural style for deﬁning the action by and

upon those objects [8.18]. Object-oriented declarations deﬁne the

same kind of information as frames or classes with certain attributes

which are instantiated as particular objects for speciﬁc data. For

example, the class or type of an automobile is characterized by cer-

tain attributes. A particular car is a speciﬁc object of this class.

In this sense, a theory or structure can also be considered a class

of an object-oriented language. A model of a theory is a concrete

speciﬁcation which corresponds to an object of an object-oriented

language. Theories or structures with their models can be classiﬁed

in hierarchies like plants and animals in biological taxonomies. By

the way, Aristotle designed the ﬁrst botanic taxonomies in the his-

tory of biology. An ontology is organized in a class or type hierarchy

that supports inheritance of properties from supertypes to subtypes.

Fig. 99 shows the ontology of symmetries as mathematical structures

which have been analyzed in this book. Contrary to the traditional

belief of antique philosophers, ontology in the sense of informatics

only means the organization and representation of knowledge and is

not necessarily identical with the actual order of reality [8.19]. An-

other example is the ontology of complexity in Fig. 100, which was

explained in Chapter 7 and previous remarks on computational sys-

tems. Again, properties of supertypes are inherited to subtypes in

the following branches of the tree-like hierarchy.

Object-oriented programming languages have advantages with re-

spect to traditional declarative or procedural languages. Instead of

separating the declarations that deﬁne an object from the procedures

that operate on them, the object-oriented programming languages in-

tegrate the declarations and the methods for each type of object in

a single information packet. By encapsulating objects in this man-

ner, object-oriented programming languages provide a way of distin-

guishing the external behavior of objects from their internal structure

and dynamics. For example, a particular car is an object instance

of a class or type of automobiles with attributes (e.g. color, size,

weight) and methods determining the internal processes (e.g. motor

dynamics, electronic equipment). Furthermore, there may be rules

describing external behavior of cars in interaction with traﬃc lights,

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350 Symmetry and Complexity

canonical invariance of structure

symmetry (= invariance

with respect to automorphism groups)

discrete symmetry

plane

symmetry

spatial

symmetry

PCT-

symmetry

ornamentic

symmetries

crystal

symmetries

parity

continuous symmetry

space-time

symmetries

gauge

symmetries

Galilean

invariance

(= classical

physics)

Lorentz

invariance

(= special

relativity)

covariance

(= general

relativity)

supersymmetry

(= M-theory)

U(1)xSU(2)xSU(3)-

symmetry

Poincaré

symmetry

(gravitation)

U(1)xSU(2)-

symmetry

SU(3)-

symmetry

(strong force)

U(1)-

symmetry

(electromagnetic force)

SU(2)-

symmetry

(weak force)

charge time

Fig. 99. Ontology of symmetries

warehouses and dispatchers. Thus, each object instance is an au-

tonomous entity whose behavior is determined by its class methods

and the inputs it receives from other objects.

The advantages of encapsulation and inheritance in object-

oriented languages can also be applied to knowledge representation

of theories and structures. In the beginning of this chapter, we il-

lustrated the complex network of theories, structures and their mod-

els as a landscape of knowledge. This metaphor can now be made

precise in object-oriented programming languages. In order to rep-

resent the complex network of knowledge by diagrams, ontologies

of theories, structures and models are enlarged by Entity-Relation

(ER)-diagrams and semantic webs. A class is conceived as an en-

tity which is represented by a box (Fig. 101). The attributes and

methods of the class are written in ovals which are related to its box.

In ER-diagrams, the subordination of classes in ontologies is only a

special relationship. In semantic webs, there are further relations be-

tween entities indicated by edges and rhombuses between the boxes

(Fig. 101). Besides hierarchical relations of subordination (s), there

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Symmetry and Complexity in Philosophy and Arts 351

complexity

dynamical complexity

fixed point

attractor

compressible

size

deterministic

computability

periodic

attractor

incompressible

size (=random)

non-deterministic

computability

quasi-periodic

attractor

NP-time exponential time

polynomial time (P)

quadratic time

linear time

computational complexity

relative computability

Turing-compatibility

computational time program size

(= algorithmic information)

chaos

attractor

randomness

Fig. 100. Ontology of complexity

are relations of parts (p), instantiation (i) of objects from classes,

inheritance (h), etc. In Fig. 101, a small section of the knowledge

landscape is represented by a semantic web. A physical theory is

characterized as a class with only a few attributes (e.g. name, pa-

rameters, constants) and methods (e.g. operators, measuring meth-

ods). Models of theories (e.g. elementary particles with high speed

near the velocity of light as a model of the theory of special relativ-

ity) are considered object instances of classes [8.20]. For example,

conservation laws are parts of the theory of relativity.

ER-diagrams and semantic webs are illustrations of structures

and objects which are deﬁned in mathematical and natural lan-

guage. For implementation on computing systems, the axiomatic-

mathematical representation must be transformed into a computer

language. These steps of transformation from diagrams with nat-

ural language to mathematical and computational representations

are used in software-engineering. They have great advantages for

programming complex structures and networks. Axiomatic repre-

sentations allow us to control complex processes step by step with

mathematical proof methods. Correct programs must satisfy the ax-

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352 Symmetry and Complexity

physical theory

Fig. 101. Entity-Relationship (ER)-diagram of theories

iomatic conditions of the corresponding structures. Carnap’s idea

to represent scientiﬁc theories in formal languages is now realized in

informatics for all kinds of structures and objects. Leibniz’ old vi-

sion of computing systems for all tasks in everyday life is a challenge

of modern software-engineering. In software-engineering, the struc-

ture of, for example, a bank, ﬁrm, or traﬃc system is represented by

ER-diagrams, transformed to axiomatic deﬁnitions of relations and

functions, translated into an object-oriented programming language,

in order to implement the structure on a computer.

The formal implementation of structures on computers needs formal labels

and types, in order to identify all symbols and their meaning uniquely. The label

of a structure (e.g. a group) consists of a set T of notations for types, a set F

of notations for constants and functions, and a mapping relating each notation

from F to a type. The type of a constant c is a type M from T. “c has type M”

is denoted by c : M. The type of a function f : X

1

× X

2

× · · · × X

n

→ X

n+1

is denoted by the types of the arguments X

1

, X

2

, . . . , X

n

and the values X

n+1

,

i.e., f : M

1

, M

2

, . . . , M

n

→ M

n+1

, with M

1

, M

2

, . . . , M

n+1

from T. The labels

can be enlarged for functionals with functions as arguments and values, too.

In a formal language, terms can be constructed with functions, constants, and

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Symmetry and Complexity in Philosophy and Arts 353

variables. Variables and constants are terms of certain types. If f is a function

from F with type f : M

1

, M

2

, . . . , M

n

→ M

n+1

and t

1

, t

2

, . . . , t

n

are terms of type

M

1

, M

2

, . . . , M

n

, then f(t

1

, t

2

, . . . , t

n

) is a term of type M

n+1

. Terms are used to

construct equations. With equations and logical constants (e.g. ∧, ∨, ¬, →, ∀,

∃ for “and,” “or,” “not,” “if-then,” all-, existence-quantiﬁer), we can construct

propositions to represent the axiomatic deﬁnitions of a structure. In Fig. 101,

the axiomatic deﬁnition of, for example, general relativity is given by Einstein’s

ﬁeld equation with certain preconditions. Models are speciﬁc interpretations of

the formal propositions of the axiomatic deﬁnitions. In, for example, the theory

of general relativity, the formal tensor of curvature is interpreted by a notation

representing the curvature of a light ray in the vicinity of the sun.

ER-diagrams and semantic webs seem only to illustrate static as-

pects of a structure. In complex dynamical systems, time-depending

processes and histories are described by phase transitions of states

with the emergence of new entities. Discrete processes can be sim-

ulated by digital computers, but continuous processes are more nat-

urally simulated by analog computers. Yet if the time step is small

enough, the granularity of a digital simulation might not be no-

ticeable. Movies and television, for instance, represent continuous

motion by a sequence of discrete frames. In software-engineering,

state-transition diagrams are used to illustrate all kinds of processes

which, after axiomatic deﬁnition of transition rules, must be trans-

lated into an object-oriented programming language in order to im-

plement them on a computer. The structure of a dynamical sys-

tem is deﬁned by a state space S, a set of control parameters α,

and the axiomatic equation (e.g. diﬀerential equation) of a function

f. In a simpliﬁed form the axiom is represented by the equation

s

t+1

= f(α, s

t

) with the input-state at time t, the output-state at

time t +1, a control parameter α and a certain condition of an initial

state s

o

.

State-transition diagrams enlarge ER-diagrams and semantic

webs for illustrating dynamic processes. They represent states by

boxes and transitions between them by arrows. Fig. 102 is a state-

transition diagram of a phase transition (“symmetry breaking”) in

a complex dynamical system with the emergence of new order. The

transition rules are indicated at the transition arrows. The phase

transition is initialized by an initial state. The control parameter

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354 Symmetry and Complexity

Fig. 102. State-transition diagrams of phase transition (“symmetry breaking”)

with emergence of new entities (“self-organization”)

α is written in a rhomb with a feedback loop. If the transition is

below a critical value of α, the old order is stabilized. If it surpasses

the critical value, the old order is destabilized. Unstable and stable

modes of the system elements compete with one another in a compet-

itive state, depending on an order parameter. Unstable modes start

to dominate (“enslave”) stable ones, until a new macroscopic order

emerges according to the order parameter. An order parameter de-

termines the emergence of a new order. Therefore, it is indicated in

a rhomb of the state-transition system. The feedback loop describes

the causal connection between the microlevel and the macrolevel of a

complex system (e.g. Fig. 49). In the case of symmetry breaking, the

state-transition system generates a bifurcation tree (e.g. Fig. 48).

Again, the state-transition diagram can be transformed into a

mathematical representation of a complex dynamical system with

equations and logical deductions. The transition rules “initialize,”

“stabilize,” “destabilize,” “dominate,” and “emerge” correspond to

the steps of a linear-stability analysis (compare Sec. 3.3). The new

order is derived from the equations of microstates as solution of an

appropriate macroscopic equation depending on the order parame-

ter. The transition rules can also be translated into a programming

language to implement the system to a computer.

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Symmetry and Complexity in Philosophy and Arts 355

State-transition diagrams are a common representation for

discrete (and approximately continuous) processes. Finite-state

machines are the simplest and most widely used version of state-

transition diagrams. Petri nets are a generalization of state-

transition diagrams for representing concurrent processes [8.21]. For

object-oriented design, Petri nets have been adopted as the basis for

activity diagrams in the Uniﬁed Modeling Language (UML). Petri

nets are especially convenient for representing cause and eﬀect: each

transition represents a possible event, the input states of a transition

represent the causes, and the output states represent the eﬀects. By

executing the Petri net interpretively, a computer can simulate the

processes and causal dependencies.

From a philosophical point of view, we get a pragmatic method-

ology of knowledge representation which is more than software engi-

neering. There is a broad variety of formal tools to represent data,

information, and knowledge for diﬀerent purposes and diﬀerent steps

of development. In the ﬁrst step, we can use diagram languages for il-

lustrations of complex networks with, for example, ER-diagrams, se-

mantic webs, state-transition diagrams or Petri nets. In our method-

ology of knowledge representation, there is no dogmatic distinction

of any method or language. They are tools with advantages and

disadvantages in diﬀerent contexts of application which should be

correlated in a kind of patchwork to get a ﬂexible methodology of

problem solving. For example, ER-diagrams focus on the entities

and their relations in a domain. Ontologies only represent hierarchi-

cal levels. State-transition diagrams underline the dynamic point of

systems. In the next step, diagrams are axiomatically described as

structures and dynamical systems in mathematical language. They

can be transformed into programming languages in order to imple-

ment the structures and systems on a computer. Translations into

formal predicative logic are used to check the correctness of computer

programs by formal proofs.

Representations of complex knowledge need experts from diﬀerent

disciplines. Therefore, in requirements engineering of informatics, in-

terdisciplinary teams consist of experts of informatics and the domain

of application, as well as experts of cognitive science, economics and

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356 Symmetry and Complexity

management, in order to get a useful product of knowledge repre-

sentation. They start with the identiﬁcation and limitation of their

issue. From diﬀerent points of view, they correlate diﬀerent tools

of analysis, harmonize diﬀerent interests pragmatically and develop

a common plan of modeling their issue. According to a catalogue

of criteria, their results of modeling and representation are evalu-

ated and veriﬁed. Analogously, in the philosophy of science, we need

interdisciplinary teams to analyze the growth of knowledge and to

explore the complex landscape of scientiﬁc theories, structures, and

models.

Obviously, the chosen tools of representation inﬂuence our view of

a problem, structure or system. But, on the other hand, structural

properties are invariant with respect to particular representations of

knowledge. Especially, symmetry and complexity are invariant uni-

versals of knowledge which are conﬁrmed in diﬀerent contexts and

models. Nevertheless, the old question of philosophy arises as to

whether these principles are only abstract classiﬁcations of knowl-

edge or real structures of the world. In modern epistemology after

Kant, the question for reality seems to be beyond the limitations

of human experience. Our knowledge of the world depends on the

conditions of human experience. Even our sensory data, as immedi-

ate signals of the world, are represented in data models of knowledge.

Knowledge processing is generated by the dynamics of human brains.

Our models of the world are constructions of the human mind as cog-

nitive states of the brain.

But we must not forget that the validity of mathematical struc-

tures and proofs is independent of brain research and cognitive sci-

ence, although it is generated by brain dynamics. A neural or cogni-

tive scientist who can explain brain and cognitive dynamics of math-

ematical thinking is not able to ﬁnd a mathematical proof. Euclid

proved his theorems without being aware of his brain activity. The

same is true for music and arts. In short: brain research cannot

replace, for example, mathematicians or artists. The theorem of

Pythagoras is mathematically true in all models of Euclidean geom-

etry, independent of possible applications. Some Euclidean models

were even veriﬁed with antique measurements and technical con-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Philosophy and Arts 357

structions and conﬁrmed Euclidean geometry empirically. In this

sense, symmetry and complexity are invariant properties of mathe-

matical structures containing models of reality. In the case of com-

prehensive and general theories like quantum mechanics, evolution-

ary dynamics, or sociodynamics, single models may be less convinc-

ing. But embedded in general structures with diﬀerent models of

application and conﬁrmation, the degree of conﬁrmation increases.

Veriﬁed models connect the network of knowledge with reality. It is

always the whole network of our knowledge which is confronted with

experience.

In general, structures of scientiﬁc theories are containers of infor-

mation with actual and potential models of the world. Actual models

are conﬁrmed by observations and measurements. Potential models

satisfy the structural conditions of a theory, but they are not yet

realized in nature or society [8.22]. For example, the ﬂight of a bird

as well as the ﬂight of an aeroplane satisfy the laws of aerodynamics,

but only the ﬂight of birds was an actual model of the laws which was

realized by nature. The model of a jet was potential, as long as it

was not invented by human technology. In Chapter 5, we emphasized

that the biological evolution of life on earth was only one possible ac-

tualization of evolutionary laws. In Chapter 6, we discussed actual

and possible developments of sociodynamics. In this sense, struc-

tures of theories may contain more information than is actualized in

the world. One may argue that the information of structures and

models is generated in our brains. That is obviously right. There-

fore, structures of our theories are not static and may change with

new experiences. But the whole network of our present knowledge

tells us that our brain is a product of cosmic and biological evolution.

In short: the universe is elder than the human cognition of it. The

information production of our brain is embedded in the information

dynamics of the universe. Our concepts of symmetry and complexity

are traces of its universals.

8.2 The Beauty of Symmetry and Complexity

In Platonic tradition, symmetry was a universal law for truth, justice,

and beauty in the world. The last chapter considers the evolution

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358 Symmetry and Complexity

from symmetry to complexity from an aesthetical point of view. Our

thesis is that art is another kind of representation with relation to

scientiﬁc views even in modern times. In many early cultures, as with

Greek philosophy, Taoism or Hinduism, nature was interpreted as a

harmonious organism whose parts and movements are proportion-

ately matched to each other. The human life-world with its familiar

living beings and cyclical natural events became the measure of, and

the model for interpreting, the strange and unknown world. This in-

terpretation of the world applies, not only to the Antique-Medieval

philosophy of nature, but also to early art. Proportional relationships

of the human body are found in the architecture of those times and,

correspondingly, in the dimensional relationships that were assumed

for the cosmos. What came into play here seems to have been an

early, intuitive kind of human knowledge, not at all based on a highly

developed geometry and astronomy like those of the Egyptians and

Greeks.

An example is the Golden Section which is even applied in early

cultures without mathematical geometry. Thorough psychological

investigations have been made into the harmonious eﬀect of the

Golden Section. Various factors play a role here: along with in-

tuitively familiar proportional ratios of the human body, probably

also the perception that in the Golden Section two parts of diﬀerent

sizes form a unity; the smaller part is related to the larger one as

the larger one is to the whole, and thereby the unequal parts are

harmonized in the whole. Thus, we ﬁnd this proportional relation

in objects of everyday use, in architectural monuments and on to

contemporary standard sizes [8.23].

Various authors discern the Golden Section not only in the Clas-

sical Greek and Egyptian vases, but also in Chinese pottery or prod-

ucts of the Cretan and Mycenaean culture from the end of the Bronze

Age, thus ca. a thousand years before Greek mathematics. It is con-

jectured that the Golden Section is present in the pyramid of Cheops

and in Aztec examples. But the situation of the historical sources

is obscure and is evaluated in thoroughly divergent ways [8.24]. The

Greeks were the ﬁrst to try to provide a mathematical basis, a geo-

metrical doctrine of proportions, for the intuitive ideas of prehistory,

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Symmetry and Complexity in Philosophy and Arts 359

for familiar proportions of the life-world in art, architecture, technol-

ogy, and for the interpretation of nature. The Greek architect Hip-

podemos, a contemporary of Anaximander, drew up plans for Greek

metropolises of his time, in which streets were laid out crossing at

right angles along the compass directions, in the service of better ori-

entation and hygiene. That did please politicians like Pericles. But,

then as now, cold architectural rationalism provoked the scorn and

the anger of citizens who were aﬀected by it, and therefore Aristo-

phanes too, in one of his comedies has the famous architect appear

armed with a compass and a ruler to lay out cities mathematically

[8.25].

A canon of proportions for the visual arts was ﬁrst mentioned by

Polykletus [8.26], who, however, presumably had Egyptian predeces-

sors. He created his famous spear-bearer (Doryphoros) in accordance

with this canon of proportions. The historical sources and references

have come down only fragmentarily and through interpretations into

later centuries. Presumably Polykletus derived his proportions from

his studies of nature and then reworked them into an idealized form.

Thus he was not trying to project into his statues presupposed cos-

mological or philosophically interpreted proportions as, for instance,

the Golden Section. Likewise, symmetry is understood as “balance,”

thus proportional relationships adjusted to each other that evoke

the impression of harmony. Greek philosophers and mathematicians

shared the belief in a well-ordered world that could be expressed in

proportions and harmonies.

Later, Vitruvius named nine additional artists who were said to

have authored the “praecepta symmetriarum”. In all variations of

these early authors, Vitruvius’ core idea provides the standard: he

began his ten books about architecture (25 B.C.) by recommending

that temples be built analogously to human anatomy, which, in his

view, possesses a perfect harmony of its parts [8.27]. As a physician

in the 2nd century A.D., Galenus observed about symmetry “that

health depends on the symmetry of the elements and beauty depends

on the symmetry of the limbs . . . as is written in the canon of Poly-

cleteus”. An understanding of art was delineated here in which man

was literally the measure of all things. In the Platonic tradition the

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360 Symmetry and Complexity

Logos of nature was based on a geometric doctrine of proportions.

Certain proportional relationships were singled out as particularly

“compatible to the measure of man.” They were supposed to recur

in art objects, everyday objects and buildings in order to make them

compatible to the measure of man.

From this point of view the frequently discussed question of

whether the Golden Section is “really” a natural law of human pro-

portions, is secondary. Modern statistical studies do lead to conclu-

sions about such laws of proportion in the growth patterns of humans,

animals, and plants. But it will not have escaped the Greeks either,

that aesthetic and erotic charm frequently originates from the small

“symmetry breakings”. Of course, standards have to be presupposed

if such deviations are to be experienced as attractive tensions.

As an example, consider the Aphrodite of Cyrene, which was

celebrated for its perfected harmonious proportions in later epochs as

well. Fig. 103 displays Golden Sections, for example, for the knee and

the breast, the navel and the vulva, or the breast and the neck. Here

the historical question of whether the Antique artist was consciously

patterning his work on the Golden Section is not relevant. Even if

we, today, project these or other proportions onto Antique statues,

their charm inheres precisely in the slight deviations from whatever

the norms of proportion were, that is, in the symmetry breakings.

The posture of the Aphrodite deviates from narrow standards, by

contrast with rigid archaic statues. Thus, the right breast exhibits

a changed proportion to the navel, and likewise the vulva and the

right knee. In an overarching integrated frame of reference, however,

such local deviations are incorporated, and are superimposed on one

another into a perfect overall impression that was brought forth again

and again.

The attraction we feel to the beauty of actual living women is

not based merely on their being made of ﬂesh and blood. Here too

the small deviations and symmetry breakings, in comparison with

idealizing concepts of proportion, play no inconsequential role. The

boredom induced by many modern “beauty queens” and pin-up girls

with their “ideal” measurements, may be evidence of that. Symme-

try breakings are needed to create individuality and — if you like

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Symmetry and Complexity in Philosophy and Arts 361

Fig. 103. Golden sections of the Aphrodite of Cyrene

— “personality.” Yet this charm of the particular is felt in real-

ity only because it is viewed in reference to standard proportional

relationships.

Natural, proportional relationships may have the character of laws

of nature, and in this sense they may be immutable. But if such

proportions are elevated to norms in a canon of art, then, like all

aesthetic categories, they are subject to historic changes and can at

any time be felt to be restrictive and obsolete, or be rediscovered.

This was the fate of the Greco-Roman conception of art. However,

in judging it one should not cling to the entranced idealizations that

later centuries linked with this conception of art. What is funda-

mental is not the “letter” of the Greek canon of art, but its “spirit”.

What was decisive was the idea of carrying over into art and architec-

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362 Symmetry and Complexity

ture standards of proportion drawn from the measure of man, that

is, organic ones, and not doing it subjectively, arbitrarily, but in the

framework of a shared understanding of nature.

For example, Vitruvius recommended that the length of a temple

should correspond to twice the width and that the proportions of

the open entrance hall (pronaos) and the closed interior space (cella)

should amount to 3:4:5 (the depth of the entrance hall being 3, its

breadth 4, and the depth of the interior hall 5). In this way one

derives musical harmonies such as the octave, 1:2, fourth, 3:4, and

ﬁfth, 3:5, which in the Pythagorean conception are determinative for

the cosmos [8.28]. Along with proportional relations drawn from the

measure of man, however, standards for size that have that basis are

also of interest. We in the 21st century A.D. are especially aware

of that, having experienced how megalomaniac dictators and cynical

ideologies consciously apply the means of the “enormous” to oppress

the individual person by means of a brutal architecture, designed to

be imposing. The signiﬁcance of an architecture based on the mea-

sure of man is apparent today in the monotony and vacuity of many

tenement houses, justiﬁed by technical constraints of practicality and

economy.

The Greeks were not the only ones to have investigated the math-

ematical proportions that became the basis for the Antique–Medieval

concept of symmetry (although they were the ﬁrst to propose an ex-

act geometrical basis). The Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic cultures,

as well, had at their disposal not only highly developed mathemat-

ics, but also a canon of art consisting of geometrical proportions and

symmetries.

In Hindu thought, as in the Pythagorean tradition, number has

cosmic signiﬁcance and is considered to be a means of establishing a

reciprocal relation between the universe and man. A common deno-

tation of the temple “vimana” means that which is “well measured”

or “well proportioned”. The central symmetry of the Hindu temple

[8.29] is striking, with the image of the divinity at the center of the

sanctuary. In Hinduism as well as in the Taoist or Stoic philoso-

phy of nature, ideas of energy waves and ﬁelds of force play a great

role. Thus, the radiation of energy from the center of the sanctu-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Philosophy and Arts 363

ary decreases outwards in rings — in stepped walls and intermediate

courtyards. The degrees of eﬃcacy that are manifested as a result,

determine the hierarchy of variously placed images of the Gods, ris-

ing toward the center. The temporal cycles and repetitions of cosmic

ages also ﬁnd expression in the forms that are part of the temple,

in which, for example, motifs emerge repeatedly in varying sizes at

diﬀerent locations.

In Buddhist architecture there are centrally-symmetrical shrines

like the Borobudur-Stuba on Java, which consists of eight balustrades

ascending like steps, with bas-reliefs and shrines in niches and the

largest Buddha ﬁgure in the center, on the spire of a tower. This

structure symbolizes the diﬀerent stages of enlightenment. The ﬁve

lower terraces are square, the three upper ones are circular, and 3, 5

and 8 are numbers in the Fibonacci sequence. The Golden Section

and other harmonious proportions can be pointed out here just as

with Chinese and Japanese pagodas [8.30].

In Islamic architecture we encounter a culture with highly de-

veloped mathematics (especially algebra and number theory) that

stands on the shoulders of Alexandrian–Hellenistic and Indian tradi-

tions. Islamic ornamentation is so skillful and complex that we can

do justice to it only with respect to the modern algebraic concept of

symmetry. Islam, like Judaism, is a religion of law. This may have

provided a supplementary motivation for not depicting God in (for-

bidden) anthropomorphic statues, but instead in the mathematical

symmetry laws of nature.

In the architecture of the mosques [8.31] a mathematical com-

prehension of symmetry and the particularities of Islamic religion

underwent a symbiosis. Some typical ground plans of the space of

an Islamic mosque are represented in Fig. 104a–d. The ground plan

of the Arab buttressed hall (Fig. 104a) and the pillared mosque of

Asia Minor (Fig. 104b) have square grids without a particular center.

This is a clear expression of the pragmatic character of the mosque.

It is not a shrine in the Hindu or Buddhist sense, and not a house

of God in the Christian sense, in which it is assumed that God (a

personal God) is present. It is a gathering-place (dschami) and a

place of prayer or prostrating oneself (masdchid).

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364 Symmetry and Complexity

(a) (b) (c) (d)

Fig. 104a–d. Symmetric ground plans of Islamic mosques

By contrast, the Persian four-iwan court mosque (Fig. 104c) and

the Osmanic central-dome mosque (Fig. 104d) are centrally symmet-

rical. Cosmological aspects are assimilated into the architecture, the

dome arching over the believers like the spherical dome of the sky.

From the ground plan on, there is complete equivalence of the axes

and compass directions — thus, isotropy. The believers have ac-

cess from all sides. But, as is known, Islam makes provision for one

symmetry breaking, namely honoring the direction toward Mecca.

Islamic architecture has always had to strive for a compromise be-

tween its orientation toward Mecca and its preference for mathe-

matical symmetry. The pre-eminence of regular geometrical bodies

is striking here, especially that of the cube and the (hemi)sphere.

Again, the synthesis of the Hellenistic–Neoplatonic and the Islamic

tradition is clear: the cube is both the form of the Kaaba and a Pla-

tonic body. The Persian mosques, especially, appear on the basis of

their symmetrical forms and splendid mosaics as solidiﬁed crystalline

structures — absolute, immovable, and of unalterable beauty [8.32].

The Christian Middle Ages owe their knowledge of Aristotelian

philosophy to their encounter with the Islamic culture. The combi-

nation of Neoplatonic and Christian ideas comes to light already in

the Romanesque. Gothic can be mentioned here, as an expression

of Christian symmetry, since it manifests a new concept of unity

against the background of Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy. The

Gothic cathedral is, like the Summa of Thomas Aquinas, a coherent

system which comprehends all levels of life and of the cosmic order of

this world and the next [8.33]. It is the architectural representation

of an eternal ontology from the universals in the top of the gothic

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Symmetry and Complexity in Philosophy and Arts 365

tower to the basic stones of application. Here the problem of unity

in variety was central. Thus, the scholastics concerned themselves,

in the framework of this hierarchy of the world, with the founda-

tion of a harmoniously organized society in which, for example, the

conﬂicting interest of church (sacerdotium) and state (imperium) are

reconciled.

The arts were to mirror the proportional relationships of this co-

herent universe. According to the Platonic conception, the elements

of the universe were transmitted through the ﬁve regular bodies,

which were based on the equilateral and isosceles triangles and the

pentagon, as excellent forms of the elementary particles (compare

Sec. 1.1). If the divine architect employed these forms to construct

the universe, then they had to be used for the cathedrals as well, as

symbols of the universe. It is not surprising that in the Neoplatonic

tradition even the stability of buildings, that is, a physical matter,

was based on appropriate geometric forms. Thus, H. Parler, a Ger-

man adviser for the construction of the cathedral of Milan (1392)

recommended giving the ground plan the form of a square since a

structure ad quadratum is in accord with the laws of the cosmos,

which guarantee it an unshakeable cohesion [8.34].

The regular pentagon also yielded the Golden Section and was

occasionally used for the rosettes of the cathedrals (e.g. in the cathe-

dral of Amiens). This proportion frequently appears in churches of

the 12th and 13th century (e.g. Chartres) as an approximate num-

ber ratio, as in 5:8. The number ratio 5:8 is at the same time a

musical harmony, namely the minor sixth. Augustine had already

characterized music and architecture as “sisters of number,” in the

Neoplatonic and Pythagorean tradition. One example of the use of

musical harmonies is the ground plan of a Cistercian church which

was found in the sketchbook of an architect of the 13th century [8.35].

The ﬁfth (2:3) determines the proportion of the width of the transept

to the total length; the octave (1:2), the proportion of the side aisle

to the middle aisle and of the length and breadth of the transept;

the fourth (3:4), the proportions of the choir; while the intersection

of the nave and transepts, as the liturgical midpoint of the church,

is based on the most perfect number ratio of unison (1:1). Rose win-

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366 Symmetry and Complexity

Fig. 105. Central symmetry of a rose window (cathedral of Chartres)

dows are typical attributes of gothic cathedrals. Fig. 105 shows a

drawing of the west rose window by Villar de Honnecourt from his

sketchbook. Its central symmetry with the peripheral wheel symme-

tries expresses the Gothic Medieval idea of unity as no other example

does [8.36].

It was not the Renaissance that ﬁrst dictated that “ars sine sci-

entia nihil est” (art without science is nothing). The great Medieval

architects did not depend on their predecessors’ experimentation

or rules of thumb and empirical formulas alone, but instead tried

to base their designs on mathematics and, indeed, on the philoso-

phy of nature. However, the theological substantiation of symmetry

faded into the background in the Renaissance. As the Antique sci-

entiﬁc authors became increasingly known, the classical texts of the

Antique art canon were studied again. In short, in the Renaissance,

symmetry was based again on the proportions of man and nature.

Thus, L.B. Alberti [8.37] argued in “De re aediﬁcatoria” (1485),

that beauty is a correspondence and cohesion of parts according to a

speciﬁc number, proportionality and order. He asserted that an art

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Symmetry and Complexity in Philosophy and Arts 367

form that is designed in this way (concinnitas) is the absolute and

highest law of nature (absoluta primariaque ratio naturae). Alberti

also pointed to reﬂection symmetry as the natural law in the case of

humans and animals, and concluded that therefore it must be applied

in architecture.

But reﬂection symmetry is not a discovery of the Renaissance.

Villar de Honnecourt had used reﬂection symmetry economically in

his sketches. In one such case he carefully executed only one reﬂection

half of a building in his sketch of it. In reﬂection symmetry, the

second half has the same forms and proportions; only the direction

is reversed. Even Leonardo da Vinci was to use this economy of

drawing reﬂective symmetry in his architectural sketch books.

Many sources show that laws of reﬂection in architecture had to

be oriented to man and nature. Another example is G. Vasari, who

adopted his concept of symmetry (disegno) almost literally from Vit-

ruvius and then wrote: “. . . thus it is that it [the sketch] takes in the

proportion of the whole to its parts as well as the proportion of the

parts to each other and to the whole, not only in human and ani-

mal bodies, but also in plants, buildings, paintings and sculptures.”

[8.38]

The intentions of the Renaissance were crystallized in one person:

Leonardo. He embodies the universality of the Renaissance artist,

integrating the architect with the painter, engineer, inventor, nature

researcher and philosopher. In the Pythagorean tradition symmetry

spans all of these realms: “Proportion is to be found not only in

numbers and dimensions, but also in tones, weights, time intervals,

and positions as well as in every dynamic force that there is.” [8.39]

Moreover, his conception of the philosophy of nature was by no means

original, but remained inside the conﬁnes of Medieval–Aristotelian

and Neoplatonist–Pythagorean deliberations. Leonardo was not a

second Galileo. His accomplishments in architecture, painting and

engineering are works of genius — the ﬁnished works of art as well

as the sketches and visions [8.40].

One aspect of Leonardo’s architecture should be emphasized be-

cause it became signiﬁcant for the development of the concept of

symmetry: Leonardo emphasized central symmetry, and he system-

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368 Symmetry and Complexity

atically worked out the possibilities of central structures such as

churches, castles and other buildings. His octagonal ﬂoor plans are

especially noteworthy. They articulated the possibilities of optimally

ﬁlling a building with octagonal rooms [8.41]. Naturally, the central

symmetry, with its emphasis on the center, humored the new self-

awareness of the princes and their requirements for display. They are

in the center, and they want to be able to radiate in all directions,

and to be seen. Leonardo’s studies of architectonic central symmetry

stand in mathematically close connection to his interest in regular

polygons, regular (Platonic) and semi-regular bodies.

He asserted that all the arts, not only architecture, should have

a scientiﬁc basis and be derived from natural laws. In his “Trattato

della pittura” Leonardo also tried to provide painting with a scientiﬁc

basis so that it would no longer belong to the “artes mechanicae”, but

would be added to the “artes liberales.” [8.42] This gave a particular

importance to the study of the human body and its proportions in

anatomy.

In a famous study of proportions [8.43], which has become an

icon of the modern age (Fig. 106) Leonardo related the human body

to the circle and the square. This brought in Platonic-mythological

allusions: the square as the symbol of the earth, the circle as the

symbol of the sky, and, in the center, man as the conjunction and

proprietor of both. Mathematically, Leonardo emphasized the pro-

portional ratios (especially that of the Golden Section). Then the

inscribed Pythagorean triangle emerges of necessity. With all the

Renaissance artists, harmonious proportions constituted the basis of

art in natural law. It was Leonardo also who illustrated the book

“De divina proportione” (1509) by L. Pacioli: “Every part is so con-

stituted that it can form a unity with the whole and can thereby free

itself from its incompleteness.” [8.44]

The perception of symmetries also presupposes an analysis of the

sense of sight. Here the geometrical concepts of perspective and

projection are basic. Although important groundwork was laid in

the optics and cartography of Antiquity and the Middle Ages, the

technical practice of perspective and projection became central in

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Symmetry and Complexity in Philosophy and Arts 369

Fig. 106. Symmetry of man (Leonardo da Vinci)

Renaissance painting for the ﬁrst time. The philosophical back-

ground of this development is clear: reality is perceived through

the senses. This raises the question of whether the world is repre-

sented by the senses as it is, or whether it is changed in any way

by the sense of sight, as might be inferred from the sensory illusions

that had been much discussed ever since Antiquity. This raised the

question of whether symmetry is changed by the central projection

that takes place when an object is seen. This problem contained the

germ cell of a new discipline in geometry, namely projective geom-

etry, which was to gain great signiﬁcance in modern mathematics.

It is noteworthy, for instance, that central projections do not change

any similarity relationships, yet do change representations of size

[8.45].

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370 Symmetry and Complexity

Leonardo’s interest in these questions [8.46] was shared especially

by A. D¨ urer, who, in his “Underweysung der messung mit dem zirckel

un richtscheyt . . . ” (1525/1538) [Instructions for Measuring with

the Compasses and the Ruler], wanted to give painting a scientiﬁc

basis in geometrical and optical laws. D¨ urer prescribed technical

transposition for the painter in great detail: the bundle of visual

rays is made concrete by means of a ﬁrmly anchored cord, the end of

which is to be conducted to various characteristic points of the object

to be represented. The penetration point of the cord through an

imaginary picture plane is recorded by coordinates and transcribed

onto a sketch sheet. If a suﬃciently large number of picture points

of the object to be represented are available, the scientiﬁc framework

for the artist’s work is laid. Sighting tubes for enlargement of the

depth of vision also came into use [8.47].

To a Renaissance artist it was completely self-understood that

the proportions recorded in this way were not only valid for painting,

optics and symmetry, but could also be transposed into acoustic har-

monies as tone proportions. However, this unitary concept of symme-

try based on a geometric doctrine of proportions in the Pythagorean

tradition was no longer understood by the time of the early modern

era. The Antique and Renaissance doctrine of harmony, which was

held to be evident in geometric proportions, calculable in numeri-

cal proportions, observable in astronomical proportions and audible

in musical proportions, was soon felt to be ridiculous. Increasingly

it became the object of mythical, cabbalistic, astrological and al-

chemistic speculations, as, perhaps, in the fantastic drawings and

allegories of R. Fludd. The painter W. Hogarth, ﬁnally, considered

it “strange” and an object of derision that the same laws should ap-

ply to optical images and acoustical harmonies. For the philosopher

D. Hume, beauty is reduced entirely to the subjective perception

and sensibility of the observer [8.48]. So the unity of Antique sym-

metry appears to be broken. Science, technology and aesthetics have

become independent and have gone their own ways. But, in fact,

at least the natural sciences have not broken with the early history

of the concept of symmetry. On the contrary, modern mathemat-

ics has created a new, expanded concept of symmetry in which the

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Symmetry and Complexity in Philosophy and Arts 371

old symmetry concept of Antiquity is only a special case, and which

has ﬁnally developed into a new ordering and unifying idea for the

natural sciences.

The old Pythagorean conception included music in the quadriv-

ium of the exact sciences as part of their doctrine of harmony along

with geometry, arithmetic and astronomy. For the Pythagoreans mu-

sical harmonies had the character of natural laws, that is, they were

expressions of symmetry laws of nature such as the harmony of the

spheres. In other early cultures, also, we have found that musical

harmony, nature, and life are identiﬁed with each other. In the occi-

dental tradition this unity was broken by the end of the Renaissance

at the latest. Aesthetic interpretations and research in the natural

sciences developed their own unmistakably distinct categories and

laws; in fact Antique standards of art were explicitly criticized by

later periods, and their ontological grounding, as in the Pythagorean

tradition, was called into question.

On the other hand, we have noticed that representational art

and mathematics have areas that overlap. In music one immediately

thinks of the Baroque, of course, and especially of Bach with his

elaborate fugues [8.49]. However, as long as the concept of symme-

try is limited to Antique ideas of proportion, or even — as occurs

frequently in modern theory of the arts — to reﬂection symmetry

— symmetries in music must seem more or less accidental and spo-

radic. In actual fact it was the new revolutionary breakthroughs in

music in the 20th century such as 12-tone music and electronic mu-

sic that made the connections with the encompassing mathematical

concept of symmetry clear. However, it is not a matter of forcing

another “canon of proportions” onto music. On the contrary, it is

apparent that all the fundamental concepts of music theory can be

translated into the group theory language of modern mathematical

symmetry theory and that this makes it possible to analyze exam-

ples of music from the Medieval modes through J.S. Bach, L. van

Beethoven, A. Sch¨ onberg and on to K. Stockhausen. This common

language of mathematical, scientiﬁc and artistic subjects not only

fosters the unity of the “two cultures”, a unity which was thought

to be lost. Group theory permits new methods of studying music

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372 Symmetry and Complexity

such as computer analysis, since the language of group theory is very

easily translatable into computer languages.

Yet this new unity of methods in mathematics, art and natural

science is sustained by fundamentally diﬀerent intentions than those

that obtained for the Pythagorean quadrivium. It is no longer pos-

sible to consider tone scales and harmonies to be the expression of

particular natural laws. In philosophical terms what we are looking

at now is a unity of methods, not an ontologically based unity like

that of the Pythagoreans. Although the modern concept of symme-

try at ﬁrst seems to make less of a claim, it actually opens up new

possibilities and applications. History shows us not only diﬀerent

periods in cultural evolution, but also a variety of diﬀerent cultural

traditions and approaches, with diﬀerent aesthetic standards, that

frequently seem “strange” to each other. The new methods facili-

tate intercultural comparison for working out the structures held in

common and the diﬀerence, analogously to the study of diﬀerent na-

tive languages in linguistics. Music is an international language of

cultural globalization.

Music theory demonstrates that pieces of music can be consid-

ered models of mathematical structures in the formal representation

of a particular symbolic language. Laws of symmetry in musical tone

scales and harmonics have been pointed out ever since the Pythagore-

ans [8.50]. In the modern era J.P. Rameau based melody on laws of

harmony in his “Trait´e de l’harmonie” (1722), and they played a rˆ ole

on into the late Romantic period [8.51]. D’Alembert, the Encyclope-

dist, mathematician and philosopher, tried to make aesthetic taste

an objective matter, in keeping with Rameau. It was Sch¨ onberg who

ﬁrst broke with the classical canon of harmony totally in order to al-

low for greater potentialities of form in the 12-tone technique [8.52].

The symmetries of tone scales and harmonics can be described as

cyclical groupings and thus traced back to rotation symmetries.

Thus, for example, the 12-step semi-tone scale constitutes a group

C

12

with the half tones C, C#, D, D#, E, . . . etc. as rotations 0 ·

π/6, 1 · π/6, 2 · π/6, 3 · π/6, . . . (Fig. 107, (1)) [8.53]. The two

possible whole-tone scales are deﬁned by two cyclical subgroups of

C

12

, namely those that result from rotations by an angle n· 2π/6 (2).

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Symmetry and Complexity in Philosophy and Arts 373

Fig. 107. Group-theoretical symmetries of tone scales

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374 Symmetry and Complexity

Rotations by n · π/4 produce three cyclical subgroups for the three

types of diminished seventh chords (3), whole rotations of n · 2π/3

analogously produce four cyclical subgroups for the four diﬀerent

triads (4).

It is noteworthy that rotations of n · 5π/6 = n · 150

◦

starting

clockwise from C convert the half-tone circle into the circle of fourths,

and counterclockwise into a circle of ﬁfths. In harmonics, triads can

be represented by (non-equilateral) triangles in a half-tone circle.

An interesting thing about this is that major and minor triads form

congruent, but reﬂection-symmetrical, triangles (5). Further studies

of cyclical groups in harmonics can be carried over to other tone

scales and permit intercultural comparisons of diﬀerent conceptions

of harmony.

The possible symmetry characteristics of concrete examples of

composition are especially interesting [8.54]. For the sake of inter-

preting symmetry operations compositionally, let us ﬁrst elucidate

the concept of a musical space by analogy to geometrical ornamenta-

tion and crystallography. Since the 19th century, the dimensions of

n-dimensional spaces are interpreted and applied in musically diﬀer-

ent ways. For that reason it seems useful, as an example, to interpret

the temporal course of a composition (notationally from left to right),

using the division into measures as metrics, as a dimension or a coor-

dinate axis. The pitch (frequency) which is measureable by the staﬀ

lines, provides a second dimension. The volume (dynamics) provides

a third. For more precise analyses one could draw on the timbre

(tone color) as a fourth dimension. What is decisive for the concept

of space is, simply, to agree on an appropriate metric [8.55].

Now individual symmetry operations such as translation, reﬂec-

tion or rotation can be examined in the musical space that is deﬁned

by the dimensions of time, frequency and dynamics. Thus transla-

tions in the dimension of time are interpreted as repetition of tones;

translations in the dimension of frequency are interpreted as the par-

allel direction of voices; translations in dynamics are interpreted as

crescendo or diminuendo. Rotations such as C

2

can be examined on

the axis of dynamics, that is on the notational plane of time and

frequency. Reﬂections in the plane of time and frequency correspond

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Symmetry and Complexity in Philosophy and Arts 375

Fig. 108. Symmetry of reﬂection in Sch¨onberg’s Waltz Number 5

to an increase or decrease in the volume. Reﬂections in the plane

of dynamics and time are possible, that is, on the horizontal plane

of the notation. Reﬂections along the vertical, that is, the plane

of frequency-dynamics, are more familiar. This is the so-called ret-

rogression which appears frequently in the 15th and 16th century

and in classical pieces by Bach (“Musical Sacriﬁce”) and is employed

systematically in the serial music of Sch¨onberg’s 12-tone technique.

Fig. 108 shows the four prototypes of the Sch¨ onberg series from

his Waltz Number 5 (“Five Piano Pieces,” Op. 23), which emerges

from the normal form by reﬂection on the horizontal, the vertical (=

retrogression) and the combination of both reﬂections. Because the

intervals of semitones were written in an inhomogeneous manner, the

symmetries are not shown uniformly [8.56].

The question as to whether the combination of symmetry opera-

tions is applicable to musical “ornaments,” marks a highpoint in this

kind of group theory analysis. Examples of notation in the works

of Bach can be systematically cited for the seven one-sided stripe

ornaments in the notational plane [8.57]. An example of a sequence

of ornament symmetries is measures 27–29 of the ﬁrst movement of

the piano sonata, Op. 53 (the “Waldstein Sonata”) of van Beethoven

(Fig. 109). What comes into consideration here are the stripe or-

naments of the frieze groups Fig. 18 a (5), (2), and (1) in Fig. 109.

This sequence of ornament clearly presents a reduction in complex-

ity of symmetry if one stops to consider that group (1) consists only

of translation, group (2) of translation and reﬂection, yet group (5)

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376 Symmetry and Complexity

Fig. 109. Ornament symmetries in Beethoven’s Waldstein sonata [5.58]

consists of a combination of the symmetry operations of the frieze

groups (1), (2), (3) and (4).

Reductions in the complexity of symmetry can be interpreted psy-

chologically as a relaxation of tension that takes place in the listener

while the piece of music is being played. This gives an indication of

how to objectify even subjective eﬀects of music by analyses of sym-

metry. Symmetry breakings in music, which also have great psycho-

logical charm, can of course be recognized only when the structures

of symmetry from which they deviate are well-known. “The heart

and the brain in music” (Sch¨ onberg) [8.59] are therefore not oppo-

sites but instead diﬀerent aspects of a work of art that correspond

to diﬀerent human abilities.

Obviously, the old Pythagorean idea of the quadrivium can be

directly transformed into modern mathematical considerations. A

piece of music is a model of a mathematical structure in the formal

language of musical notations. Therefore, it can be translated into

formal and programming languages in order to implement it on a

computer. As formal logic is a universal language allowing all kinds

of translations, it can be used as another representation of musical

information. Fig. 110 shows the representation of a sample melody

(“Fr`ere Jacques” or “Brother John” in English) in predicative logic.

At the beginning of the ﬁrst line in Fig. 110, the key signature indicates one

sharp for the key of G. The time signature 4/4 indicates 4 beats per measure with

the quarter note having a duration of one time unit. The vertical bars divide the

melody in 8 measures, with a total of 32 notes. The vertical position of each note

on the staﬀ indicates a tone, designated by a letter from A through G. (The letter

may be qualiﬁed by a sharp or ﬂat sign or by a number that indicates the octave.)

The shape of the note indicates duration: one time unit or beat for a quarter note,

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Symmetry and Complexity in Philosophy and Arts 377

∃x

1

∃x

2

∃x

3

... ∃x

32

:

(tone(x

1

, G) ∧ dur(x

1

, 1) ∧ next(x

1

, x

2

) ∧

tone(x

2

, A) ∧ dur(x

2

, 1) ∧ next(x

2

, x

3

) ∧

tone(x

3

, B) ∧ dur(x

3

, 1) ∧ next(x

3

, x

4

)

∧ ... ∧ tone(x

32

,G) ∧ dur(x

32

,2))

Fig. 110. Representation of musical information in musical notation and formal

logic [8.60]

two units for a half note, or half a unit for an eight note. The horizontal position

of each note indicates that it is sounded after the one on the left and before the

one on the right. These features, which represent the elements of an ontology for

music, can be translated to logic supplemented with three predicates: tone(x, t)

(“note x has tone t”), dur(x, d) (“note x has duration d”), next(x, y) (“the next

note after x is y”). To represent all 32 notes in the melody, the corresponding

formula in predicative logic would require 32 variables, each with an existential

quantiﬁer. For each note, there would be three predicates to indicate its tone,

duration, and successor. The complete formula would start with 32 existential

quantiﬁers and continue with 32 lines of predicates. The last line is shorter than

the others because the last note does not have a successor.

A piece of music has not only a static structure, but it is a time-

depending model of a dynamical system. Thus, it can also be rep-

resented by all kinds of state-transition systems. Finally, it is a

pragmatic question of intention and purpose, which kind of repre-

sentation for musical information should be preferred in diﬀerent

contexts. Structural properties like symmetry are invariant with re-

spect to diﬀerent representations.

A fundamental revolution in art took place during the ﬁrst decade

of the 20th century in the rise of abstract art. Its goal was to work out

a method of representation that would allow the painter to express his

view of the world without having to copy reality in the boundaries of

our visual experience. There is an amazing parallel to the problems of

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378 Symmetry and Complexity

abstract quantum mechanical formalism, which was to be developed

beyond the boundaries of human intuition in classical mechanics.

Whether artists like P. Picasso and G. Braque studied M. Planck,

Einstein or other physicists, is still an open question. Nevertheless,

their abstract art expressed the spirit of their cultural and scientiﬁc

epoch. Actually, their cubism followed C´ezanne’s pronouncement

that objects are made of geometrical forms such as spheres, cones

and cylinders. In addition there is the recourse to archaic art. The

object represented in the picture is broken up into stereometric atoms

and then reassembled in a new way for the purpose of making the

basic and archetypal forms of the world vivid. In 1912 a theory of

cubism was formulated [8.61].

While modern painting has remained limited to pictorial repre-

sentation, in the twenties of the 20th century the Bauhaus set about

giving artistic form to the technical-industrial life-world in a synthe-

sis of the arts of architecture, painting, sculpture and functional art.

Here, as in Antiquity, it was a matter of comprehending the human

being and his life-world as a unity, but now it was from the point

of view of science, technology and industry. Corresponding to the

paradigm shift in science there was thus an artistic upheaval and

structural change striving towards a new measure of things. The

standard is a purpose-oriented functionalism that aims to compre-

hend the human being in his new life-world. The words “new” and

“modern” became the fashion in the twenties, which saw the political

and social collapse of old world orders. The use of the word “new”

ranged from the “Neues Bauen” (new constructions) and “Neues

Wohnen” (new dwelling) by way of the “Neue Sachlichkeit” (new

practicality) to Huxley’s “brave new world,” with its disillusionment

and irony. Interrupted by war, many projects of modernism were

not actualized or further developed until the ﬁfties and sixties. They

started with the cultural globalization of a technical-industrial life-

world. Artists like P. Klee applied the ideas of symmetry and law to

abstract art in order to probe the structure and dynamics of forms

[8.62]. Klee particularily pointed out the parallel with mathematical

natural science. In his study “Exact Experiments in the Realm of

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Symmetry and Complexity in Philosophy and Arts 379

Art,” he wrote:

Art has also been given enough space for exact research, and the gates have

been open to it for some time. What was done for music before, until the end of

the 18th century, is at least beginning in the ﬁeld of sculpture. Mathematics and

physics are providing the opportunity, in the form of rules for persistence and for

alteration.

This compulsion to concern oneself ﬁrst with the functions instead of be-

ginning with the ﬁnished form, is a wholesome one. Algebraic, geometric and

mechanical tasks provide training toward the essential, the functional, in con-

trast to the impressive. One learns to see behind the facades and to grasp a

thing by its roots. One learns to recognize what is ﬂowing underneath it — the

prehistory of the visible — and to dig into the depths and to expose substantiate

and analyze. [8.63]

The essay culminates in the demand “learn logic, learn the or-

ganism.” The organism, art and mathematical natural science are

no longer regarded as antithetical. Instead they are related to each

other.

In Kandinsky’s book “Point and Line to Surface” [8.64] the ele-

ments of form are elucidated in their tensions and harmonious com-

positions by examples from mathematics and natural science. Con-

centric star clusters from astronomy, variational possibilities of phys-

ical curves, line formations of lightning, structures of animal tissues,

swimming movements of microscopic organisms, etc., alternate with

constructions of modern technology. Abstraction is no longer “arti-

ﬁcial” and “strange,” but corresponds to the newly discovered and

created world of forms in nature and technology. In his “theory

of sounds” W. Kandinsky demanded an art of rhythms and math-

ematically abstract constructions beyond traditional conﬁguration

like Sch¨ onberg’s 12-tone music: “Every work emerges technically like

the universe emerged — from catastrophes generating a symphony

from the chaotic roaring of instruments, which is called music of the

spheres. Creation of a work is creation of a world.” [8.65]

Kandinsky and Klee taught in the Bauhaus in the twenties. Klee

was also a practising musician (violinist) who tried to transform mu-

sical structures into compositions of pictures. The main challenge

of the structural analogy between music and painting is the repre-

sentation of time. In his “Artistic Doctrine of Forms”, Klee devel-

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380 Symmetry and Complexity

oped a kind of graphic state-transition system to represent the phase

transitions of rhythms according to fugues of Bach [8.66]. Actually,

it should be his “UML” (Universal Modeling Language) providing

graphic structures of musical rhythms which he realized in several

paintings. In this sense, his paintings can be considered visual mod-

els of invariant structures of dynamics [8.67]. With respect to Bach’s

polyphony of fugues, Klee called his approach “polyphonic paint-

ing,” representing the parallel development of simultaneous voices

with tools of painting. From a mathematical point of view, the par-

allel voices of a fugue illustrate simultaneity, multi-threading and

nonlinear interaction.

A beautiful example is Klee’s painting “Pastorale (Rhythms)”

from 1927 (Fig. 111). The painting has a microstructure with sub-

tle conﬁgurations of lines and a macroscopic structure with col-

ored squares which seem to emerge from the microscopic network

of meshed lines. The parallel lines with their rich vocabulary of mi-

croscopic formal segments remind us of the interacting tones in a

polyphonic fugue. The colored squares are the emerging sounds of

parallel voices. They are colored, because it is the whole sound which

eﬀects our emotions. The microscopic conﬁgurations are generated

by a variety of symmetries like translation, reﬂection or rotation in

the sense of ornamentics. Similar microscopic segments of lines dis-

Fig. 111. Klee: Pastorale (Rhythms) 1927/20 (K 10) [The Museum of Modern

Art, New York. Abby Alderich Rockefeller Fund and Exchange. Inv. No. 157-45]

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Symmetry and Complexity in Philosophy and Arts 381

play macroscopic clusters and patterns. They seem to emerge one

after another from left to right in phase transitions of time-depending

dynamics. The colours of the squares are harmonized with the warm

brown of earth generating the mood of “Pastorale.”

According to the Bauhaus, painting is only one representation of

art. The whole environment is to be shaped architectonically, cor-

responding to the technical-industrial conditions of life. As Gropius

wrote “the challenge is to master organizationally the gigantic tasks

of our time — the whole traﬃc, all human work, material and intel-

lectual” [8.68]. Form, function and economic requirements had to be

reduced to a common denominator as a task of optimization.

One of the central representatives of modernism was, without

question, Le Corbusier, who not only achieved magniﬁcent ediﬁces,

but also came onto the scene as a theorist. In his guiding principles,

“Toward an Architecture” (1920), he says this about the engineer’s

aesthetics and architecture [8.69]:

The engineer’s aesthetics, architecture: at the deepest level the same, one

deriving from the other, the one full-blown, the other secretly developing. The

engineer, guided by the law of economy and led by calculations, transposes us

into accord with the laws of the universe. He attains harmony.

By means of his handling of forms, the architect brings into reality an order

that is the pure creation of his spirit: by means of the forms he stirs our senses

and awakens our feeling for form. The interconnections that he produces give rise

to a deep echo in us: he shows us the standard for an order that we feel to be in

accord with the world order. He brings about manifold motions of our mind and

our heart: thus beauty becomes experience for us. [8.69]

The outlook on architectural and social problems is striking. Sym-

metry in construction is required to correspond to the “balance of

the social order.” In this context Le Corbusier developed the concept

of “mass-produced houses” for which “spiritual preconditions must

be created”. A passage follows which elevates Le Corbusier outright

to the Platonist of modern architecture:

Geometry is the means we ourselves have created for ourselves so that we can

overcome our surroundings and express ourselves.

Geometry is the foundation.

It is at the same time the material bearer of the symbols that signify perfection

and the divine. It bestows on us the sublime satisfactions of mathematics. The

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382 Symmetry and Complexity

machine proceeds from geometry; its dreams set out to ﬁnd the joys of geometry.

The modern arts and modern thinking, after a century of analysis, seek their

salvation beyond accidental facts, and geometry conducts them to a mathematical

order, to a more and more generalized posture . . .

Such passion ensouls deeds, brings forth actions, drenches them in its color,

gives them direction.

The name of this passion today is: exactitude. An exactitude carried to great

length and elevated to the ideal: the striving for perfection . . . [8.70]

However, the Platonic emphasis on geometry and harmony in the

architecture of modernism is by no means associated with elitist-

aristocratic tendencies. In a paper by F. Schumacher about “Social

City Planning”, (1919), he wrote:

A contemporary metropolis can become harmonious only when its structures,

at deﬁning points, conform to certain rhythms that run through the whole. Their

sizes and their arrangement must be regulated to express a sense of unity. Inside

this elastically planned framework the particular and individual can unfold all

the more freely then, undisturbed by any contingencies. [8.71]

Social and artistic harmony is seen in a unity in which social and

cultural politics and economics are to be coordinated with each other:

One can see that bringing about social and artistic harmony requires many

kinds of laws and therefore all these questions lead directly into politics. Not that

it would be possible to actualize a social or artistic idea just with laws — the

creative act is required; laws clear a path for it.

Meanwhile the combined functionalism of modernism has gotten

on into years and is worse for wear. These “breakings of symmetry”

are most noticeable in architecture. Functionalism became debased,

in part, into an “international style” of desolate and unimaginative

structures that concreted shut the metropolises of a global world,

veered into the opposite of its original intentions and single handedly

reduced the cities to uninhabitable exhaust- and noise-plagued knots

of traﬃc, municipal administration, banks and business. The idea of

the city as an antiform to nature, as modernism presented it again

and again, had taken on a life of its own and had turned against

human nature [8.72].

In architecture the critique of modernism has used the catch-

word postmodern for years, and has expanded into a general cul-

tural criticism using catchwords like “post-industrial society,” “post-

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Symmetry and Complexity in Philosophy and Arts 383

structuralism,” “postmodern scientiﬁc theory,” etc. [8.73]. A thread

running through this sometimes brilliant discussion is that it does

not complain of the “loss of the center” and “modernism’s symme-

try breaking” as a cultural decline, but, rather, as an achievement

that oﬀers new opportunities.

Now, the ironic treatment of “unity” and “Logos” in modernism

from the beginning of this century is not new: in Dadaism, mod-

ernism was, to a degree, keeping its own court fool, one that had

substituted the principle of “accident” for the “Logos” and that in

artists’ happenings constantly reminded the protagonists of mod-

ernism of the consequences of a “falling away from the center” —

just like once the court fools in the Medieval world of divine order.

By contrast, postmodern cultural criticism doubts the possibility

of a “unity” and a “center” in principle and criticizes them as exces-

sive demands on human reason. Reason is taking dangerous paths

in centralization, rationalization and bureaucratization and can shift

into totalitarianism, as proven by the most recent historical exam-

ples. Adorno’s critique of positivism and rationalism should be un-

derstood against the background of such a “dialectics of Enlighten-

ment.” Nevertheless, Adorno emphasizes that critique does not cause

“categories such as unity and self-harmony” to disappear without a

trace. Rather, “the principle of harmony remains in play, trans-

formed beyond recognition”. Besides, according to T.W. Adorno,

“the logicity of art” consists of “the balance of the coordinated, of

that homeostasis in the concept of which aesthetic harmony is sub-

limated as the ultimate.” Again asymmetry is comprehensible only

against the background of a hidden symmetry [8.72].

Here it is important for modernism to emphasize again that its

“center” and “symmetry” are not to be confused with external sim-

ple symmetry characteristics such as reﬂection symmetry or axial

symmetry. In modern natural science as well, the external geomet-

rical symmetry characteristics of individual bodies emphasized since

Antiquity, play a rather subordinate role. What is decisive are the

uniform, comprehensive (but abstract) symmetry characteristics that

are expressed in the mathematical structures of scientiﬁc theories.

Analogously, the concept of symmetry that is intended in the archi-

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384 Symmetry and Complexity

tecture of modernism should be seen as a characteristic of a uniform

structuralism and functionalism.

In this sense the architecture of postmodernism comes to “break-

ings of symmetry.” Uniform functionalism is broken up. Ornament

and decoration are permitted again, and we ﬁnd in one and the same

postmodern building diverse historical styles quoted in partly ironic

alienation — from the small oriel with its Medieval eﬀect, to the

Baroque stucco work above the window to the Ionic pillar by the en-

trance. For many a contemporary it is here that the paucity of ideas

of an epigonal era becomes visible, characterized by eclecticism and

historicism. Others refer to the ironic breaking of history that allows

for playfully ﬁshing in old boxes of building blocks for the styles of

former eras. Throughout postmodernism, reﬂection symmetry and

the Golden Section appear as historical quotations of external sym-

metry which nevertheless are included as set pieces and do not de-

termine the uniform structure of the building — neither in the sense

of Antiquity nor of modernism.

Where successful postmodern architecture appears, it is charac-

terized by a loosening up of the strict purism, openness and “pointil-

lism” of the styles that seem to come together by chance, but at a

second glance, at the latest, prove to be a successful and original en-

semble of styles. The emphasis on the “selective,” the “casual” and

the “individual” versus “unity” and “generality” mirrors a postmod-

ern outlook on life that — on the basis of relevant experiences —

reacts rather skeptically and at best ironically to the claims of being

the only true technical reason and the belief that modern rationalism

will result in universal feasibility and solution to problems.

With a new ecological awareness of the environment, old ideas of

natural philosophy come into play again: the living space that a city

oﬀers is really liveable only when it is in ecological balance with na-

ture as its environment. The requirements of a natural environment

extend from nearby recreational areas to oxygen providers (“green

lungs”). On closer examination, however, that does not constitute

a rift with modernism, whose functionalism was directly intended to

produce a livable environment. But an industrial monstrosity in the

landscape does not exactly fulﬁll these functional requirements.

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Symmetry and Complexity in Philosophy and Arts 385

Ecological, social, economic, political, cultural and religious prob-

lems are common challenges for mankind. In the age of globalization,

mankind is growing together, but, on the other hand, the complex

dynamics of development generate diversity and heterogeneity with

great tensions and conﬂicts. In short: globalization also means sym-

metry breaking. Nevertheless, people, regions, nations, and conti-

nents depend on one another in complex networks. Thus, we need

intercultural understanding and tolerance, because no one can dom-

inate the other without endangering the balance (“symmetry”) of

the whole network. Peace and tolerance are enforced by the com-

mon interests of mankind in order to realize welfare and a sustain-

able future. Peace, tolerance and welfare are common universals of

mankind. Cultural diversity is a source of human creativity which

is expressed in art, music and science. In this sense, globalization

demands unity in diversity.

The age of globalization is also the age of computers, because the

just-in-time society of a global world is only possible by computa-

tional networks. In the age of computers, the old slogan of Renais-

sance “ars sine scientia nihil est” (art without science is nothing) gets

new relevance. How is art with computers possible? The commercial

design of products, advertising and publicity are mainly generated

by computational tools. Computer-assisted movies generate a vir-

tual world of artiﬁcal life and culture. Obviously, computer programs

open new views on actual and possible worlds. Attractors of complex

systems can only be visualized by computational means. The beauty

of fractals results from endless iterations of self-similar computational

forms and colors. Fig. 112 shows iterated fractal structures in Julia

sets of the Mandelbrot set (Fig. 30). Computers discover symme-

try of invariant structures hidden behind the appearance of chaotic

attractors. Symmetry is still related to complexity.

We may be fascinated by the insights into a perfect Platonic world

of inﬁnity, symmetry and complexity. But do computers generate

art [8.76]? As far as we know symmetry and complexity of fractals

are also generated by nature. People like the symmetry of leaves

and ﬂowers. In time-series analysis of complex dynamical systems

(e.g. EEG-data of brain, data ﬂow of the Internet (Fig. 86)), we de-

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386 Symmetry and Complexity

ÿ

Fig. 112. The beauty of computational symmetry [8.75]

tect self-similarity of patterns on diﬀerent scales. Because of stochas-

tic ﬂuctuations and natural or technical boundaries, they are not as

perfect and inﬁnite as the Mandelbrot set. Nevertheless, people are

fascinated by the regularities in a world of diversity. Regularities in

patterns are models of mathematical structures which people may

like or dislike. Thus, beauty depends on our sensation and cognition

of forms, patterns and structures. There may be local (“subjective”)

diﬀerences of our estimation, but there are also global invariants of

beauty.

Man, nature and computers generate structures which we feel to

be beautiful. But art needs creativity. Are nature and computers

creative? A necessary condition of creativity is the emergence of

new structures, patterns and ideas. At the end of this book we all

know: emergence is no mystery, but a result of phase transitions in

complex systems like the universe and the brain. Even if an artist’s

idea seems to be a random ﬂash of inspiration, it needs the back-

ground knowledge and know-how of an artist to create an artistic

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Symmetry and Complexity in Philosophy and Arts 387

work. Thus, in the case of brains, creativity also means intentional-

ity. Contrary to cosmic and biological evolution, human minds try to

realize goals and intentions which we may like or dislike. In this sense,

cosmic expansion and biological evolution are emergent, but not

creative.

Creativity is an ability of complex cognitive systems like human

beings. According to the principle of computational equivalence,

artiﬁcial systems with cognition, emotion and intentions are not im-

possible (compare Sec. 7.2). Therefore, in a technical co-evolution,

artiﬁcial minds could emerge, creating their own artistic work. But

because of their nonlinear dynamics, they would have their own in-

timacy of feelings and artistic estimation which might be completely

strange to us or not. The same may be true for aliens which may

develop on foreign planets elsewhere in the universe. Like humans,

they are children of the same universe. As they all, natural and

Fig. 113. Symmetry and symmetry breaking in complex cognitive systems

[Montage based on a ﬁgure (left) from Descartes’ “Treatise of Man”: The mir-

rored portrait (right) shows a brain map of the EEG during perception of virtual

shapes. Both portraits together make up the vase-face ambiguity (Fig. 91)] [8.77]

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388 Symmetry and Complexity

artiﬁcial minds, evolve according to the laws of cosmic and biological

evolution, they also could be fascinated by the invariant structures

of symmetry and complexity.

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References

Chapter 1

1.1 Reichard, G.: Navaho Religion. A Study of Symbolism. 2 vols.

Pantheon Books: New York (1950).

1.2 Nowotny, K.A.: Beitr¨ age zur Geschichte des Weltbildes. Farben

und Weltrichtungen. Berger: Horn/Vienna (1970), p. 195.

1.3 Witherspoon, G.: Language and Art in the Navajo Universe.

University of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor (1977), p. 154.

1.4 Brown, W.N.: A Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue of

Miniature Paintings of the Jaina Kalpasutra. Freer Gallery of

Art: Washington (1934).

1.5 Gopinatha Rao, T.A.: Elements of Hindu Iconography. Vol. 1.

The Law Printing House: Madras (1914), Inanarnavatantra X

39. Cf. also Nowotny [1.2], p. 100.

1.6 I Ching — The Book of Changes. Ed. by R. Wilhelm.

Diederichs: Jena (1924), repr. D¨ usseldorf/Cologne (1973).

1.7 The 13 Books of Euclid’s Elements. Transl. from the Text of

Heiberg with Introduction and Commentary by T.L. Heath. 3

vols. Dover Publications: New York (1956).

1.8 Mainzer, K.: Geschichte der Geometrie. B.I. Wissenschaftsver-

lag: Mannheim/Vienna/Z¨ urich (1980).

1.9 Kepler, J.: Collected Works. Vol. 6: Harmonice Mundi. Transl.

and introduced by M. Caspar. C.H. Beck: Munich/Berlin

(1939).

1.10 On the Pythagoreans’ doctrine of harmony, cf. van der Waer-

389

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390 Symmetry and Complexity

den, B.L.: Die Harmonielehre der Pythagoreer. In: Hermes 78

(1943), pp. 163–199.

1.11 Cf. Mainzer [1.8] and Mainzer, K.: Real Numbers. In: Ebbing-

haus, H.-D. Hermes, H. Hirzebruch, F. Koecher, M. Mainzer,

K. Neukirch, J. Prestel, A. Remmert, R.: Numbers. Springer:

Berlin/Heidelberg/New York (1990), pp. 28–30.

1.12 Leonardo of Pisa: Scritti de Leonardo Pisano. Vol. 1:

Il liber abbaci (liber abaci 1202/1228). Ed. B. Boncom-

pagni. Tipograﬁa delle Scienze Matematiche e Fisiche: Rome

(1857), chapt. XII; also cf. Archibald, R.C.: Golden Sec-

tion. In: American Mathematical Monthly 25 (1918), pp. 232–

238; Coxeter, H.S.M.: Unverg¨angliche Geometrie. Birkh¨auser:

Basel/Stuttgart (1963), p. 206.

1.13 Aristotle: Nikomachische Ethik. Translated by F. Dirlmeier,

notes by E.A. Schmidt. Reclam: Stuttgart (1969), 1131 b

9–32.

1.14 Sachs, A.: Babylonian observational astronomy. In: Philosoph-

ical Transactions of the Royal Society of London A 276 (1974),

pp. 43–50; cf. also van der Waerden, B.L.: Geometry and Alge-

bra in Ancient Civilizations. Springer: Berlin/Heidelberg/New

York (1983); Neugebauer, O.: The Exact Sciences in Antiquity.

Brown University Press: Providence (2nd ed. 1957).

1.15 Cf. also Needham, J.: Astronomy in Ancient and Medieval

China. In: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of

London A 276 (1974), pp. 67–82.

1.16 J. Mittelstraß: Die Rettung der Ph¨ anomene. Ursprung und

Geschichte eines antiken Forschungsprinzips. De Gruyter:

Berlin (1962); Mainzer, K.: Grundlagenprobleme in der

Geschichte der exakten Wissenschaften. Universit¨ atsverlag:

Constance (1981), p. 8.

1.17 Cf. also Hanson, N.R.: Constellations and Conjectures. Reidel:

Dordrecht/Boston (1973), p. 101.

1.18 Bruins, E.M.: La chimie du Tim´ee. In: Revue de M´etaphysique

et de Morale LVI (1951), pp. 269–282.

1.19 Diels, H.: Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker. 6th ed., revised

by W. Kranz. 3 vols. Weidmannsche Verlagsbuchhandlung:

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References 391

Berlin (1960/1961) (abbrev.: Diels-Kranz), 12 A 10 (Pseudo-

Plutarch).

1.20 Diels-Kranz [1.19], 13 A 5, B 1.

1.21 Diels-Kranz [1.19], 22 B 64, B 30.

1.22 Heisenberg, W.: Physik und Philosophie. Ullstein: Frankfurt

(1970), p. 44.

1.23 Diels-Kranz [1.19], 22 B 8.

1.24 Diels-Kranz [1.19], 31 B 8.

1.25 Here one should recall the writings of Aristotle in natural sci-

ence, the Physics, consisting of 8 books, De caelo (4 books), Me-

teorologica (4 books), De generatione et corruptione (2 books),

a series of biological and physiological writings, above all, His-

toria animalium, a natural history of animals (to be sure, not

exclusively written by Aristotle), De partibus animalium, De

motu animalium, as well as De respiratione.

1.26 Aristotle, Physics I.1, 184 a.

1.27 Aristotle, Physics III, 202 a 10–15.

1.28 Aristotle, Physics II, 3.

1.29 Aristotle, Physics VII.

1.30 Feng Yu-Lan: A History of Chinese Philosophy. Vol. 2: The Pe-

riod of Classical Learning. Princeton University Press: Prince-

ton (1953), p. 120.

Chapter 2

2.1 Leibniz, G.W.: Zur Analysis der Lage. In: Hauptschriften zur

Grundlegung der Philosophie. Vol. 1. Ed. by E. Cassirer,

transl. by A. Buchenau. Felix Meiner: Leipzig (1904), p. 73.

2.2 Van der Waerden, B.L.: Algebra. Vol. 1. Springer:

Berlin/Heidelberg/New York (1966), §9.

2.3 Veblen, O./Young, J.W.: Projective Geometry. Vol. 1. Ginn:

Boston (1918), pp. 61 ﬀ.

2.4 Weyl, H.: Symmetry. Princeton University Press: Princeton

(1952).

2.5 Cf. also Speiser, A.: Die Theorie der Gruppen von endlicher

Ordnung. Birkh¨ auser: Basel/Stuttgart (4th ed. 1956), §4.

2.6 Shubnikov, A.V. Koptsik, V.A.: Symmetry in Science and

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392 Symmetry and Complexity

Art. Plenum Press: New York/London (1974), pp. 79 ﬀ.;

cf. also Wolf, K.L. Wolﬀ, R.: Symmetrie. Vol. 2. B¨ ohlau:

M¨ unster/Cologne (1956), pp. 132 f.

2.7 Shubnikov [2.6], p. 157; Wolf [2.6], pp. 142.

2.8 Cf. also Coxeter [1.12]; Weyl [2.4].

2.9 Mainzer [1.8], p. 55.

2.10 Speiser [2.5], §33.

2.11 Burckhardt, J.J.: Die Symmetrie der Kristalle. Birkh¨ auser:

Basel/Boston/Berlin (1988).

2.12 Klein, F.: Das Erlanger Programm. In: Gesammelte Math-

ematische Abhandlungen. Vol. 1. Springer: Berlin (1921),

p. 463.

2.13 Lie, S.: Abhandlungen. Vol. 5. Teubner: Leipzig/Kristiana

(1924), p. 586.

2.14 Gauss, C.F.: Disquisitiones generales circa superﬁcies curvas.

In: Werke. Vol. 4. Teubner: Leipzig (1880), pp. 217 ﬀ.;

Mainzer [1.8], pp.157 ﬀ.

2.15 Riemann, B.:

¨

Uber die Hypothesen, welche der Geometrie zu-

grunde liegen. Springer: Berlin (1919). See also: Gesammelte

mathemematische Werke. N. XIII Habilitations-Vortrag (2nd

ed. 1893); reprinted (with notes by H. Weyl) in the collection

Weyl, H. et al.: Das Kontinuum und andere Monographien.

Chelsea: New York (1973).

2.16 Eisenhart, L.P.: Riemannian Geometry. Princeton University

Press: Princeton (1926).

2.17 Lie, S. Engel, F.: Theorie der Transformationsgruppen. 3 vols.

Teubner: Leipzig (1888–1893).

2.18 Freudenthal, H.: Lie groups in the foundations of geometry. In:

Advances in Mathematics 1 (1965), pp. 145–190.

2.19 Cartan, E.: Les espaces riemanniens sym´etriques. In: Verh.

Intern. Mathem.-Kongr. I. Z¨ urich (1932), pp. 152–161; see

also Helgason, S.: Diﬀerential Geometry and Symmetric Spaces.

Academic Press: New York (1962).

2.20 Elliott, J.P. Dawber, P.G.: Symmetry in Physics. Vol. 1:

Principles and Simple Applications. Macmillan: London/

Basingstoke (1979), chapt. 4.

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References 393

2.21 Kaplan, D. Glass, L.: Understanding Dynamics. Springer:

Berlin/Heidelberg/New York (1995), p. 210; Haken, H.: Syn-

ergetics. An Introduction. Springer: Berlin/Heidelberg/New

York (3rd ed. 1983), pp. 106 ﬀ.

2.22 Cf. also Haken [2.21], pp. 108 ﬀ.

2.23 Cf. also Haken [2.21], pp. 110 ﬀ.

2.24 Arnold, V.I.: Ordinary Diﬀerential Equations. M.I.T. Press:

Cambridge Mass. (1978); Hirsch, M.W. Smale, S.: Diﬀerential

Equations, Dynamical Systems, and Linear Algebra. Academic

Press: New York (1974).

2.25 Nicolis, G. Prigogine, I.: Die Erforschung des Komplexen.

Piper: M¨ unchen (1987), Fig. 3.18–3.19.

2.26 Nicolis [2.25], Fig. 3.26–3.27.

2.27 Abraham, R.H. Shaw, C.D.: Dynamics — The Geometry of

Behavior. Part 4: Bifurcation Behavior. Aerial Press: Santa

Cruz (1984), p. 179.

2.28 Thom, R.: Structural Stability and Morphogenesis. Benjamin/

Cummings: Reading Mass. (1975).

2.29 Abraham [2.27], p. 46.

2.30 Cf. [2.28].

2.31 Cf. also Mandelbrot, B.B.: The Fractal Geometry of Nature.

Freeman: San Francisco (1982).

2.32 Fatou, P.: Sur les ´equations fonctionelles. In: Bull. Soc. Math.

Fr. 47 (1919/1920), pp. 161–271, 48, pp. 208–314; Julia,

G.: Sur l’iteration des fonctions rationelles. In: Journal des

Math´ematique Pure et Appliqu´ee 8 (1918), pp. 47–245.

2.33 Peitgen, H.-O. Richter, P.H.: The Beauty of Fractals. Im-

ages of Complex Dynamical Systems. Springer: Berlin/

Heidelberg/New York (1986), p. 10.

2.34 Douady, A. Hubbard, J.H. Iteration des polynomes quadra-

tiques complexes. In: CRASH Paris 294 (1982), pp. 123–126.

Chapter 3

3.1 Cf. also Mainzer, K.: Thinking in Complexity. The Compu-

tational Dynamics of Matter, Mind, and Mankind. Springer:

Berlin/Heidelberg/New York (4th ed. 2004), chapt. 2.6; Abar-

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394 Symmetry and Complexity

banel, H.D.I.: Analysis of Observed Data. Springer: New York

(1996); Kanz, H. Schreiber, T.: Nonlinear Time Series Analysis.

Cambridge University Press: Cambridge (1997).

3.2 For proofs, see also Hamermesh, M.: Group Theory and its

Application to Physical Problems. Addison-Wesley: Reading

Mass. (1962).

3.3 Schmutzer, E.: Symmetrien und Erhaltungss¨ atze der Physik.

Akademie-Verlag: Berlin/Oxford/Braunschweig (1972), p. 56

ﬀ.

3.4 Noether, E.: Invariante Variationsprobleme. I. Nachrichten der

Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu G¨ottingen. Mathematisch-

Physikalische Klasse (1918), pp. 235–257.

3.5 Minkowski, H.: Raum und Zeit (Lecture 1908). In: Lorentz,

H.A. Einstein, A. Minkowski, H.: Das Relativit¨ atsprinzip.

Eine Sammlung von Abhandlungen. Teubner: Leipzig/Berlin

(1913), repr. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft: Darmstadt

(8th ed. 1982), pp. 54–66; cf. also Pension, L.: H. Minkowski

and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. In: Archiv for History of

Exact Sciences 17 (1977), pp. 71–95; Einstein, A.: The Mean-

ing of Relativity. Princeton University Press: Princeton (1988).

3.6 Cf. also Jackson, J.D.: Classical Electrodynamics. John Wiley:

New York (1975), pp. 515 ﬀ.

3.7 Weyl, H.: Raum, Zeit, Materie. Vorlesungen ¨ uber allge-

meine Relativit¨ atstheorie. Springer: Berlin (1923), repr. Wis-

senschaftliche Buchgesellschaft: Darmstadt (1961); Philoso-

phy of Mathematics and Natural Science. Princeton Univer-

sity Press: Princeton (1949); see also Ehlers, J.: The Nature

and Structure of Spacetime. In: Mehra, J. (ed.): The Physi-

cist’s Conception of Nature. Reidel: Dordrecht/Boston (1973),

pp. 94 ﬀ.; Mainzer [1.8], chapt. 5.35.

3.8 Cf. also Wigner, E.P.: Symmetry and Conservation Laws.

In: Symmetries and Reﬂections. Scientiﬁc Esays of Eugene

P. Wigner, Indiana University Press: Bloomington/London

(1967), pp. 22 ﬀ.; Fock, V.: The Theory of Space, Time and

Gravitation. Pergamon Press: New York (1959).

3.9 Weinberg, S.: Gravitation and Cosmology. Principles and Ap-

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References 395

plications of the General Theory of Relativity. John Wiley:

New York (1972), pp. 25 ﬀ.; Hawking, S.W. Ellis G.F.R.: The

Large Scale Structure of Space-Time. Cambridge University

Press: New York (1973); Hawking, S.W.: A Brief History of

Time. Bantam Books: New York (1988); Hawking, S.W. Pen-

rose, R.: The Nature of Space and Time. Princeton University

Press: Princeton (1996).

3.10 Mie, G. Grundlagen einer Theorie der Materie (I). In: Annalen

der Physik 37 (1912), pp. 511–534; (II). 39 (1912), pp. 1–40;

(III). 40 (1913), pp. 1–66.

3.11 Hilbert, D.: Die Grundlagen der Physik. In: Nachrichten

der K¨ oniglichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu G¨ottingen

(1915), pp. 395–407; (1917), p. 201; Mathematische Annalen

92 (1924), p. 1; cf. also Mehra, J.: Einstein, Hilbert, and the

Theory of Gravitation. In: Mehra [3.7], pp. 137 ﬀ.

3.12 See also Hund, F.: Geschichte der Quantentheorie. B.I. Wis-

senschaftsverlag: Mannheim/Vienna/Z¨ urich (2nd ed. 1975).

3.13 Historically, the group theory concept of symmetry in quan-

tum mechanics was ﬁrst applied in the texbooks of Weyl,

H.: Gruppentheorie und Quantenmechanik. Hirzel: Leipzig

(1931); Wigner, E.P.: Gruppentheorie und ihre Anwendung

auf die Quantenmechanik der Atomspektren. Vieweg: Braun-

schweig (1931); van der Waerden, B.L.: Die gruppentheoretis-

che Methode in der Quantenmechanik. Springer: Berlin (1932).

For modern textbook representations see also Boardman, A.D.

O’Connor, D.E. Young, P.A.: Symmetry and its Application

in Science. MacGraw-Hill: London/New York (1973), chapt.

9; Elliott, J.P. Dawber, P.G.: Symmetry in Physics. Vol. 5.

Macmillan: London (1979), chapt. 5; Greiner, W. M¨ uller, B.:

Theoretische Physik. Vol. 5: Quantenmechanik II: Symme-

trien. Harri Deutsch: Thun/Frankfurt (1985).
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