Summer 2015: Symmetry

LETTERS FROM THE EDITORS

A NOTE ON OUR SUMMER THEME: SYMMETRY

BY AMIR BITRAN

NOTHING HERALDS LATE SUMMER in New England quite like the blooming of the sunflowers. I love sunflowers for many reasons, but I think one of their most striking features is their symmetry. The yellow petals radiate evenly in all directions, and the globular center often features symmetrical patterns. Symmetry prevails not only in flowers, but in all living things, ranging from sea stars to humans. Even beyond the living, we can find symmetry in works of art, pieces of music, and distant galaxies. Symmetry unites distinct concepts and ideas from a wide range of fields. This is precisely what we aim to do at Brevia.

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While symmetry is universal, some of the most bewildering phenomena discussed in these pages occur when this symmetry is broken. Our bodies, for instance, appear externally symmetrical, but are far from it on the inside. Time, one of the most ubiquitous notions in our lives, turns out to be asymmetrical, flowing only in one direction. Otherwise, the omelet on your breakfast plate would spontaneously revert back into raw eggs before you managed to take a bite.  Finally, a perfectly symmetrical universe would be completely devoid of matter, as the matter created during the Big Bang would have been instantly annihilated by anti-matter. I hope that this Summer 2015 issue of Brevia, Symmetry, helps you see beauty not only in what is symmetrical (such as those fleeting late-summer flowers), but also in what is not.

Amir Bitran is the Co-Editor-in-Chief of Brevia. He can be reached at amirbitran@college.harvard.edu.

“THE OCEAN OF TRUTH”: LEARNING AS RELAXATION

BY JESSI GLUECK

OCEAN OF TRUTH

WHEN WE THINK OF the perfect summer vacation, we might imagine lots of time spent outside, perhaps on some beautiful beach. But some of the most wonderful moments of my summer took place in various indoor nooks at the University of Cambridge. I remember picking up a fascinating book in the sun-streaked weekend quiet of King’s College library. I remember chatting with friends in dining halls and outside dorm rooms as we lingered by our doors, pretending for hours that we’d only talk five more minutes.

And yet those conversations, those encounters with great books, seemed every bit as liberating as a day at the beach. I felt my mind relax the way you’d stretch out tired limbs on the sand. I immersed myself in great ideas that washed over me like gentle waves. And every so often, I’d tuck away some concept, some phrase, some brilliant observation, to look at later like a brightly colored shell.

Isaac Newton is said to have compared his endeavors to a romp at the seashore: “I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” The quotation is impressive because of its extraordinary humility. Yet Newton’s words also capture the playfulness, the childlike fascination, that so often lie at the heart of intellectual inquiry. Learning can feel like a painful, baffling slog. But at certain charmed moments, it can also be fun.

I hope that the learning you experience as you read these pages will give you that joyous, day-at-the-seaside feeling. The shore of the ocean of truth, after all, is a beach we can visit in all seasons.

Jessi Glueck is the managing editor of Brevia. She can be reached at jessicaglueck@college.harvard.edu.

EXPLORE SUMMER 2015: SYMMETRY

“Toward a Regulation Revolution” by Sandro Luna.
“Out of the Microscope and Into the Spotlight: Reconsidering the Role of the Microbiome and Antibiotics as a Risk Factor for Chronic Disease” by Gabriela Ruiz-Colón.
“The Internal Asymmetry of the Human Body” by Eleni Apostolatos.
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“Thinking Towards the Future of CRISPR/Cas9” by Alan Yang.
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“Matter Outdoes AntiMatter” by Atrin Toussi.
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“Can We Redirect the Arrow of Time?” by Atrin Toussi.
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“A New Spark: Electricity and Girl Guides in Interwar Britain” by Alona Bach.