On four-dimensional symmetry



Coreidae linneas

“Four-dimensionality suggests new forms of symmetry and asymmetry. Objects or events that seem perfectly compact and well-proportioned in space can be rendered four-dimensionally flat or narrow or oblong by their unusual extensions in time.  The difference, for example, between a cloud and a pebble, or between a fat Sunday newspaper and a Shakespeare sonnet, is the difference between phenomena which are large spatially but small temporally and phenomena which are small spatially but large temporally.  Speaking more generally, we could say that small things are noticed only when they last, brief things only when they are massive or voluminous.  These gross distinctions in four-dimensional proportion suggest that a mean may exist: a class of phenomena that are symmetrical in space-time.  What sort of things would these be?  One thinks of the face and the planetary system of jupiter, a rainbow, a stand of mature redwoods, the Parthenon.  This exclusive order of objects, which seem to be in time exactly what they are in space, have a special meaning.  Perhaps our sense of symmetry in space-time is cognate with our sense of beauty.”

Robert Grudin, Time and the Art of Living

So does this come into play when I make things? When something satisfies?  I’m not sure.  These three-dimensional insects I make are tiny and so delicate, yet there are examples that survive from court gowns of Queen Elizabeth I.  I paint miniatures on letters to loved ones, and they are kept, and ancient letters survive.  Do we coax out beauty to encourage preservation of the fragile, extend its existence through time?  Is there a different and special beauty in such asymmetry?

What about the things I love?  The heft of my insanely inlaid banjo is perfectly balanced by its 100 years.  A tall, slender, worm-eaten carved panel salvaged from a ship wrecked on the beach of my great-grandfather.  An Orcas Island Pottery mug that curves into my palm and glows red, green, sand and black through my fingers.  A Haida beaver mask with opalescent eyes.  Fresh figs.  Supernally tough garden gloves.  Each has its own four-dimensional articulation.  Everything has it.  Practice looking at it, and your world changes.

I searched out Grudin’s paragraph while living in the masses of lilacs that I cannot resist laving through the house, in crystal and tin and Orcas vase and bowl and mug.  They arrive for thirty days each year.  Each sprig has exactly 302 tiny blossoms.  Do I compensate for their limited temporality with mass, or am I simply working to bring them into a fine symmetry?


About Lorca Smetana

White doves. Retreats. Insects. Languages. Making.
This entry was posted in Landsteading, Making, Oooh, shiny...! and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to On four-dimensional symmetry

  1. Cherilyn says:

    I so love your mind. Thank you for this post.

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