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Radiolab Video: Symmetry

Monday, April 18, 2011 - 08:21 PM

Symmetry, A Radiolab Video Made by Everynone Symmetry, A Radiolab Video Made by Everynone (Everynone)

Is the world full of deep symmetries and ordered pairs? Or do we live in a lopsided universe? This striking video by Everynone plays with our yearning for balance, and reveals how beautiful imperfect matches can be. The video was inspired by our episode Desperately Seeking Symmetry.

If you enjoy Symmetry, check out our other Radiolab videos made in collaboration with Everynone (filmmakers Will Hoffman, Daniel Mercadante, and Julius Metoyer III): Words, Moments, and Parabolas (etc.).


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Comments [55]

David Moss from Laytonsville, MD

Another incredible show. I listen to many of the NPR shows on WAMU in Washington DC. This is one I never miss. It's on Sundays here and I ALWAYS arrange my Sunday schedule so I can listen to the full hour without interruption. Also, the guys have a great sense of humor which makes the program even easier to listen to. Thanks, guys!!

Jun. 11 2017 07:46 PM
Richard Mercer from Dayton, OH (WYSO)

The "hair part" segment really resonated with me! In fact I said to myself "hair parted on the other side" to myself before you said "hair part". When I was in 7th grade and stopped getting crew cuts, I had to start parting my hair. I actually parted it so it would look like the other boys. Since I am strongly left-handed, it was a natural hand motion to comb my hair that way. I was a pretty geeky kid and not at all popular.

I did eventually figure out that I had in fact been parting my hair on the wrong side because I had been doing it in the mirror. So the perfect ending would be that I changed my part and became popular. But no, I didn't change my part, or anything else, and remained unpopular.

(By the way, Paul Dirac was my PhD Advisor's PhD Advisor (i.e. academic grandfather). So it was good to hear him get some air time! If you don't believe me, google my name.)

Jun. 10 2017 02:04 PM
Upton C. Gatsby from Florida

I believe that this video shows that we live in a universe that is full of unordered pairs. From the very small, like milk and cookies, to the very big, like a church and a lab, the only comparison the two have is that they are compliment or contrast one another. Even the numbers they showed, one and zero, are not the same. If you asked me I would say that the opposite pair to zero, which is nothing, would be infinity, which is everything. However, this was still a very interesting video and open to much interpretation and criticism.

Mar. 23 2015 05:17 PM
christian from sea/wa

can you please make it available as download as well ? i missed 1/2 of the show and would LOVE to listen to it again

Feb. 08 2013 01:00 AM

At the age of five I stood up in my bed and realized that we are going to be dead much longer than alive. That's when life became the only thing that mattered to me. I must be the best I can in an inconspicuous way as possible. I have amounted to nothing yet I know that I exist because I saw a difference in left handed people that right handed folks could not understand but I did. Today your show confirmed something that I lost friends over years ago, thanks. ;) Everything your show apprised today I have experienced, comprehended and tried to explain. Your show saved my life!

Feb. 01 2013 01:06 PM
bismarkia from Miami

In my view, this video is not so much about symmetry but asymmetry
Both seek balance by the ordering or arrangement of elements about an axis or axes. The difference being that while symmetry tends to achieve balance by establishing relationships based on similarity, reflection, and proportions, asymmetry tends to achieve the same through complementary oppositions, emergent relationships, and scale differentials.
Interesting, nevertheless!

Jun. 29 2012 06:41 AM
phil from zurich

the Symetry Video just won the grand price at the 2012 Vimeo Awards.

Well spotted Radiolab!

Jun. 10 2012 04:59 PM
annie from new york

I can't stop listening to this episode. It makes me feel like a better person and I want to give up my work to study physics!

May. 04 2012 12:20 PM

I burst into tears, too

Oct. 08 2011 09:43 AM
JujyFru1T from Massachusetts

Amazing, wonderful video.
Am I the only one who burst into tears at the end?

Sep. 14 2011 12:02 AM

Regarding the comment left by Jose:
"... I think they are confusing symmetry with complementarity... oops"

Not quite; the video seems to be more in the aspect of aesthetic symmetry. That being the idea of what we know as familiar and what we as a species feel for individually.
The video is simply to show that in day to day life, the feeling of comfort that we find in our environment is symmetry within itself.
If one were to live in a cold brick house for the majority of their time here, then be placed or choose to live in a warm glass house; that individual would be quiet discomforted.
Someone correct me if I am wrong about what I feel the people of Radiolab are portraying here.

Jul. 13 2011 09:47 PM

Lawrence Weschler once had a column on the McSweeney's website about unexpected symmetries, or "confluences" as he called them. It was turned into a book and a contest, where readers could submit other convergences they spotted. You can browse through them on the website: [ ].

Jun. 09 2011 04:40 AM
A. D. Amah from Tn

Why, did I cry at the end? When, I should have been rejoicing. Forcing me to think. Should we not welcome, and rejoice the end, too?

Jun. 04 2011 02:45 PM

realy awesome, i like it! 11/10!

i'm asking me, how the core statement could be named ?_?

May. 30 2011 01:41 PM
toti from Tegucigalpa, Honduras

i love the photografy of the video... Radiolad people like you make the world a better place

May. 28 2011 01:13 PM
julie from st. louis, MO


May. 27 2011 09:52 AM

I had just read this, which is interesting in context to the comment in the podcast matching heart rates don't hold any significance:

I'm not making any point - just found this interesting :)

May. 22 2011 07:35 AM
Margie from Cusco

Wonderful work, Radiolab. Simple and creative.

May. 14 2011 12:27 PM
Igor from Ukraine, Krivoy Rog

It is wonderful !

May. 13 2011 06:15 AM
Shoval from Israel

Really good video, reminded me of WORDS and MOMENTS (available here:

I never figured out before that you guys at Radiolab made these :)

much appreciated!

May. 12 2011 03:01 PM
Sam Brown from Austin, Texas

artistic and it !!

May. 11 2011 10:43 PM
Mary from Washington DC

That was just amazing. Slack jaw inspiring amazing. Thank you!

May. 04 2011 10:40 AM
Jennifer Ball from San Francisco

Sixteen out of 26 of the letters of our alphabet are bilaterally symmetrical. The word "eye" is really a face.

May. 02 2011 03:22 PM
Orange Whip from New Baltimore, MI

The segment about the mirrors was very strong to me. I found these mirrors (2 @ 90 degree angle) at Burning Man in 2005. I had a friend tell me where they were and that I had to check them out. As a note he said not to forget my eyes. So I found the room and peered into the mirror. Instead of seeing all the things I needed to change, I smiled. I thought that I didn't need any of the change. It made me look at things differently.

Apr. 30 2011 01:44 AM

nice video, where's my radiolab, Bob?

Apr. 29 2011 07:27 PM
Shane from PA

What an amazing video. It really puts things into perspective...thank you!

Apr. 29 2011 11:22 AM

Beautiful video! Too bad most of the examples in the video have little to do with symmetry. I think they are confusing symmetry with complementarity... oops

Apr. 29 2011 10:16 AM

The video is utterly beautiful, carrying you to those unforeseen, overwhelming last frames. I've sent links to everyone I know. How do we find more from whoever made this? As for the show itself, it's full of fascinating, free-associating material that never quite circles back to the question it asked at the beginning. What IS that spark between soulmates? Presumably not the same as between matter and antimatter, or there would be nothing left of them. Are we better prepared to answer the question after listening to the hour?

Apr. 26 2011 09:48 PM
Scott from Houston

CHICAGOSPACEMAN from Chicago check out:

Apr. 26 2011 09:34 PM

Would you please publish program notes in addition to the synopsis?

For example, I would like to look up the cellist you mentioned.


Apr. 26 2011 04:46 PM

Love the Pod cast and most of video. Except for the men and women bathroom sign- you included the handicap symbol with the women's sign and not with the men's. It seems easy enough to either up the hanicap sign on either both doors or neither door.
I'm sure this isn't intentional however its interesting to see the lack of symmetry in this scene and I wonder what it says about existing stereotypes of men and women being symmetrical .

Apr. 26 2011 01:47 AM

awesome. I am a long time listener. Every week I check in Itunes if a new episode is posted. I download the podcast to listen.

Thank you for everything


Apr. 25 2011 10:07 PM
Yvonne C. Lozano from Florida

another great episode...i love the video link as well, the last frame took my breath away, just beautiful and thought provoking. As an artist, I appreciate how you guys know just how to keep my neurons firing in all directions :-)

Apr. 24 2011 09:44 PM
Kevin from Boston, MA

Love RadioLab. This was a great episode. But I'm curious about why you said nothing about group theory. Group theory is a branch of math that actually studies and classifies different types of symmetry. Everything you said about mirrors, reflections, the shape of molecules. These all result from research in group theory. In fact some of these examples have the exact same type of symmetry.

Apr. 24 2011 04:31 PM
Leslie from Ipswich, MA

I don't mean to sound nit-picky, though I guess I am being, but incorrect pronoun use really drives me crazy. At least twice in today's program (4/23), I heard a commentor say, "HER and..." her friends, family, whatever. How difficult is it to get the plural pronouns right? I guess I just expect more from NPR.

Apr. 23 2011 04:47 PM

I was absolutely blown away by this podcast. I love the way they describe chirality with the spring. An excellent new way to think about such a hard to grasp topic.

Apr. 23 2011 09:06 AM
Allan Murphy from Tokyo

Brilliant! Bravo. You keep raising the bar. I'm raising my glass to you.

Apr. 23 2011 07:02 AM
Frankie from Province of Lecco, Italy

Hello di Radiolab,
Beautiful video. I see alot of analogy with the philosophy of oriental thinking. The concept of Yin and Yang. These are two opposing forces but are complementary. Night and day, the economy goes up and down, the changing seasons, men and women, etc., etc. This phenomenon is a never ending process in continuous change. We change every second of time in our lives. Take care, Frankie

Apr. 23 2011 05:08 AM
Frankie from Province of Lecco, Italy

Hello di Radiolab,
Beautiful video. I see alot of analogy with the philosophy of oriental thinking. The concept of Yin and Yang. These are two opposing forces but are complementary. Night and day, the economy goes up and down, the changing seasons, men and women, etc., etc. This phenomenon is a never ending process in continuous change. We change every second of time in our lives. Take care, Frankie

Apr. 23 2011 05:01 AM
Scott Shiffman from Santa Barbara, CA

Brilliant, just brilliant. Does everything a film should do.

Apr. 22 2011 08:18 PM

Seeing this video live at the end of the show made me cry.

Apr. 22 2011 07:01 PM

You guys never cease to amaze! This video is awesome! Love, Love the show!!

Apr. 22 2011 03:00 PM

hair part photo pleasssseeee

Apr. 22 2011 04:05 AM
Jennifer from battle ground WA

Please turn this into a daily show...I'm running out of past episodes to listen to, and there's gonna be a withdrawal period! Excellent, excellent I tell you!

Apr. 22 2011 12:17 AM
Juancho from Antigua Guatemala

This Radiolab thing man,.... I go to sleep with it, I wake up with it, I invite friends over to drink beers and enjoy the shows, its the best road trip buddy, great sounds, interesting stories, fun hosts, awesome way to build stories and connect with listeners brains. of course the video stuff was going to be awesome....

lots of good vibes for all the people involved in making this happen.

Apr. 21 2011 05:37 PM

Where is the hair part photo????

Apr. 21 2011 02:12 PM
WestSeattleVern from Seattle WA

I'm able to follow along and I believe I understand the narrative of the video except for the two families. What is the symmetry there?

Apr. 21 2011 12:00 AM
katherine mercer from bend,oregon

What was that song that was played before a break? The one w/saxaphone.
Great program. I am loving it.

Apr. 20 2011 10:14 PM
Jambe from Indiana

The notion that one of thalidomide's forms is toxic while the other isn't is factually incorrect:

Apr. 20 2011 10:10 PM

Great symmetry stories! I personally believe that, "Symmetry is vastly overrated." I have to believe this, for I was born with a large inoperable tumor in my left jaw (a venous malformation), and a significant case of scoliosis - a curvature of the spine that gives me a hump on the left side of my back as well.
I always thought being symmetrically challenged in these ways caused my dating troubles in high school (I'm happily married for 25 yrs now to a babe). But it must have been the hair part!
Where's my comb?...
- Asymmetrical Man

Apr. 20 2011 02:21 PM
Mariangela Scarduzio from Italy

Lopsided symmetries ;) very cool!

Apr. 20 2011 09:20 AM
Eduardo Peanuthand from Novi Sad

So freakkin awesome!

Apr. 20 2011 03:37 AM
David Cutler from San Jose, California

While listening to the part of the program describing "true mirrors" (i.e., a mirror of a mirror) I realized that it should be relatively easy for someone to create an app for phones like the iPhone4 to produce a true-mirror image using the face-time camera on the phone rather than using glass mirrors. I wish I had time to write the app.

Apr. 19 2011 07:05 PM
Nando Rossi from Chicago, IL

I am absolutely shocked and laughing hysterically at this hair parting deal. I too, have had that moment in my life. As a kid, my mom would part my hair to the right. As a teenager, I suddenly decided to switch it around, just to be a rebel, and stuck with it.
My hair naturally wants to be parted right, always; it's a weird wave thing. So I always fight it, and now I know why.
Radiolab as always, changing my life, lol.

Apr. 19 2011 03:52 PM

This was the most enjoyable thing I have seen on film in a long time. Well done radio lab!!

Apr. 19 2011 09:56 AM

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