American Go E-Journal

Go Spotting: Fearful Symmetry

Saturday December 21, 2013

Chinese-American physicist Anthony Zee mentions go in his book Fearful Symmetry:The Search for Beauty in Modern Physics. First published in 1986, the book is an attempt to explain to the layman how modern physics strives to produce the simplest possible explanation of nature and describes the rallying cry of fundamental physicists as, “Let us worry about beauty first, and truth will take care of itself!”. At page 16 (2007 edition)  he writes:

“It is easy to produce complicated behaviour with a complicated design. As children, when we take apart a complicated mechanical toy, we expect to find a maze of cogs and wheels hidden inside. The American game of football is my favourite sport to watch, because of the variety of behaviour exhibited. But the complex repertoire is the direct result of probably the most complicated set of rules in sports. Similarly, the complexity of chess is generated by its rather complicated rules. Nature, whose complexity emerges from simplicity, is cleverer. One might say that the workings of the universe are are more like the oriental game of Go than chess or football. The rules of Go can be stated simply and yet give rise to complex patterns. The eminent physicist Shelley Glashow has likened contemporary physicists to kibitzers at a game whose rules they do not know. But by watching long and hard, the kibitzers begin to guess what the rules might be.”

The book’s title is, of course, a reference to William Blake’s poem, The Tyger.

Report by Tony Collman, British correspondent for the E-Journal. Thanks to spotter Pat Ridley, editor of the British Go Journal. Photo: cover of 1999 edition, courtesy of Princeton University Press.





Categories: Go Spotting