University of Chicago
What is so odd about odd numbers?
Humans constantly find beauty in symmetry. The scientific community initially scoffed at mathematician George David Birkhoff in the early twentieth century when he claimed that people naturally find simple art most appealing when it has symmetrical features. More recently, scientific research has supported Birkhoff’s theories, with Karl Grammer and Randy Thornhill famously positing that “men would prefer averageness and symmetry in women's faces, and that women would prefer averageness and symmetry in men's faces,” in their 1983 piece in the Journal of Comparative Psychology. Once Grammer and Thornhill popularized theories of correlation between symmetry and beauty in sexual attraction, the theory expanded into other realms of society such as beauty in nature and music. Humans have evolved with biological programming to seek out symmetry for sensual beauty. Hence, the asymmetrical nature of odd numbers has condemned them to being called “odd.”
How can a number be symmetrical? Of course, thinking about numbers in the traditional, visual sense only yields symmetry for 0, 3, and 8. Yet, approached mathematically, numbers have a far greater meaning than their mere physical appearance. Webster’s Third defines symmetry as “beauty of...
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