Symmetry in Geometry

The theme of symmetry in geometry is nearly as old as the science of geometry itself. Symmetric shapes such as the circle, regular polygons and platonic solids held deep significance for many ancient philosophers and were investigated in detail before the time of Euclid. Symmetric patterns occur in nature and were artistically rendered in a multitude of forms, including the graphics of M. C. Escher. Nonetheless, it was not until the second half of 19th century that the unifying role of symmetry in foundations of geometry was recognized. Felix Klein's Erlangen program proclaimed that, in a very precise sense, symmetry, expressed via the notion of a transformation group, determines what geometry is. Symmetry in classical Euclidean geometry is represented by congruences and rigid motions, whereas in projective geometry an analogous role is played by collineations, geometric transformations that take straight lines into straight lines. However it was in the new geometries of Bolyai and Lobachevsky, Riemann, Clifford and Klein, and Sophus Lie that Klein's idea to 'define a geometry via its symmetry group' proved most influential. Both discrete and continuous symmetries play prominent roles in geometry, the former in topology and geometric group theory, the latter in Lie theory and Riemannian geometry.

A different type of symmetry is the principle of duality in projective geometry among other fields. This meta-phenomenon can roughly be described as follows: in any theorem, exchange point with plane, join with meet, lies in with contains, and you will get an equally true theorem. A similar and closely related form of duality exists between a vector space and its dual space.

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