"I Believe in Symmetry" as written by and Conor Oberst....
Some plans were made and rice was thrown
A house was built, a baby born
How time can move both fast and slow amazes me
And so I raise my glass to symmetry
To the second hand and its accuracy
To the actual size of everything
The desert is the sand

You can't hold it in your hand
It won't bow to your demands
There's no difference you can make
There's no difference you can make
And if it seems like an accident
A collage of senselessness
You weren't looking hard enough
I wasn't looking hard enough

An argument for consciousness
The instinct of the blind insect
Who makes love to the flowerbad
And dies in the first freeze
I want to learn such simple things
No politics, no history
So what I want and what I need
Can finally be the same
I just got myself to blame
Give everything up to fate
When there's choices I can make
When there's choices I can make
Now my heart needs a polygraph
I'm so eager to pack my bags
When I really want to stay

The arc of time, the stench of sex
The innocence you can't protect
Each quarter note, each marble step
Walk up and down that lonely treble clef
Each one and the next one
Each one and the next one to arrive

An argument for consciousness
The instinct of the blind insect
Who never thinks not to accept
His faith, that's faith
There's happiness in death
You get to the next one
You get to the next on down the line

When levity, I'm longing that
It steals each dream inside my head
My morning water don't forget
On silver stars I wish and wish and wish
From one to the next one
From one to the next right down the line

Lyrics submitted by apocalypse84

"I Believe in Symmetry" as written by Conor Oberst

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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I Believe in Symmetry song meanings
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  • +4
    General CommentI think that Conor is really only saying one thing in this song. Imo it's not about free will versus determinism, it's about how both of them mesh together to make our lives. Our fates are determined already. Nothing is left up to chance, nothing is random, nothing happens by accident. Every second of the day is already planned out. Everything is inevitable, including death. The free will is how you choose to interpret this and whether or not you accept it. I think he's saying more that our thoughts and conclusions about fate are free will, not fate itself. Whether it's because of Science or some higher-being, what will happen will happen. You just have to choose whether or not to accept it.

    If you go off of this, he's also sort of saying that as long as you've chosen something to believe in, you're correct. Whether you want to believe in God or Shiva or Zeus, or maybe you've simply decided to devote your life to Science. It doesn't really matter what you choose, your fate is determined either way.

    That's just how it seems to me. I'd rather think that he meshed the two ideas instead of having two conflicting views in the song. I get that no one can know for sure whether or not fate has planned out our lives already, so it makes sense that he hasn't really come to terms with it in the song, but I don't see the point of him arguing both sides as conflicting ideas. I'd rather believe that he's saying they're both right in their own way.
    alyssarcasticon August 02, 2010   Link
  • +3
    General CommentThis, to me, is the most comforting song in the English language.
    Grottolaon October 01, 2010   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI think the word symmetry is an indication that everyone has a fate planned for them, and everything that happens, happens for a reason.
    daddysgunon February 16, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThe line is actually; " no politics, no history" as someone said a few posts ago- think about it- it fits with the philosophy of the song which is about shedding the unnessecary in one's life.

    The first part is not nessecarily pro science ( in my opinion- as all of this is) so much as a epiphany- Conor is celebrating the sheer simplicity of the universe in that some things are constants. Sometimes when the sheer simple brilliance of something hits you, it's almost spititual.
    ziggywonder79on August 05, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Commentthis song is about how everything in life is planned, everything makes sense.
    nothing happens by accident.

    'You can't hold it in your hand
    It won't bow to your demands
    There's no difference you can make
    There's no difference you can make
    And if it seems like an accident
    A collage of senselessness
    You weren't looking hard enough
    I wasn't looking hard enough'

    meaning that destingy is not something you can hold, something you can try to contain. you cannot force it to change, if something is meant to happen, it will happen. it is something so much larger than everybody on this earth. if you believe that something that happened is just pure luck, or that it must have been an accident, then 'you arent looking hard enough.'
    life is a perfect balance of things happening in order for other things to happen. if all events were random then the world would have fallen apart years ago. this doesnt mean that you should stop taking life into your own hands and making choices, it just means that everything that is meant to happen will happen, + even if it seems like a mistake it was mean to happen.

    'The instinct of the blind insect
    Who never thinks not to accept its fate, that's faith'

    cant even put into words what this line means. you just need to read into it.
    mrs.lazzaraon October 13, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentOk...so here's my attempt at interpreting these lyrics
    The song is about the 2 different forces acting on us as humans: the power of fate, and the power of free will. It seems in some parts of the song that Oberst is saying that the two forces are completely contradictory.He speaks about the vastness of the desert and nature, alluding to the fact hat there are things in this world so much bigger than us as humanity; we have no chance of making a difference because these things are out of our control. Life is just a big "arc of time" that moves without our control, stealing with it our "innocence", our happiness, and essentially the true essence of our being; what's worse is "there's no difference you can make" because it's out of your control.
    Yet Oberst counters this theory, stating that by accepting everything that fate hands him, "[he's] just got [himself] to blame" for his unhappiness, essentially contradicting that fate is in control, stating that free will actually does have a play in life.
    If these two concepts are looked at separately, it may seem that Oberst's overall impression of life is ambiguous: there will always be these two opposing forces and nothing can be done. Yet, instead, he states the "symmetry" of the two forces, insinuating that there must be some sort of balance. Once of the most telling line in the song speaks of "the instinct of the blind insect who never thinks not to accept its fate, that's faith." Faith is the bridge between the two concepts. It is the acknowledgement that there are some things that can't be changed, yet the free will choice of doing what one feels is right. In this way, fate and free will create a simbiotic, "symmetrical" balance.
    The best metaphor of this I believe is his mention of the treble clef. The clef and staff in music are permanent. They are set, they are hard, they are "lonely." The music notes symbolically represent choices. They go "up and down" the clef, fitting into the unchangeable realities of the staff. Like the insect, we as humans are the notes; we have the constant knowledge that there is a certain level of predestination in our lives. But there's hope in freewill to make the most of what we're given.
    Thus, I Believe in Symmetry, is a song about the "collage of senselessness" that is the human existence. We're all constantly trying to find that place of symmetry where free will and fate can balance.
    dannyasciion September 24, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI haven't read all of the comments yet, so sorry if I'm repeating what others have said.
    Has anyone noticed that I Believe in Symmetry is pretty much right in the middle of the album?
    It's the 7th track of 12 (you can't have a middle to 12, so the middle is 6 and 7), and it splits the first 25 minutes of the album from the last 25 minutes. Literally, the album is exactly 50 minutes (according to my iTunes) and according to my mathematical calculations, there are 24.9833333333333etc. minutes before the beginning of this track.
    So it really is symmetrical. Just thought I'd point that out.
    It's also probably my favourite track, but Easy/Lucky/Free and Time Code are close seconds (and look that that, those are the last and first tracks of the album).
    I really do believe in symmetry.
    Damn, Conor is a genius.
    El_Loboon February 08, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General Commentlong long long time visiter of this site, first time commenter.

    firstly, i believe this song is a reference to Epicurus' theory of symmetry. when each living thing dies, it reverts back to a state of unconsciousness, the same state it was in before birth. the theory holds that any other sort of afterlife is impossible because it is incongruent, asymmetrical.
    i think that the song holds this theory true, though it is difficult to accept that a time will come when he must leave, when he must die ("when i really wanna stay...")

    secondly, he addresses the fact that all other creatures are not self-aware as we are. we understand mortality and this wounds us every day. the insect "never stops to accept his fate". because he is ignorant, it is easier to see the beauty in his death without mourning it. each death leads to a new beginning, not in the sense of an afterlife, or any continuation of consciousness, but merely gives way to new life, which in itself is beautiful.

    "The argument for consciousness
    The instinct of the blind insect
    Who never thinks not to accept its fate, that's faith
    There's happiness in death
    You give to the next one
    You give to the next on down the line
    You give to the next one
    You get to the next on down the line"

    not quite sure how to connect those thoughts, or if they even apply, but there it is.
    nietzschewepton January 19, 2010   Link
  • +1
    Song MeaningThere is so much to be said about the last three stanza's.
    My favorite lyric is, "the arc of time, the stench of sex, the innocence you can't protect" Oberst just compared the loss of innocence and fear that is prominent through sex to time; the fear of time passing by us is just as terrifying as sexual encounters. Also, "the instinct of the blind insect/ who never thinks not to accept it's fate; that's faith, there's happiness in death". Which explains how humanity worries so much about death and aging and life, when something small and virtuous such as a bug doesn't even thing about it: it just is. This song is very Tao.
    augustokingon August 20, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General Commentcorrections--

    "now my honey's a polygraph" should be "now my heart needs a polygraph"

    "the stench it sets" should be "the stench of sex"

    "The levity of longing that steals each dream inside my head" should be "the levity of longing that instills each dream inside my head"
    Mopnuggeton November 19, 2004   Link

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