Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Fractals, Reverie, and Biofeedback

We humans are curiously attracted to abstract forms of an organic, fractal character. When you sit there looking at these forms it leads to a pleasant state of mind.

Consider how fractal-based forms are associated with daydreams, fantasy, and even worship.
1. Marbleized paper in an old book of poetry (above left).
2. Ornate movie palaces from the 1920s (above right).
3. Cathedral architecture (think of Gaudi's Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona).
4. Limestone dripstone formations (below).
5. Roccoco gold picture frames.
6. Bird’s eye wood grain or patterns in marble.
7. The fluid, languid smoke of incense or pipe smoke.

In the absence of these forms, the human spirit can wither. Think of the bleak rectilinear spaces such as parking garages. Or prisons. These lack organic character, and are scalebound, that is, lacking the large and small forms repeating at different levels of magnification, one attribute of fractal geometry which can lead to a sense of worlds within worlds.

What happens when these fractal patterns are set into motion? Nothing is more compelling than watching the flicker of firelight, the swirl of smoke in a still room, the cycling of ocean waves, waterfalls, rapids, or stream eddies. Time lapse has allowed us to see the mesmerizing beauty of a plant growing or a cloud forming.

Computers offer new ways to experience such forms. Computer-generated music visualizers are getting better and better and doing what the Disney animated film Fantasia did by hand. Below, a still from from the open source visualizer program "MilkDrop."

I believe we’re on the threshold of a major new art form using computers to create visualizers as changing visual spaces into which we can project our consciousness.

Imagine a “biofeedback Rorschach” system, where the computer monitors the brain response when we begin to see a face in a cloud, and then manipulates the forms to accentuate the effect. A computer could shift in and out between abstraction and representation, suggesting grass blowing in the wind or a figure dancing, or scary faces wired to our own unconscious fear response.

Depending on the program, and the sensibilities we bring to it, it could bring us into the heart of dreams or nightmares, and give artists and digital filmmakers a profoundly powerful tool. 
Yale website on Fractal geometry
Examples of fractal patters in nature
Wikipedia on Music Visualization
Wikipedia on MilkDrop
Sagrada  Familia on Wiki 
Image sources:
Frame via Carver’s Guild
Movie palace via The Clay Board
Limestone formation
Marbled Paper


Kessie said...

There's a science fiction/cyberpunk book called A Signal to Noise by Eric Nylund. In it the characters have chips implanted in their heads. These chips allow them to enter a computer bubble, and communicate with other people by creating metaphors. One woman is very orderly-minded, so her 'office' is a steel mill. When she runs into a problem, the equipment starts going haywire in the background and spills molten metal all over the place.

It's a great book, but I think it would be horrifying in real life. The characters start losing their ability to distinguish between reality and metaphor. I'll stick to plain, ordinary imagination.

Zeke said...

wow, love your line of thinking here. I've had some ideas for ipad apps along this line, but unforunatley brain scanners are not exactly hot consumer products just yet. The first examples of such tech are just starting to appear on the market, and I'm confident that within the next five years we'll see comfortable and descreet headsets that will be able to read the mood of the wearer with enough fidelity to accomplish the sort of concept you're describing here

jeff jordan said...

Painting by hand with brushes and pigment will "die" again, for the thousandth time........

janice skivington said...

More...watching waves or surf break on a sandy beach, I could watch the swirling organic shape action all day. A river or stream foaming around rocks, a lake rippling in the breeze, and the ocean.

Anonymous said...

Interesting video. It's rather like an abstract expressionism painting in motion, and the motion creates an added dimension of meaning and purpose, something abstract expressionism can desperately use. If abstract expressionism were to morph into video and away from painting, that would be fine by me.