Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Local fused w/Global via Video Feedback

Talysis (a 9 min DVD, made for the Crystalpunk Workshop for Soft Architecture held in Utrecht, Holland in Autumn 2005) navigates the "possibility of a sentient geometry to produce a stream of geometric archetypes, a collective unconscious for emergent dynamical systems, a video feedback language system for scrying and pattern recognition."

This is not "new age" silliness;-), but rather a very serious attempt to, essentially, blur the distinction between local behaviors and rules, and global patterns. As Paul Prudence (the scientist/artist behind Talysis) describes on his site, the program combines aspects of symmetry with digital video feedback, resulting in highly recursive geometric structures, including ones that are eerily reminiscent of cellular automata patterns. Cellular automata (CA) are simple discrete dynamical systems whose agents (typically endowed with a discrete set of states, such as ON and OFF) evolve according to strictly local rules. Some CA (such as the well known two-dimensional Life rule, introduced by mathematician John Conway) are known to be universal computers, and so harbor a fundamentally irreducible level of complexity (see Wolfram's New Kind of Science).

What Prudence's Talysis shows is that video feedback can mimic the calculations of recursive algorithms; which begs the question whether it can also behave as a universal computer? (Prudence claims on his site that some patterns reproduce those of the Life rule, and conjectures that video feedback therefore can act as a computer).

Prudence says..."Many of the forms generated in Talysis appear to model biological morphogenesis and suggests that at the heart of all biological growth lies some degree of feedback of information to the system. At first glance many of the stills from Talysis might have been taken from an atlas of biology. There are neural networks, synapses, biological tissues, capillaries, plant structures, and embryonic forms. All of these images were arrived at from pointing a DV camera at its own output, they are entirely self-generative."

A quote from a classic paper on the space-time dynamics of video feedback (by James Crutchfield, published in Physica, 1984): "One goal in studying video feedback is to see whether it could be used as a simulator for dynamics in other fields. Turing’s original proposal of reaction-diffusion equations for biological morphogenesis comes to mind, as well as the image processing and hallucinogenic dynamics of the visual cortex."

I have always suspected that life-like "complexity" (true nested systems-of-systems autopoietic self-organized systems) lies at the Godelian-like cusp where local and global fuse; the Godelian-loop reaching into itself and pulling itself up to higher dimensions by its own bootstraps. Video feedback may just prove to be the practical/conceptual tool with which to visualize a bit of this fundmanetal bootstrapping. Absolutely fascinating!

Additional resources can be found at this link.


dataisnature said...

Heh Andrew,

Thanks so much for you interest in my project. I’ve been meaning to comment but time has been slight. Glad you picked up on the essentials, the idea that these abstract recursive pulsing patterns are the results of a computation and the possibility of using an abstract system like this as a computer in itself is key! J

Unstable dynamical systems are just so mysterious, verging on sentient!

I suppose one of the problems when making work like is talking about what it is without drowning in the (beautiful) lexicon of science. Most viewers’ won’t really have much experience with CAs or for that matter even care to.

Aside from the idea of the universal feedback machine, another important aspect was the idea of recognising patterns in these forms, and how our own individual experiences bring to Talysis different kinds of archetypal forms - a form of scrying.

Talysis is growing into an interactive exhibit! Sensory inputs in a room will use interaction data to effect the parameters of the video Feedback. It will be shown later this year in Brazil.

Enjoying the rest of your wonderful blog and your photographs, I also noticed your’ve written extensively on CA’s. I’d like to get my hands on that book!


ioannispsarras said...

Γεια σου! Πολύ ενδιαφέρον το μπλογκ σου. Σου γράφω από Αθήνα ,Ελλάδα. Ιωάννης Ψάρρας.