Saturday, October 11, 2008


I have come to a point that I'm pleased to call my final product (in terms of design) on my "Meme-Gene/Body-Soul" sculpture project. I'll post some screen shots and renderings below, and also a link (here) to the Sketchup 3D library where you can download the model itself and play with it.

The project was inspired by some of the reading I've done recently, primarily Hofstadter's "Gödel, Escher, Bach" and selections from "Metamagical Themas," and also Dawkin's "the Selfish Gene," Dennet's "Kinds of Minds," Feynman's "The Character of Physical Law," and the book that initiated all this exploration: Kurzweil's the "Singularity is Near"

Please tell me your thoughts on the project. Ultimately I'd like to find someone who likes it enough to help me make a physical instantiation of the idea.

(follow this link for pasts posts on the subject)

What we have here is a model for a sculpture intended to incorporate ambigrams, coding, recursion, and genetics. The helix has ambigrams on the inside of the rungs, where in DNA the unique bits of the nucleotides would be. They are "MEME"/"GENE" (when you look through opposite sides) and "BODY"/"SOUL." The idea is that just as genes are the building blocks and instructions for creating bodies, an analogous argument could be made for the relationship between memes and souls, in the secular sense. On another level, memes and genes can be seen as analogous opposites, as can bodies and souls.

The setting the helix is placed in is, of course, a larger version of itself. This is intended to be a reference to the recursive, self-propegating nature of genes and memes. Further, the order of the ambigram "nucleotides" codes for something in a way thats analogous to how DNA codes for proteins... I'll give some very nice praise to any person who can decode it without further hints!

I'll lend a helping hand and show you the order of the rungs: mbmbgbbmmbmbbbsmmbbgbbbbbggbgbbmmmmbbbgmmmbgbbbbmbbbgbbmmbgbbbm
The same thing is coded on the opposite side, but M->G and B->S.
The following renderings are done with the Podium Sketchup plugin

What follows is some further fancifulness that I haven't been able to model yet. I think what's above stands on its own as an interesting piece of art and it captures much of my intention, but I see further opportunity for expression. For instance:

1. On the small helix, Make the frame out of aluminum tubing, and make the faces out of circuit boards. The circuit boards could be hand-drawn.
2. On the bigger helix, do the same but make the faces out of solar-panel cells.
3. The solar panels will power the installation, causing the helix to rotate and all the electronics to work.
4. A laser (or other very bright, focused light) will be set up to shine through the ambigrams, and it will move on a rail (like a carriage on a typewriter) parallel to the helix such that it is always shining through one of the cut-faces on the helix.
5. Where the laser shines on the solar panels, they will be wired to measure the output of each square centimeter, so that they can register when an amabigram is shone on them.
6. The circuit boards that make up the helix will do actual processing; they will decode the instructions that the ambigrams code for.
7. Since the decoded message is [Spoiler! The text of the message follows in a white font, use your cursor and highlight it to see the answer] the mathematical formula for a helix (x=sin(t), y=cos(t), z=t), the formula can be used to draw virtual helixes on a screen. (I had to give it away so that the following would make sense)
8. The values for x, y, and z can be taken from the output of the solar panels that power the thing. That way the images it produces will vary by lighting conditions.
9. Finally the coup de grace: the installation will emit a wi-fi signal that has the information about the virtual helixes that it's drawing. With a fancy, internet-connected and camera-containing device (like the gPhone or iPhone), the virtual helixes could be overlaid on the real scene that shows through the camera. The effect would be that when you point your phone's camera at the installation, it looks like there is a fountain of swirls and spirals coming off the top of this thing. They could linger and float around like cream in coffee.
10. Sound could be integrated into it as well, with colors and intensities of light being translateinto tones. The sound would also only be available on the "augmented reality" layer; that way it could be really loud and bizzare without disrupting the normal scene.

So on the surface you see a quietly rotating helix with some neat symbolism, look through some technology and you see a bright, loud, big burst of math!