‘It Must Give Off and Receive Light Like a Tiny Space Station’ – Kenneth Snelson’s Atoms

titlePortrait of an Atom – Kenneth Snelson [1984]

‘I’ve longed to see a life-sized replica atom, perhaps with robotic controls, to watch it perform its virtuoso assortment of tricks and tasks; of transmitting light and, catching it again, expanding and contracting….to see it demolished only to self-reconstruct…to watch its host of electrons flashing about the nucleus, forming the frictionless perpetual motion machine that a real atom is.‘ From Portrait of an Atom – Kenneth Snelson

From the classic motifs of Rutherford and Bohr’s planetary models to Schroedinger’s electron position probability clouds, the history of visualising the atom is one of a series of models, each one superseding the previous through new insights in quantum behaviour. After Heisenberg’s Uncertainly Principle the visualisation of atomic configurations, in reality unworkable due to quantum indeterminacy, had pretty much reached a dead end.

In the 1960’s sculptor Kenneth Snelson began to model the atom’s electronic structure based on symmetry laws for circles by correlating circle groups with quantum numbers that described the properties of electrons in atoms. Though the hunt for the ‘real’ atom, had been rejected by science it remained in Snelson’s mind that ‘we might one day find out what an atom would be like in a photographic facsimile or a sculptured replica’

‘It must give off and receive light like a tiny space station. It can remain stable and resist collapse under great pressure. It collects and organizes its electrons in shells around the nucleus. It puts to use all of its electrical, dynamic and magnetic forces in it structure. It can attach itself to other atoms in molecules and crystals with astonishing virtuosity. And though its electrons are in rapid and perpetual motion, it can sit in tranquility in a rock for eternity’ – Kenneth Snelson

Portrait of an Atom - Kenneth SnelsonRing Assemblies Representing 4 Complete Electron Shells – A Design for the Atom [1963]

Portrait of an Atom - Kenneth SnelsonStudy for a Big Atom – Kenneth Snelson [1965]

Portrait of an Atom - Kenneth SnelsonAtomic Model Patent – Kenneth Snelson [1978]

Portrait of an Atom - Kenneth SnelsonAtomic Model Patent – Kenneth Snelson [1978]

Portrait of an Atom - Kenneth SnelsonAtomic Model Patent – Kenneth Snelson [1978]

Portrait of an Atom - Kenneth SnelsonStudy for Atomic Space 3 – Kenneth Snelson [1964]

Portrait of an Atom - Kenneth SnelsonAtom Piece – Kenneth Snelson [1964]

Portrait of an Atom - Kenneth SnelsonThree Shell Magnet Piece – Kenneth Snelson [1976]

Portrait of an Atom - Kenneth SnelsonStu’s Atom – Kenneth Snelson [2009]

Portrait of an Atom - Kenneth SnelsonAtomic Model Patent – Kenneth Snelson [1966]

Portrait of an Atom - Kenneth SnelsonAtomic Model Patent – Kenneth Snelson [1966]

Portrait of an Atom - Kenneth SnelsonAtomic Model Patent – Kenneth Snelson [1966]

Portrait of an Atom - Kenneth SnelsonAtomic Model Patent – Kenneth Snelson [1966]

Portrait of an Atom - Kenneth SnelsonStudy for Atomic Space 6 – Kenneth Snelson [1965]

Portrait of an Atom - Kenneth SnelsonStudy for Atomic Space 5 – Kenneth Snelson [1965]

Related Posts:
Robert le Ricolais’s Tensegrity Models – ‘The Art of Structure is Where to Put the Holes’
Spatiologies – Vittorio Giorgini

3 Responses to “‘It Must Give Off and Receive Light Like a Tiny Space Station’ – Kenneth Snelson’s Atoms”

  1. Bookmarks for May 26th | Chris's Digital Detritus writes:

    […] ‘It Must Give Off and Receive Light Like a Tiny Space Station’ – Kenneth Snelson&r… – […]

  2. ben writes:

    amazing. thank you for that find! ben

  3. Ross writes:

    Two Words: “Bussard’s Polywell”

    Fabulous work.

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The Hindu Temple as a Model of Fractal Cosmology – Forecasting Architecture with Recursive Instruction

Indian Temple FractalsKandariya Mahadev Temple [Madhya Pradesh] (source unknown)

The self-similar, cascading architectural forms found in Hindu temple architecture appear to have been pieced together by a hyper-industrious Minecrafter hooked on Hofstadter. Jagged waves of blocky ornamentation, rhythmically repeating, create diminishing echo’s of the temple’s form; tiny versions of itself repeating towards a proposed infinity. Baroque three-dimensional Cellular Automata. Cantor Set masonry. Malevich’s Architectons upscaled and iterated to the nth degree, often smothered with a teeming mass of deities and denizens, each one competing for your retina.

Indian Temple FractalsKandariya Mahadev Temple [Madhya Pradesh] – RM Nunes

It’s not just that these temples appear to be algorithmically generated, the ancient Vastu Sustra texts provide procedural rules or recipes for their design, layout and build (including the positions of ornaments). The texts transmit recursive programs, by verbal instruction, to masons so that according to Kirti Trivedi, the Hindu Temple becomes a model of a fractal Universe. A model which represents ‘views of the cosmos to be holonomic and self-similar in nature’. The idea of fractal cosmology is no stranger to western academia. In 1987 the Italian physicist Luciano Pietronero argued, in his paper, that the Universe shows ‘a definite fractal aspect over a fairly wide range of scale’ based on correlations of galaxies and clusters, their spatial distribution and average mass density.

‘According to Hindu philosophy the cosmos can be visualised to be contained in a microscopic capsule, with the help of the concept of subtle element called ‘tammatras’. The whole cosmic principle replicates itself again and again in ever smaller scales’ – Kirti Trivedi

Indian Temple FractalsYellamma Temple [Karnataka] – Paul Prudence

Indian Temple FractalsArchitecton Series – Kazimir Malevich [1923]

Indian Temple FractalsTemple Plan for Barwasagar Temple [Uttar Pradesh] from Geometry Measure in India Temple Plans

The initial temple plan is based on a grid form known as the Vastu-Purusha Mandala. Tellingly Trivedi remarks in his paper that the Vastu-Purusha Mandala is ‘not a blueprint for a temple, but a ‘forecast’, a marking of the potential within which a wide range of possibilities are implied’. The significance here, should not be underestimated. A ‘potential for possibilities’ within a predefined rule-set predisposes architecture to be governed by a degree of emergence. While emergence in parametric architecture arrived, recently, with computers and algorithms, India has been enacting emergent masonry for thousands of years thanks to the open rules of the Vastus Sustra.

Indian Temple FractalsShweta Varahaswamy Temple [Karnataka] – Paul Prudence

Using a system of measurement called the ‘Tala’, dimensional relationships of proportions rather than exact structural specifications are defined. Initial decisions (why not call them algorithmic seeds?) combined with rule sets are used to define the final outcome of the building. The ‘Tala’ system is scale invariant, just like fractal mathematics, so that a building of any size can be created, and decorated without compromising the model of self containment. The temple, as a whole, is built by interweaving fractalization processes with repetition and superimposition. An example of a typical recursive instruction, verbalised, is:

The layer of prahara (projection) will be above the chadya (eave of the roof). This is to be repeated again and again on the spire over the spire. A fraction of the prahara is to be constructed and again the spires are to be constructed. Each of the upper spires will be sprouted out with a measurement equal to half the size of the lower spire – Ksirarnava, 7.113

Indian Temple FractalsSri Meenakshi Amman Temple [Tamil Nadu] – Paul Prudence

The Kandariya Mahadev, in Madhya Pradesh, is one of the best examples of recursive temple architecture in India. The rising towers (Shikhara) of this structure are said to mimic the forms of mountains which are themselves self-similar. Shikhara literally translates to the word mountain.

Inspiration by way of a recent trip (one of many) to Karatanka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

Further Reading:

The Hindu Temple is a Model of a Fractal Universe – Kirti Trivedi [1993]
Infinite Sequences in The Constructive Geometry of 10th Century Hindu Temple Superstructures – Sambit Datta [2010]

Related Posts:

Stanley Tigerman & G. T. Crabtree – The Formal Generators of Structure
Breed – Driessens & Verstappen: Evolutional Diffusion Lattices
Yuri Avvakumov – Agitarch Structures: Reconfiguring Utopia

20 Responses to “The Hindu Temple as a Model of Fractal Cosmology – Forecasting Architecture with Recursive Instruction”

  1. Kevatha writes:

    Can I use this article for my talks and research ?
    I come from the lineage that built with the Vaastu parusha mandala our clan is called the vishwakarmans

  2. paul writes:

    @Kevetha, feel free to mention this post in your research/talks. A reference back to here would be appreciated, if possible. I’m going to look up on the ‘Vishwakarmans’, thanks.

  3. k p umapathy acharya writes:

    Nice article.

  4. Marta Leite Ferreira writes:

    Mr. Prudence,

    I’m writing about this issue in Observador, a portuguese online journal. Can you give me permission to use your photos with proper credits? Thank you.

  5. paul writes:

    Hi Marta, the three images that were taken by me you are free to use. Feel free to email me for more images.

  6. La fractalidad del universo se reitera en estos templos hindúes (y en estos fractales de templos hindúes) - La Tlayuda News writes:

    […] vía de Data is Nature, encontramos este fascinante concepto de los tammatras, que parecen ser las unidades que componen […]

  7. gregorylent writes:

    the third generation vastu shastri whose family constructed ramana ashram in tiruvannamalai would have recognized your ideas of recusiveness and fractals but his language and understanding derived from mysticism and sadhana .. spiritual practice .. important to remember that these things were created from the “inside out” ..

  8. Templos hindus, cosmologia fractal e uma arquitetura muito peculiar | Alameda 9 writes:

    […] No final de contas, este templo hindu reflete o modelo do Universo fractal, como explica o Dataisnature. […]

  9. Jasmine Shah writes:

    The article by Kirti Trivedi that is quoted here was presented at a Vastu Vedic Trust Conference organized by Dr. V Ganapathi Sthapati of Mamallapuram. It was Dr. V G Sthapati’s father who built the temple inside the Ramana Ashram. Dr. Stahapati has written prodigiously on this subject and worked tirelessly to preserve and present it to the modern world. It is truly thanks to him that today we are discussing this in this contemporary context!

  10. Whewell’s Gazette: Vol. #43 | Whewell's Ghost writes:

    […] Dataisnature: The Hindu Temple as a Model of Fractal Cosmology – Forecasting Architecture with Recursive Instruc… […]

  11. paul writes:

    @Gregory, I take your point here. This post could have expanded on the implicit vs explicit fractalization process in art and architecture. Quite often the explicit use of fractal processes can be quite worn, boring and generic. Fractal ’emergence’ a the result of philosophical ideas or physical constraints are much more interesting not only because of the resulting aesthetics, but also the trickle down effect of how certain ways of thinking can become externalised in form, as you say ‘ important to remember that these things were created from the inside out’

    Other great examples of philosophical or physical constraint based fractalization processes include those found in the Shipibo textiles and African tribal design:

    African Fractals: Modern Computing and Indigenous Design [PDF]:

    The Generative Song & Sound Pattern Matrixes of the Shipibo Indians:

  12. paul writes:

    @Jasmine, thanks for the extra info on Kirti Trivedi’s paper and also the leads on Dr. Stahapati’s work.

  13. Mayank_chatur writes:

    Please take a look at these papers….





  14. Dr. Jessie mercay writes:

    This lovely article is right on track with the cosmic understanding of temples per the Vishwakarma tradition. The late Dr. V. Ganapati Sthapati commented in depth about these ideas in his book Temples of Space science. We often think only of Hindu temples but this knowledge has been traditionally applied to Jain, Buddhist, and Islamic architecture as well as early Christain architecture. We like to think of it as “Hindu” but in fact, it is universal and not simply Hindu. Would a Buddhist, Jain or Muslim apply Hindu architecture? No. Hence we must accept that the forms built per Vaastu and Silpa Shastras are beyond religion – they are indeed universal forms that manifest fractals of consciousness for the well being of humanity.

  15. Seema Poudel writes:

    I am an IB student doing my extended essay in fractal geometry used in Hindu Architecture. I loved your article but I would like to know if you have the data about the measurements of the temple such as height of the each storey or the radius of the each part of the temple. That would be great help for my research. Thank you
    Seema Poudel

  16. paul writes:

    hi @Seema Unfortunately I don’t have access to the data you require. My info was gleaned from visiting many temples in India and reading some of the articles mentioned in this post. Good luck.

  17. Criação writes:

    Congratulations! This fine article has reached the front page of Hacker News!

  18. allan writes:

    nice article. i think you mean Karnataka, not Karatanka in the last line.

  19. Dataisnature: The Hindu Temple as a Model of Fractal Cosmology – Forecasting Architecture with Recursive Instruction – The Known Worlds: writes:

    […] The Hindu Temple as a Model of Fractal Cosmology – Forecasting Architecture with Recursive Instruc… […]

  20. supermachi writes:

    @Dr. Jessie mercay , I have to disagree with your assessment since “Hinduism” itself predates all the other religions you mention. How can you tell that the Hindu architecture itself did not percolate down to Buddhism or Jainsim? Muslim architecture is nothing to be spoken about while clearly we know that Buddhism and Jainism have roots in India. your statement “Hence we must accept that the forms built per Vaastu and Silpa Shastras are beyond religion” sounds just like evangelists and leftists in India who appropriate everything from Yoga to Ayurveda and blames “brahmins” and caste for the mughal barbarism

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The Rhetoric of Weird Wonders Gleefully Carousing in Morphospace : The Biodiversity Heritage Library’s Flickr Collection

EchinothuridenPlate from Anatomie der Echinothuriden – Walter Schurig [1906]

The Biodiversity Heritage Library is a consortium of natural history and botanical libraries that cooperate to digitize the legacy literature of biodiversity held in their collections and to make that literature available for open access and responsible use as a part of a global biodiversity commons.

Scientific illustration, especially of a biological kind, reached an apex in terms of draughtsmanship and delicateness during 19th century before photography become widespread. Though the emphasis on these illustrations was on accuracy, utility and facsimile of biodiversity, the personal aesthetics of the artists inevitably wrestled their way into the frame.

Ernst Haeckel’s brilliant illustrations are the canonical example of this kind of treatment. The imperfect geometries of real world protists and radiolarians were rectified to a crystalline precision and made perfect. Haeckel’s organisms are made to appear to behave like tiny machines. Their colours are over saturated and amplified to the point of psychedelic hyperreality. The revisions in his illustrations were sometimes made to fit theories that defined his own slant on Darwinian evolution. This was taken to the extreme in Haeckel’s embryology illustrations that he hoped would popularise his ‘ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny’ theory.

Biologische_Untersuchungen02Plate from Biologische Untersuchungen – Gustaf Retzius [1890]

Biologische_Untersuchungen02Plate from Biologische Untersuchungen – Gustaf Retzius [1890]

MedusaPlate from Die Medusen – Otto Maas [1897]

MedusaPlate from Die Medusen – Otto Maas [1897]

crinoid_genus_ScyphocrinusPlate from On the Crinoid Genus Scyphocrinus and its Bulbous Root Camarocrinus – Frank Springer [1917]

Æolididae0Plate from Æolididae e famiglie affini del porto di Genova pt.1 – Salvatore Trichese [1879]

Rummaging through the BHL Flickr account will give you an idea of how much material is available for research – more than 2000 albums of plates from manuscripts and proceedings. It amounts to well over 100,000 images. Each album contains annotations and links to the original publications which can be downloaded or viewed online. The title of this post, ‘The Rhetoric of Weird Wonders Gleefully Carousing in Morphospace’, is fragment of a sentence taken from Richard Dawkins’s excellent book The Ancestor’s Tale.

radiolarianPlate from Die Radiolarien (Rhizopoda radiaria) – Ernst Haeckel [1862]

radiolarianPlate from Die Radiolarien (Rhizopoda radiaria) – Ernst Haeckel [1862]

naked_eye_madusaPlate from A Monograph of the British Naked-Eyed Medusæ – Edward Forges [1848]

Plate from Denkschriften der Medicinisch – Ernst Haeckel [1879]

Here’s a pick from the collection (the illustrations above are taken from these monographs):

A Monograph of the British Naked-Eyed Medusæ – Edward Forges [1848]. Monograph can be found online here.

Æolididae e famiglie affini del porto di Genova pt.1 – Salvatore Trichese [1879]. Monograph can be found online here.

Die Medusen – Otto Maas [1897]. Monograph can be found online here.

Die Radiolarien (Rhizopoda radiaria) – Ernst Haeckle [1862]. Monograph can be found online here.

An Account of the Indian Triaxonia – Franz Eilhard Schulze [1902]. Monograph can be found online here.

Anatomie der Echinothuriden – Walter Schurig [1906]. Monograph can be found online here.

Spongiaires de la mere – Duchassaing de Fontbressin & Giovanni Michelotti [1864]. Monograph can be found online here.

Denkschriften der Medicinisch – Ernst Haeckle [1879]. Monograph can be found online here.

On the Crinoid Genus Scyphocrinus and its Bulbous Root Camarocrinus – Frank Springer [1917]. Monograph can be found online here.

Biologische Untersuchungen – Gustaf Retzius [1890].

Further reading:
Pictures of Evolution and Charges of Fraud: Ernst Haeckel’s Embryological Illustrations – Nick Hopwood [PDF]

2 Responses to “The Rhetoric of Weird Wonders Gleefully Carousing in Morphospace : The Biodiversity Heritage Library’s Flickr Collection”

  1. Ernst Haeckel’s brilliant illustrations | irrepressible parasites writes:

    […] source: http://www.dataisnature.com/?p=2111 […]

  2. exquisite circles | art and awareness writes:

    […] cruising around facebook I came across a post on the awakened eye that pointed to a piece called ‘The Rhetoric of Weird Wonders Gleefully Carousing in Morphospace : The Biodiversity Heritage … The name alone seemed a mouth-full and would normally have had me scrolling past with judgement of […]

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Selected Tweets #23: Polyhedra, Primes, Pathogens.

Selected tweets from my Twitter stream @MrPrudence [Summer 2014] with occasional addition annotations:

Going Into Detail - Peter RichardsonGoing Into Detail – Peter Richardson

Going Into Detail – Peter Richardson on metaphorical and geological boundaries illustrated with height-map globes.

Basrah Zoom – Jonathan Cecil’s satellite imaging data of geologic & urban structures reconfigured into a planetoid.

Mathematical Equations as Architectonic Forms. Bldgblog on the Altgeld Math Model Collection.

Max Brückner’s Vielecke und Vielflache, from 1900, includes plates of intricate models of complex polyhedra.

Non-Sequitur. Anthony MoreyNon-Sequitur. Anthony Morey

Poema de los Números Primos. Esther Ferrer’s geometric drawing configurations generated using prime number sequences.

100 Drawings. Alex Maymind’s quasi-scientific architectural classification systems.

Non-Sequitur. Anthony Morey’s series of plan abstractions with volumetric explorations and axonometric matrices.

titlePlate from Vielecke und Vielflache – Max Brückner

Nanoinjector. The tiny nanoeasthetics of DNA sequence transfer from BYU.

Outbreak. Rogan Brown’s hand cut paper reliefs of cells, pathogens & neurons.

On the Origin of Species: The Preservation of Favoured Traces. Ben Fry visualizing the unfolding of Darwin’s ideas

Iannis Xenakis – Music and Architecture: Architectural Projects, Texts, and Realizations [PDF].

PolytopePolytope – Iannis Xenakis

The Optics of Ibn Al-Haytham [c935-1039]. Where the earliest known correct schematic of the human visual system is to be found. [PDF].

Jean François Niceron’s La Perspective Curieuse [1638]. An early treatise on perspective distortion [Plates are to be found at the end of the book].

Capsules of time and space. Drafts/drawings of early soviet spacecraft interiors [1965-66].

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The Schematics of the Light Prop – László Moholy-Nagy & Stefan Sebök

The Mechanics of the Light PropThe Mechanics of the Light Prop – László Moholy-Nagy & Stefan Sebök [1930]

László Moholy-Nagy’s Light Prop for an Electric Stage, a kinetic light sculpture device capable of real-time expanded cinema projection, is well known and widely documented online. Lesser known are a series of associated drawings which were used as plans for the device, some of which were made in collaboration with the engineer Stefan Sebök. It was Sebök who was actually responsible for the design and build of the Light Prop mechanism. The plans for the Light Prop present graphic abstractions of the exploded view schematic where arrows indicate the movement of gear mechanisms and notate the choreography of the machine’s internal parts. The cubist-like multiple and distorted perspectives confound the positions and relationships of the components, perhaps intimating on the way in which light and shadow would be expanded, refracted, deflected and compressed by the device itself. The plans indicate Moholy-Nagy’s intentions to ‘produce a great range of shadow inter-penetrations and simultaneously intercepting patterns in a sequence of slow flickering rhythm’ with ‘discs made of polished metal slotted with regularly spaced perforations, and sheets of glass, celluloid and screens of different media’.

Construction Scheme for Light DisplayConstruction Scheme for Light Display – László Moholy-Nagy [1922-30]

According to a passage in The Visual Mind II, edited by Michele Emmer, Moholy-Nagy never actually used the term ‘Light Space Modulator’ to describe his optokinetic device even though this term is more commonly used than ‘Light Prop’ in literature. Moholy-Nagy did, however, use the title ‘Space Modulator’ for a number of drawings, collages and works for some time after Light Prop was finished, and until his death in 1946.

Light Prop - László Moholy-NagyLight Prop – László Moholy-Nagy

2 Responses to “The Schematics of the Light Prop – László Moholy-Nagy & Stefan Sebök”

  1. r__dlog » dataisnature writes:

    […] The Mechanics of the Light Prop – László Moholy-Nagy & Stefan Sebök [1930] link […]

  2. Alan MacDonald writes:

    I am very inspired by your work. Do you know this book? https://www.amazon.com/Physics-Life-Evolution-Everything/dp/1250078822

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Laplacian Sigils – William George Armstrong’s Electrical Discharge Experiments [1899]

William George Armstrong Electrical Discharge ExperimentsWilliam George Armstrong Electrical Discharge Experiments [1899]

The colour prints created by The Autotype Company to accompany William George Armstrong’s lectures and papers in the late 1800’s are probably some of the earliest electrical discharge visualisations created and widely disseminated. Their earthy colours and explosive textures are the result of applying an electrostatic discharge to a plate dusted with lead and sulphur. In this literal alchemical transaction, materials are transformed into delicately fine Laplacian aggregations known as Lichtenberg figures. The images were tellingly annotated by Armstrong in a paper presented at the Royal Society in 1899:

‘I have already spoken of electricity as organised motion, and we have here an example of it carried apparently to the verge of life […] we see arborescent forms, showing trees and undergrowth, in which stems, branches, and leaves find their approximate representatives […] even the root is indicated lying at the foot of the stem’

Fittingly, Armstrong used two materials strongly associated with alchemical practice and symbolism. So these fractal figures might be seen as sigils of a real elemental transmutation of fire, earth and metal governed by a process of self-organisation. In the computational realm electrical discharge patterns can be accurately modelled by applying stochastic procedures to Diffusion Limited Aggregation and Laplacian Growth algorithms.

William George Armstrong Electrical Discharge Experiments

William George Armstrong Electrical Discharge Experiments

William George Armstrong Electrical Discharge Experiments

William George Armstrong Electrical Discharge Experiments

William George Armstrong Electrical Discharge Experiments

William George Armstrong Electrical Discharge Experiments

William George Armstrong Electrical Discharge Experiments

William George Armstrong Electrical Discharge Experiments

Images discovered at: Prints.royalsociety.org

2 Responses to “Laplacian Sigils – William George Armstrong’s Electrical Discharge Experiments [1899]”

  1. Poulomi writes:

    Thank you – wonderful prints and history.

  2. Laplacian Sigils – William George Armstrong | polklemme.blogs writes:

    […] via dataisnature […]

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Agates – Time Compiled

Agates – Time CompiledAgate – Pascal Petit

The linear patterns in agates are a kind of Earth process data visualization, their intricate coloured bands, much like the tree rings in dendrochronology, are encoded recordings of palaeoclimatic environments, oscillating temperature and pressure events as well chaotic chemical interactions. The patterns are partly generated by self-organization through chemical feedback processes – a cybernetics of geology where fractal patterns appear as lithic printouts of non-linear dynamical chemical processes. Each band in these geological chaos diagrams represent a chemical reaction phase before it stabilises and shifts direction. Agate Patterns can be accurately modeled using fractal functions modulated with Brownian motion algorithms.

Agates – Time CompiledCrazy Lace Agate – Agatehill

Agates – Time CompiledSumatran Agate – Agatehill

Agates – Time Compiled Laguna Agate – Agatehill

Agates – Time Compiled Mexican Lace Agate – Agatehill

Thermal pulsing combined with the presence of iron and manganese metal oxides generate the rich colouration. Sometimes bacterial decomposition of organic matter consumes some of the iron oxide, modifying the reaction still further. Fitting then that some agates contain microbacterial-like patterns as if the stones themselves were bacterial colonies fossilized. Imagine an Agate playback device capable of translating these million year long earth recordings into intelligible data representing all those interacting processes.

Agates – Time Compiled Algorithmically generated ‘Musgrave Agate’

Agates – Time Compiled Czech Agate – Michal-Z

Agates – Time CompiledLaguna Agate – Agatehill

A selection of agate photographs can be found in this Flickr gallery

Related Posts:
The Writing of Stones – Roger Caillois
Hypogean Wildstyle: Dominik Strzelec’s Byzantine Geology
Banded Agates, Sonic Hydrodynamics & the BZ Reaction

4 Responses to “Agates – Time Compiled”

  1. David Haworth writes:

    It’s 4:30am & I’m writing a chapter of my PhD on Caillois & The Writing of Stones. I take a quick break, open up Facebook on my phone & there you are with your “lithic printouts”… Inspiring & beautiful.

  2. paul writes:

    Thanks for the comment David.

    A PhD chapter on the Writing of Stones, now that is something I’d like to read. In fact I am curious about the subject of your PhD in general? You probably noticed the link to a previous post on Caillois’s amazing book.


  3. David Haworth writes:

    Hi Paul,

    Yes the Caillois post was my introduction to your amazing website. My PhD is in its early stages, but I’m looking at the idea of nature as an artist in people like Caillois, Haeckel, and some writers. Ideas of anthropomorphism, algorithms and apophenia abound. I will be looking through dataisnature very carefully for inspiration!

  4. Recent reads. | perry street palace writes:

    […] Agates – Time Compiled. Prudence, P., Dataisnature (Nov. 2014). [Ooooh. Pretty. -Ed.] […]

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Charles Howard Hinton Views of the Tessaract from ‘The Fourth Dimension’ – Charles Howard Hinton [1906]

At some point last month this blog moved beyond 10 years of existence (a good or bad thing? probably a bit of both). Dataisnature originally set out to examine generative artworks that borrowed algorithms developed by scientists to simulate and model nature – it’s in the blogs name. But if nature could be visualised by code, then by a process of reverse engineering, code and its visual signatures, can be extracted from nature. So Dataisnature began to explore the patterns of land formation resulting from the repeating doWhile loops of run-time planet Earth locked in deep geological time. It began to focus on metamorphic algorithms, aeolian protocols and hydrodynamic computations as a systematic way of observing and understanding Earth as spatio-temporal pattern making machine. Humans have also began to act out the encoded choreographies of algorithms to simulate code in the realm of traditional drawing and painting. They have adopted the mindset of the algorithm, became conduits of the conditional, and began to act out the rule set. And so this blog drifted out into the many related territories, offshoots and asides of parametric culture, both past and present.

Thanks for taking time to read Dataisnature over the years, your comments, and emails of support!

La Porte Monumentale  - René BinetLa Porte Monumentale – René Binet

Here are ten blog posts that either I or you have enjoyed a bit more than others – none of them are directly connected to generative art: Athanasius Kircher – Combinatorial Music, Augmented Face-Substitution & Projection Systems Illustrated in the 17th-Century, The Writing of Stones – Roger Caillois, Primal Generative: Form Constants & Entoptic Geometry, René Binet – Esquisses Décoratives & the Protozoic Façade of Porte Monumentale, Benjamin Betts – Geometrical Psychology, Lawrence Halprin’s Motations & Ecoscores, Drop City – Colonizing consciousness with abodes of Truncated Icosorhombic Dodecahedra, Nils Barricelli’s 5 Kilobyte Symbiogenesis Simulations and ‘Molecule Shaped Numbers’ – A Precursor to DNA Computing, The Generative Song & Sound Pattern Matrixes of the Shipibo Indians, The Melodies and Megaliths of Pseudocrystalline Terrains.

Friedrich Magnus SchwerdPlate from ‘Diffraction in the Fundamental Laws of Wave Theory Developed Analytically and Presented in Pictures’ – Friedrich Magnus Schwerd [1835]

It’s also a good time to mention the more regularly updated Dataisnature Facebook page which predominately links to online books, artifacts and ideas relating to the history of scientific visualisation, interspersed with occasional contemporary annotations. Here are ten Dataisnature Facebook entries, in reverse chronological order, of scientific and artistic works – all but two via the indispensable archive.org, and all beautifully illustrated: The Fourth Dimension – Charles Howard Hinton [1906], Descriptive Illustrated Catalogue of the Sixty-Eight Competitive Designs for the Great Tower for London – Fred. C. Lynde [1890], Desmids of the United States and list of American Pediastrum’ – Francis Wolle [1892], A Popular Account of Phosphorescent Animals and Vegetables Charles Frederick Holder [1887], A Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism – James Clerk Maxwell [1873], Das Mineralreich in Bildern: Naturhistorisch-technische Beschreibung und Abbildung der wichtigsten Mineralien – Johann von Kurr Gottlob [1858], Ueber den Pollen – Carl Julius Fritzsche [1837], Theatrum Cometicum – Stanislaus Lubienietzki [1668], La Pratica di Prospettiva – Lorenzo Sirigatti [1596], Perspectiva Corporum Regularum – Wenzel Jamnitzer [1568].

3 Responses to “Ten”

  1. Guy writes:

    Belated congrats on 10 years of Dataisnature, Paul. I really need to visit this site more often, as there’s always something new and interesting to read here. I like your paragraph (below the Hinton tesseract image) on the evolving use of code and the resultant drifting focus of this blog. Keep up the good work.

  2. paul writes:

    Guy, and a belated thanks for your comment. The ‘resultant drifting focus of this blog’ is, I imagine, one of the main reasons it has managed to stay alive for 10 years. Every few months I think ‘that’s enough’ but then I find something new that I want to share.

  3. John writes:

    Thanks for sharing so much. I’ve just rediscovered your site at a particularly opportune time for me. There is so much excellent stuff here. Even if you never update your blog again, you’ve given me heaps to think about.

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Where Time Becomes Nervous: John Mcphee’s Annals of the Former World

Annals of the Former WorldPanorama from Point Sublime [Grand Canyon] – Printed by Julius Bien [1882]

If you want to know about Protoliths, Abyssoliths, Xenoliths and Tectonic Knots, of index fossils, totemic assemblages of ophiolitic Serpentine, of erratic stones and aesthonspheric calligraphy, geochronology, abyssal plains and gravity maps, you might do well to journey with John Mcphee over the coarse of a few decades, and four books, while he traveled with a handful of distinguished geologists across the 50th parallel of the US. His epic account of the geology of North America, in Annals of the The Former World, contains 4.5 billion years of geological history crammed into the 900 pages. Mcphee is well-know as a master stylist. His drama of lithology and stratigraphy relies on the clever interplay between the story the Earth and the life stories and anecdotes of those geologists who helped him unpack the annals of deep time. The author melds metaphors between micro-time and deep time instinctively, juggling time scales of the vast and minute to bring into focus what geologists call the ‘bigger picture’. While examining a rock at the Rawlins Uplift he says ‘we were looking at moments of over half the existence of the Earth… In 1/250th of a second a camera could capture 26 hundred million years’. Later ‘The difference between a human lifetime and 400 Million years would seem to be the difference between time incomprehensible and time infinitesimal, but what brings them together is that the smaller unit – bridging in the mind the intervening aeons – can imagine and virtually see the larger one.

Annals of the Former WorldEngraving of the unconformity at Jedburgh from Theory of the Earth Volume 1 – James Hutton [1795]

The concept of geological deep time was coined by the Scottish Geologist James Hutton, in his treatise Theory of the Earth, in the late 18th century after geochemical inspection of rock in Scotland and Scandinavia. Up until his discovery the religious-centric world-view held that the age of the planet was a few thousand years old. Stratigraphic signatures and compositions of rock gave rise to Hutton’s revised estimation of hundreds of millions years – still quite a way short of the actual 4.54 billions years we now know it to be.

According to James Hall, who popularised Hutton’s work, ‘the mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss…We found no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of end’. Stephen Jay Gould, in his book Times Arrow, Times Cycle commented that these swathes of time are so immense that we can only understand them as metaphors in relation to the time humans have existed in the planet.

Mcphee’s writing is poetic whist still retaining scientific rigour, his stories seem to disclose an immensely slow but purposeful unfolding of tectonic history. We travel with him exploring road-cuts in order to better understand the orchestration of mountain ranges by reading backwards through time. The author reverse engineers the cryptography of geology by examining index fossils, by separating gneisses from schists, and by exploring more recent techniques such as geochronology, thermochronology and acromagnetic mapping.

Annals of the Former WorldGeological Cross Section of Colorado – Josiah Edward Spurr [1898]

‘The writing of Stratigraphy is a cryptic one, but before you have crossed the range you have seen rock of such varied ages and provenance that time itself becomes nervous – Pilocene, Miocene, Eocene, Jurassic here, Triassic there… it seems random, a collector of relics of varied ages’. He reminds us that ‘Nature is messy, don’t expect it to be uniform or consistent’. Lithographic time gaps confuse matters and the cooling of magma can corrupt the chronology, but here and there is some order and the writings of these rocks can decoded to show their past and future intentions. ‘Corrugations of abyssal plains read indefinitely as extending barcodes’ and ‘The structure of the sea floor is a simple set of tree rings…..carrying easily decipherable magnetic structures’. Or according to Anita Harris, his traveling geologist companion in one section, ‘Rocks are books, they have a different vocabulary and alphabet, but you can learn to read them…they tell you about temperature and pressure…the colours, grain, sizes and the ripples give you clues to the energy of the environment of deposition. As you ascend mountains you descend through the layers of the ancient oceans. A road cut to a geologist is the Rosetta Stone to a Egyptologist’.

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Robert le Ricolais’s Tensegrity Models – ‘The Art of Structure is Where to Put the Holes’

Robert le RicolaisAutomorphic Compression Member & Automorphic Tube Model – Robert le Ricolais

Robert le Ricolais’s wire-frame tensegrity structures may well stand as sculptural artworks in their own right. His finely crafted forms appear to have a remarkable lightness, insinuating objects of flight, part kite, part airship skeleton. Their balanced forms create a meditative aerodynamic aesthetic, implying propulsion or rotation. Some, throwing their graphic wire-frame shadows into space, defy gravity through their nearly-not-thereness.

Robert le RicolaisDouble Parabolic Trihex Bridge for the Skyrail – Robert le Ricolais

Robert le RicolaisDouble Parabolic Trihex Bridge for the Skyrail – Robert le Ricolais

Robert le RicolaisFunicular Polygon of Revolution Lemniscate – Robert le Ricolais

Robert le RicolaisAleph Bridge – Robert le Ricolais

Robert le RicolaisFunicular Polygon of Revolution Pseudosphere – Robert le Ricolais

Robert le RicolaisOmega Tower for 19 Power Lines – Robert le Ricolais

The models were brought to light in the mid 90’s by one of Ricolais previous students, professor Peter McCleary, for an exhibition of the architects works. They had been grounded and captive in various storerooms for over 20 years. Ricolais [1894-1977], like Buckmister Fuller, was interested in structural morphology defined by tensional integrity of natural structures – the ubiquitous soap bubble and sea shell. Ricolais ‘fantasized of going inside a rope to find a new way to realize his central vision of zero weight and infinite span’ Rather than the accretion of ideas to layer complex forms of analysis, Ricolais preferred to work in the opposite direction, simulating the Buddhist mindset – ‘the art of structure is where to put the holes’.

Robert le RicolaisPolyten Bridge – Robert le Ricolais

Robert le RicolaisRe-tensionned Monkey Saddle – Robert le Ricolais

Robert le RicolaisStarhex Dome – Robert le Ricolais

Related Posts:
Spatiologies – Vittorio Giorgini
Yuri Avvakumov – Agitarch Structures: Reconfiguring Utopia
The Architectural Fantasies of Iakov Chernikhov
Drop City – Colonizing consciousness with abodes of Truncated Icosorhombic Dodecahedra

3 Responses to “Robert le Ricolais’s Tensegrity Models – ‘The Art of Structure is Where to Put the Holes’”

  1. Stephen Zdepski writes:

    Funicular Polygon of Revolution Lemniscate – Robert le Ricolais. We conceived and constructed this model in 1969-70 with another Kahn Master’s Studio student from South America. The goal was to create a beam which would deflect upward when loaded, and it did under testing.

  2. Nick writes:


    If you have any documentation of this, I’d love to see it. Furthermore, should you have or know of any further reading of Le Ricolais’ work, please let us know!

  3. Stephen Zdepski writes:

    Unfortunately the Structures Lab rarely documented the testing. Other than a few black and white photos and the model itself at Penn, there is little if any other material. Prof. Le Ricolais was an enthusiastic champion of discovery and experimentation. Most of the models were directed at “minimum weight and maximum span,” Ours was an attempt to answer if beams could be loaded downward, and react upward. The model did, although many of the reasons why remain a mystery.

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