“In invisible architecture the harmonics are apprehensible only by our intuitions and subconscious aesthetics, and operative only in the twilight zone between conscious and subconscious awareness. This is the area of intuitive and aesthetic formulation.” Buckminster Fuller, The Prospect for Humanity
The workings of the mind have long been invisible to the naked eye. But we are already quite used to images of the human brain. When the first Magnetic Resonance image was published in 1973 and the first MRIs of the human body in 1977, we began to revolutionize the way we envision the structure of the human brain. But mapping the brain is not what it used to be. Now we see a profusion of realtime mapping of not only the structure but of the activity and function of the brain.
Through new types of brain visualization technologies such as Functional MRI (fMRI), SPECT, Brain Fiber Tractography (DTI) and 3D computer simulation of the active neurostructure we can visualize mental activity in order to change the way we think.
Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography or SPECT scans are slices that show blood flow in the brain – the parts of the brain that are the most active - enabling us to compare different mental states side by side. SPECT scans help us understand how drugs influence the way the brain works and has been used in experiments for applied compassion and meditation.
Brain Fiber tractography is a new, noninvasive way to trace fiber bundles in vivo to help us gain a better understanding of brain anatomy. Diffusion tensor datasets from Fiber Tractography enable researchers to follow disease pathways in white matter and track patterns of recovery from congenital diseases.
Diffusion-sensitive nuclear spin tomography scans
These new ways to visualize brain structure and function also enable us to see the sheer beauty and complexity of the human brain in action.
At the same time that we are moving to new vistas of the brain and mind, we are using an ever increasing palette of visualization technologies to map the global mind. Almost daily we witness new ways to visualize our formerly invisible collective thinking process and the global activity of our human species. Like the maps of neurons and synapses, dynamic maps that capture the trails and tendrils of the global brain look a lot what we have been seeing inside the human body.
In the same way that the Earth’s rivers and tributaries look like the arteries and veins in a human body, the dense networks of social communities, aggregated clusters of scholarly citation activity and the topological structure of Internet Router locations look like the latest images of the neurotransmitter action of the neurostructure on the scale of the individual.
Sandia engineer Kevin Boyack, Richard Klavans & Brad Paley generated this map of 800,000 published papers showing the relationships among them & among different scientific disciplines. Featured in the Nature, Seed and Discover Magazines, 2007
A sampling of social network visualizations from VisualComplexity.com
2001 Internet Topology from CAIDA’s graph visualization tool, WALRUS
When mapped and visualized, the invisible architecture of crowd behavior and the activity of the collective mind seem to be mirror reflections of the structural characteristics of the human brain.
We routinely map the structure and cross-fertilization of the sciences in science mapping. We visualize the history of knowledge in Knowledge Domain visualization. We see the architecture of communication in social network visualizations and the rapid growth of networked computing in large graph maps of cyberspace.
As Web 2.0 applications scale up, they now come with new tools enabling us to see visualizations that change in front of our eyes in realtime. We can interact with the emergent mosaic of Wikipedia and visualize Semantic coverage of science and technology in Wikipedia through beautiful maps created in 2007 by visionary team Bruce W. Herr II, Todd M. Holloway, and Katy Börner.
We can navigate through emergent realtime global conversations as tweets on the globe in TwitterVision 3D.
Today's Digg stories in ARC
Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar discuss "I Want You To Want Me" at MOMA
Scientists, technologists and artists regularly team up on projects shown using large screens to bring a new level of aesthetics to the visualization of data, turning their results into an interactive art experience through museum installations such as MOMA’s "Design and the Elastic Mind" exhibition of 2008.
Visualization technologies today are driven by an aesthetic imperative. It is their very nature to use beauty to encourage collaboration, global stewardship and activism - all hallmarks of the emerging global mind. In the past few years, GapMinder, founded by Ola, Anna and Hans Rosling bring elegance and dynamism to global statistics in order promote sustainability and alleviate world poverty through the UN Millenium Development Goals.
Hans Rosling demonstrates GapMinder at TED
Now data analysis is a social experience – users share, discover, collaborate, and discuss their data and visualizations in a way previously unheard of. Through a brilliant collaborative experiment created by Mathematician Martin Wattenberg and artist Fernanda Viégas, open access to visualization tools and datasets is rapidly becoming democratized through IBM’s ManyEyes.
We think nothing of this visual feast of global activity, of shared ideas, of popular peer review because they are already so common and ubiquitous on our computer screens. Most of these new visualization genres emerged in the past decade, many have come from the academic communities, and a large group of these visualization technologies emerge as or are moving toward open source applications. And along with them came a host of visualization aggregators, beginning with Martin Dodge’s online Atlas of Cyberspaces, now a book and website that is still a classic favorite. Now we have more open source initiatives such as the Cyberinfrastructure for Science Center at University of Indiana led by information visualization visionary Katy Börner and a new generation of aggregation web sites such as Visual Complexity, Flowing Data, Scimaps.org, A Beautiful WWW, Information Aesthetics and Accuracy&Aesthetics.
These new visualization propagators above represent a higher order visualizing ability and our collective urge toward visualization convergence. Their work will soon scale to the newest semantic social networks and collective intelligence hubs that are the forerunners of Web 3.0. Currently TWINE and Freebase are the best new instantiations of this breed of semantic intelligence network. And already the users of these hubs represent of a new kind of networked mind. With these networks in the lead, we are beginning to witness a new generation of social networks comprised of seasoned visionaries.
Let’s look closer at the forerunners of this brand new genre of higher level thought and vision. In my next few entries I will focus on specific visualization visionaries and their tools of choice in order to illuminate three emerging trends in what will soon become visualization of the global mind: Visioning Collective I.Q., Mapping SpaceTime and Visualizing Qualia. The interesting surprise is that these practitioners are actually returning to some of our most ancient tools and perspectives in order to move us collectively to the next step.