“Nothing fundamental separates the course of human history from the course of physical history, whether in the stars or organic diversity. Astronomy, geology, and evolutionary biology are examples of primarily historical disciplines linked by consilience to the rest of the natural sciences." E.O. Wilson, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge
For some time, we have been witnessing what Buckminster Fuller called “accelerating acceleration.” Whether we admit it or not, each and every one of us feels this evolutionary shift in the speed of change – it’s palpable. We are becoming comfortable with history in motion, where we tell our generational stories without losing their dynamism, where we wrap our hands and heads around the union of the microcosm of mind and the macrocosm of the known Universe. We are rapidly developing new communication tools to express it and new arts to envision it.
Visualizing the Bible - Chris Harrison and Christoph Römhild collaborated to create this beautiful image above. It is agreed by many to be one of the most poetic data visualizations ever created. The rainbow colored arcs illuminate the 63,779 cross references found within the Bible.
The rapid proliferation of new communication tools and information have split our attention, scattered our minds and fragmented our thinking processes. Yet at the very same time we are creating new visual languages to express these massive amounts of data and to envision our human communication patterns. We map the cross-fertilization of ideas and aggregated communities of action and purpose. We visualize the fusion of social networks, the elastic unity of the creative urge, the emergence of new fields, disciplines and paradigms. And as these maps and visualizations converge, we recognize a more overarching shape, a combined presence that can only be felt and seen, but not described.
We need to move to a new "pattern language" to find a unifying vision for the profusion of media and information that confronts us every day. We need to understand patterns of data from a broader point of view and continuously visualize how we fit into the image of the whole. We are part of a mosaic that cannot be accessed linearly or in pieces. But we do recognize it when we see it.
Twingly Screensaver - Visualizing the Blogosphere
What are the essential characteristics of this recognizable mosaic, this complex, convergent image of the whole? In a return to very ancient ideas, four words may come together to describe it – integritas, consonantia, claritas and communitas. In the 13th century, theologian and philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas deemed the first three Latin terms the essential qualities of beauty in his Summa Theologiae. To these three terms I will add another Latin term, communitas, which was rescued in the 1980s in the anthropological study of the ritual process. Together these four terms below capture an understanding of visualization that offer an exquisite way to think about today's mirrors of connective intelligence.
Integritas is translated as “wholeness” or “completeness” - the realization of perfection. According to Umberto Eco, integritas means “the presence in an organic whole of all the parts which concur in defining it as that which it is.” The word integritas captures the essential soul of the thing, the moment when it transcends mere representation. Buckminster Fuller popularized a scientific word for the intentional application of integritas – synergy – where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Now this word is used to characterize everything from group cooperation in corporate environments to Toyota’s hybrid technology – “Synergy Drive.”
Consonantia is pragmatically applied in the most ancient principle of architecture – the “divine proportion.” Intentionally used by architects, stone masons, artists, musicians and designers for centuries, consonatia means proportion and harmony – where the parts come together in a unified way and each part mirrors and reflects the whole.
Claritas, “radiance” or “spendor” is the unique and present essence of the thing itself. It is both the pleasure and truth of each aspect and the universal qualities in the whole – its brilliance and luminosity. Claritas is the quality that allows beauty to illuminate its beholder, where intellect and intuition converge in its encounter.
Communitas is the spirit of community. Cultural anthropologist Victor Turner borrowed the Latin word, communitas to describe an essential element of the ritual experience - the communal nature of shared liminality. When individuals are liminal, they are ambiguous, in transition. When a group of individuals share an ephemeral identity during rites of passage, communitas is often experienced. According to Turner, communitas is marked by the sacred – a feeling of togetherness that is closer than that allowed under normal conditions. Sometimes called “unity consciousness,” communitas is a transient state – it does not last - yet participants are transformed in some way by their experience of it.
As our collective perception is reshaped by the dynamic reflection of the whole, these four terms merge into a new way of telling the history of beauty and describing modern aesthetics of connective intelligence. Where Goethe called architecture “frozen music” our new information architectures today are nothing if not fluid.
aesthetics elevates our understanding of the organism while at the same time
bringing the laboriously abstract considerations of aesthetics down to
manageable size. We “get” these pictures. They speak to us viscerally, they
beguile us, they are attractive.
They speak across scale, geography, culture, class and point of view;
They unify our understanding by personalizing it, by helping us see where each
and every one of us fits into the whole.
They have integritas. And, like
the first Earthrise image, they engender communitas, mirroring the unity of the organism as they enhance our collective
vision, our connective mind, through the act of looking.
These old Latin terms from the history of aesthetics have a new ring when we speak in the language of pattern about the emerging global mind. This new art form for connective intelligence reflects the aggregated patterns of humanity, the dance of communication and the circuits of shared knowledge in ways that ignite our intuition and stir our emotions.
We have emergent memes and new portals as creative design and aesthetics meets information visualization. Andrew Vande Moere at the University of Sydney’s Information Aesthetics weblog, exploring the “symbiotic relationship between creative design and the field of information visualization,” is one of them. Infosthetics is one of a new generation of pointers to something larger, something that is shifting from infancy to its next stage – a generative mosaic of connective intelligence. As economic systems collapse around the world, a new sense of the collective self is rising through this global brain trust. And in 2009, SIGGRAPH Conference is encouraging this shift by developing a new thematic area for Information Aesthetics, the “Information Aesthetics Showcase.” Vande Moere just posted an interview with the curator of this showcase, Victoria Szabo on his blog here.
In the next few entries I will highlight some of today’s dynamic visualizations that best embody these essential qualities of beauty: Integritas, Claritas,Consonantia and Communitas.