understanding of the Universe is radically changing through a new generation of
temporal and spatial visualization tools. The images of the cosmos brought back
from NASA’s Hubble telescope, the Wilkinson Microwave Anistropy Probe (WMAP) and the Planck multi-frequency microwave all-sky
survey help us visualize
space and time in ways we never thought
possible. At the same time, tools such as x-ray tomography and x-ray
fluorescence imaging allow researchers to to decode ancient artifacts such as
the Antikythera Mechanism and the
Archimedes Palimpsest manuscript. Through
this research we can now identify important details that have been lost to
history for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years. New details gleaned from
these technology enhanced micro views redefine the way we understand ancient
generations, the way we visualized
natural information about the universe around us has shaped our conceptions of
time. Now it is becoming ever more important to pull back the veil to discover
ways in which humans have visualized
time rather than simply reviewing the text-based historical record to
understand their world views.
history through visual artifacts (i.e., the designs of pottery, textiles,
architectures, manuscripts, instruments and their ornamental faces) can offer
something valuable - a condensed,
almost alternative view of history. This
visual record surprisingly reveals perspectives that humanity has lost or
thrown away – some that are not adequately represented by the “official”
histories we have passed down from century to century.
By applying a Shape
of Thoughtapproach (an approach that focuses on the patterns and
meanings that link ancient artifacts, emergent technologies, Nature’s geometry,
and human cognition) to explore the nature of time, we will find a
vastly different story than that we have told ourselves thus far. This new story of time is driven by
visual language - thirteen carefully selected images of artifacts from specific
periods in history. Each image is emblematic of specific ways in which humanity
has understood the nature of time. We can re-vision history as we return to
them once again with a set of new questions.
SynchroSentience captures the spirit of the “intersection” of time cycles. Each
image in SynchroSentience I & II above unveils a story that crosses vast
areas of the world and different periods in history. With this touchstone, we
can think about time as a pulsing, overlapping, nested phenomenon. Imaging the
dynamic moment where cycles intersect in longer scales of time can almost be
called an art form. It allows us to see the intersections that create moments of
Some images in
SynchroSentience convey the underside of the history of time – stories that we
have not listened to enough. These stories convey how folk arts and women
contributed some of the most important pieces of knowledge that led to similar
discoveries using our scientific instruments. They demonstrate the ways in which
indigenous cultures experience time with a larger sensibility – how they still
have much to teach us if only we would listen.
these images, we may broaden our conceptual vista of time. Perhaps we can begin
to intentionally use our new visual languages to more effectively experience
humanity’s place in the tree of life, our role on the planet and our
understanding of the dynamics of the Universe in which we live. Let’s begin
with the dance of Kairos and Chronos…
The Dance of
Kairos and Chronos
Chronos, both ancient concepts, characterize two vastly different ways of
experiencing time. The ancient Greeks recognized
two kinds of time - one is linear, quantitative - the other, a special temporal
threshold that carries with it a profound experience. The Bible refers to
Kairos time as “God time” – on a
threshold. In classical and medieval periods, Kairos was linked to Lady Fortuna
(the Wheel of Fortune), the goddess whose wheels turn in a random fashion,
sometimes bringing fortune, sometimes grief. In the quantum world, two
different times, very resonant with these ancient concepts of Kairos and
Chronos are used: synchronic and diachronic time. These two types of time
scales are both needed to understand that time is a spatial construction.
The diachronic trajectory is
the path an object takes over a period of time – an interval, a duration, where
change or evolution is experienced.
Unlike diachronic time, synchronic time (like Kairos), is elusive – it’s
a much more symbolic animal… a poignant overlap of two things at once, a potent
time, a recurring cycle, like the date of Christmas, the month of Ramadan. Or for the Hindu
Balinese, Kairos is expressed in their ritual calendar when the one-year,
10-year and 100-year cycles intersect and overlap, the Eka Dasa Rudra – when
their most important pilgrimage to Mt. Besakih temple takes place – once every
hundred years when the last generation has fully passed away the island spirit
is reborn anew. When balance is restored.
Balinese “Mother Temple” Besakih at the foot of Gunung
Agung, Central Bali
We mustn’t mess with synchronic
time – it is the province of Gods, the sacred. It is luminous, diaphanous. It fleets. It never ends.
It is spontaneous, enduring. It is inside moments of ultimate paradox –
both embraced and revered, and mostly unexpected. One never plans for Kairos
time, yet the context for its emergence can be carefully cultivated through the
ritual process or in the act of poeisis. Kairos sings in the overtones of the
pentatonic hues of the gamelan, holds the first light of sunrise in the vernal
equinox, imbues the rapture of your first kiss, the brilliant visage in your
newborn’s gaze, carries the endless weight of one last good-bye. Kairos is the
infinite moment your life would never be the same.
Kronos… well, Chronos is the
punch card, the alarm bells, the daily march – chronos belongs to computus,
reckons the calendar, unwinds the cycles and lays them out in neat rows or
gridlines, straightening them with a clean edged knife. Chronos is the alpha
and omega, our religions’ linear path to end time scenarios, our scientists’
endless search to pinpoint the beginning of the universe, the first shudder of
the Big Bang.
How can we once again return to
Kairos time, write with a “kairos hand,” speak with a “kairos voice” – can we
once again view time as a cosmic reenchantment? Visualizing time on grander
scales is one way. But to get there we need to return and remember the importance of what ancient
civilizations already knew. One threshold between the very ancient and
classical worlds was the philosopher Plato, who codified the first Western
geometric cosmology in Timaeus, a philosophy of time in The Republic, and a doctrine of recollection
in Meno and Phaedo. As a diffusionist of ideas coming down from the
Orphics and Pythagoreans, Plato was passing down a much more ancient
understanding of Kairos time.
a word first coined by Plato, is to remember “that which lies deep in the
soul.” Plato’s philosophy was grounded in “metempsychosis” - the transmigration of the soul. He
assumed we had many more memories deep beneath our everyday consciousness, that
the soul carried with it these innate memories. Recalling Hesiod and
Pythagoreans, Plato emphasized how the soul memory was washed out and forgotten
in the rivers of Lethe before we enter a new life.
This concept of
anamnesis could also be considered a great remembering of a generational soul,
which allows us to retain our genetic memory: what generations before us have
lived, learned and recorded. We have gained and lost huge chunks of history
through wars, religious fanatacism and the systematic destruction of our
hard-won knowledge. Through this, we built an edifice of chronos time and reckoned
our calendars to fit the needs of the powers that be. The dogmatic adherence to
chronos ushered in the amnesia of much that came before.
In an article
titled “Mythologies of Memory and Forgetting,” the late Mircea Eliade takes
us through the ancient art of memory to a new form of anamnesis – remembering
and documenting our myriad histories. Eliade provocatively points out that our
contemporary globalized world is beginning to open up to a new way of looking
at the past - “historiography” -
where we now have a new type of access to all cultures, across all time
periods. He suggests we are immersed in a new project of anamnesis – that is,
trying to piece together a much larger human mosaic of sorts, to “revive the
entire past of humanity.”
assertion was made in the early 1960s before the singularity curve defined the
way we use our communication technologies. However, Eliade sensed where we have
come to, now that anybody can have access to any perspective of time. An
average 10-year old has immediate access to the margins of history through the
emerging linked data web.
tomography to microblogs to Wikipedia, our indigenous histories, ancient
scripts and reports from the leading edge of science are now laid out side by
side, illuminated by our computer screens, handhelds, touch tables, IPads and
augmented environments. A new lens widens the scope of our more expansive
present moment. Hyperlinked and mashed up, new movies and image montages
capture vintage futurism juxtaposed with our newest histories of the past.
described anamnesis as a tool for today. He encouraged us to return to ancient
understandings in order to link them to the most our pressing contemporary
problems. How can we effectively recover this lost history? We can do this by
re-visioning humanity’s confluent histories. With SynchroSentience the stories behind these artifacts can be introduced in order to intuitively grasp the
patterned memories within. In retelling time, let’s visually link our latest
technologies and scientific understandings with a seamless thread, spinning
this story from future to the past and back again to remember what we already
know that has been forgotten.
I. Scaling Time
scientists explore deep, cosmic time - the birth of stars, the geologic record
and paleoclimate cycles. Our current nanoscale resonances are captured in the
vibrations and microwave signals of today’s atomic clocks. But these clocks
must still be continuously balanced for the lack of infinite precision that is
the essential nature of universal time.
incommensurability of time woos us, yet precision remains elusive. We remain
confounded by the fact that time’s perfect measure cannot be captured by our
instruments, however precise. Like the dichotomies of motion in Zeno’s paradox,
even the next generation of quantum and optical clocks will not capture the
paradoxical quality of perfect time without adding leap seconds and making
adjustments on a regular basis. Such is the way of time.
Time, it seems,
still has a greater story to tell. This story can now be told in the language
of light and sound. As we look for beginnings, even our quantum physicists
cannot agree on whether time is truly asymmetrical or whether there is symmetry
to be found.Fotini Markopoulou
Kalamara from the Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics suggests that we need to get rid of space to have time. The arrow of
time leads us to find that even our views of the Universe are too limited.
With the huge
challenges faced by the planet, we as stewards need to conceptually expand our
notion of time at this critical juncture in our history. We can do this with a
confluence of new calendars, clocks and timelines such as NASA’s updated
version of Carl Sagan’s Cosmic Calendar and Cesare Emiliani’s proposed 10,000 year “Holocene Calendar”. But how quickly can
we adopt these new tools and take the approach of the Long Now Foundation’s“Clock of the Long Now”? These represent a few ways we can quickly reframe our understanding of humanity’s tiny
slice of time in a larger, cosmic framework.
clocks, calendars and timelines in this way allows us to expand our
contemporary dialogues around climate change, biodiversity, cultural exchange
and globalization as we rapidly become planetary humans.
longer historical arcs encourage us to create broader global narratives.
Professor David Christian of the University of California, San Diego has
developed a course called “Big History.” Christian’s Big History presents
perhaps one of best frameworks that apply this thinking to the way we teach
history.After over 20 years
honing his interdisciplinary course at UCSD with physists, biologists,
astronomers and ecologists, his Big History course has now been adopted in
numerous universities throughout America and is available as a packaged video
premise in Big History is to look at these larger timescales to understand the
history of civilization in a more realistic landscape of time and space. The driving
evolutionary forces that link humanity with the cosmos are complexity and
emergence – both important dynamics behind the birth of a star to the birth of
a cell.He identifies Eight
Thresholds from the Big Bang to the modern revolution.
visualizations of the geologic spiral (released in 2006) and the Geologic
timescale “clock” (released in 2010) help us look at stratigraphic “deep time”
in the history of Earth. Geologist James Hutton pioneered the scientific
concept of deep time in the 18th century. Hutton observed a more
expansive history in the layering of geologic strata and was the first offer
proof that humans needed to think in geologic scales. Yet prior to Hutton,
geologic time was recognized and discussed in the works of Leonardo da Vinci in
the 15th century and even earlier by 11th century, Arab
polymath Avicenna and Chinese Naturalist Shen Kuo.
Now we have new
visualizations of deep time that show scales in which the 2-million year
quaternary period, the era where recognizable humans appear, is almost too
small to be visible. In turn, these “maps” of deep time allow us to see
humanity as a much smaller part of a larger evolutionary force. They engender a
self-reflexive dose of humility as we step off our pedestal to accept a role of
stewardship as part of a larger superorganism - Earth in a galactic community.
The USGS Geologic Time Spiral 2006
To see these
larger arcs of time requires more dynamic visual media environments such as
planetariums and immersive dome theatres. Some of the newest collaborations
between artists, visualization technologists and scientists have enabled us to
have new views of time as a matter of scale, moving from the astro to the
quantum scale with seamless ease.
unleashed a new generation of animated visualizations of time: the newest version of the Digital
Universe Atlas by Carter Emmart, AMNH and the Hayden Planetarium is the best
example and the most updated version can now be experienced in planetaria all
over the world.
Carter Emmart demonstrates the new Digital Universe Atlas at TED, 2010
David McConville, whose easily deployed inflatable GeoDomes by ELumenati dot the Earth,
employs a unique approach in his rendition of the Digital Universe. Inside of his
immersive media environments David’s artful narrative brings contemporary
cosmologies together with ancient and indigenous understandings of space and
time. Called “The Transcalar Imaginary” David’s ancient stories are immersed in
powerful Universe imagery using the most recent Hubble data. Through this
unique blend of immersive artistry, technology and narrative, David weaves his
story of the birth and evolution of the cosmos with the birth of human
David McConville's "Transcalar Imaginary" in the GeoDome
emergent visualization environment animates Earth, the solar system and the
galaxy in long time spans. Infinitaas™ newly launched by Kevin Kelley, Rachel
Bagby and the Metanoiaa Foundation evokes the music of the spheres in a
luminous journey through time and space. It is new kind of “universal clock” –
as Earth spins through space and time a new sensibility of a cyclic, nested
system emerges.Viewers watch the
calendar days and years tick away on spinning Earth as the moon’s orbit is
speeded up. Infinitaas™ allows us to envision our planet’s path in space as
luminous tendrils leave spiral trails, much like the unraveling of threads from
a cosmic spindle.
Infinitaas™ we are also able to envision the wobble of the Milankovitch cycles – precession, obliquity, and eccentricity, as they influence paleoclimate
cycles through thousands of years. We watch the glacial advance and retreat
near the poles of Earth in deep geological time. As Earth spirals outward, we
see the tree of life grow and expand - branches of the tree bifurcate with new species, and shrivel as extinctions occur.
evolutionary process is synchronized with Earth’s movement through space. The pulsing life of Earth begins to look like the Superorganism that we are
soon to embrace - a larger spherical lifeforce within a series of nested
ecosystems. Time is speeded up, then slowed according to the viewer’s desire,
as nested time frames are made as easy to scale through as flying down to one’s
local home in Google Earth, yet beyond what can be experienced in Google Sky.
Infinitaas™ evokes a brand new kind of experience of the cosmos in a
dynamical framework, a new kind of Powers of Ten. The reference point of Earth in Infinitaas™ moves viewers into a larger
galactic vision as the sun’s path in the spinning Milky Way is shown. Time
frames widen and a new perspective is revealed. Kevin and Rachel describe the
animated design conventions of Infinitaas™ as nothing less than a
transformational tool - a way to:
… utilize the best
contemporary science, poetic intelligence and interactive multi-sensory
immersive technologies to create highly compelling art, products, services and
experiences that will fundamentally transform human understanding of our place
within the flow of existence and change our behavior on earth.
All of the
animations and visualization tools described above tell us a different, larger
story about time. Will these new visualizations of the past help us adopt a
mindset that we have lost along the way? They may offer us a beautiful
opportunity to show how different cultures throughout different time periods
understood time, space the Universe and our place in it, without compromising
the exactitude made possible by our latest scientific technologies.
Through the art
of weaving science and myth, ancient cosmologies can be braided into an
emergent multi-scaled story of life on Earth. These new forms of media will
inspire us to become stewards within a much larger whole system of living
systems. They will allow us to reach deeply back in history to go forward into
a new perception of our place in the cosmos.
visual story of The Way of Time will be
on the cyclic nature of ancient time.
everybody sees what everybody is thinking, we could raise humanity’s collective
I.Q.”Eileen Clegg, Visual Insight
We’ve all seen timelines. Yet some are so unique that
they help us reframe the way we think about time.This is true of the latest work by graphic journalist and
visionary Eileen Clegg. At the turn of this century Eileen took her 25 years of work as a journalist and author and reframed her working process.She began to capture her narratives with the tools of graphic facilitation: butcher paper, colored pens and a huge, long wall. Originally new to the field of Graphic Facilitation, Eileen was inspired by and worked with visual language pioneers David Sibbet, the late Michael Doyle and Bob Horn. She applied her new process to capture group thought in business and education thinktanks at IBM, Microsoft, the Institute for the Future, TechLearn and many others.
Eileen’s murals surround and immerse the
brainstorming groups that she is capturing; she visualizes in realtime the
subtext of group conversations, mind mapping the process of intensive
collaboration. And she is a master at her craft. Her murals are not like
any other in the rapidly growing field of graphic facilitation – rather, they
represent visual journalism at its best, using a unique combination of artful
listening and praxis to elevate the visual recording process to an insightful form
of communication artistry.
Clegg’s visual taxonomies are timeless and are drawn
from nature – the sun, idea clouds, star people, waves, spheres, pentagons –
each image containing words and concepts that converge and bifurcate during the
often chaotic group brainstorming process.She reclaims and reframes ancient symbols and harnesses a
deep level of intuition in her artful combination of word and image. Finally
she whips up the last iteration of each mural into a tightly interconnected,
sweeping vista where, like the self-similarity of fractals, the colorful shape
of the whole mirrors the rhythmic order of the parts.
When we first met a number of years ago, I knew Eileen
had found the visual key – something as ancient as cave drawings and as
emergent as the latest visualization technologies and virtual worlds I spent so much of my time designing, building and studying. We soon joined forces to ground our respective visualization
work into a comprehensive history of visual language – but a book like that was nowhere to be found.
We knew we would have to write the book ourselves. But that’s another
story. Back to the Engelbart timeline mural…
Doug Engelbart is best known as the inventor of the mouse. However, as one of the true pioneers of 20th century computing, he made many other contributions that are known mostly to technologists. These have remained part of the inside story of the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) and Silicon Valley and are just now being glimpsed by the general public as the vision we see everyday as we open up our laptops or sit at our desks enjoying the vistas of cyberspace.
In 1968 Engelbart demonstrated to a 1000 computer professionals in San Francisco a confluence of tools that are now as common as our fingertips yet none had yet been invented. This demonstration was called "The Mother of All Demos." SRI and Stanford just celebrated the 40th Anniversary of this prescient demo and Engelbart's contributions in December, 2008.
The Mother of All Demos, 1968 [100 minutes in 9 parts]
Engelbart saw yet a bigger vision that would be the result of a co-evolution in the past 40 years - that of collective intelligence - "Collective I.Q." Yet in many ways, this potential remains just that - a potential that we have yet to grab onto and use effectively. Eileen and interactive media producer Valerie Landauwanted to help him tell his story. It had to be told to more than just the technologists. It had to be easy to understand.
Working closely with Engelbart for four years on their newly released book, Evolving
Collective Intelligence, Eileen and Valerie culminated their writing endeavors by embarking on a room sized mural to visualize the powerful understanding of the Engelbart vision six months ago. Drawing from the context she and
Valerie had been outlining for the book, she began with the first version of
what was to become an iterative mural process. Seeing the timeline as a
narrative, with emotional peaks as well as great leaps in innovation she asked
herself, “What is the shape of this story?”
She and Valerie brought their perspective of Doug’s
work into the context of a lifetime of innovations in technology. They created the first iteration of the mural, capturing what they hoped would show the
essence of Engelbart's ideas charting the potential of the conscious co-evolution of humans and their tools. After the first couple months, as Doug returned to the first iterations to give feedback, the
visual details were becoming fleshed out.Iterations of the mural continued through the next few months, as a leading technology luminaries Alan Kay, Tim O'Reilly, Vint Cerf, Hiroshi Ishii and others offered to
Eileen their perspectives and additions.
Doug Engelbart signs an early iteration of the Mural (photo, courtesy Eileen Clegg)
During the months that she worked on the “Co-Evolution
of Human Systems and Tool Systems” mural, Eileen did far more than capture over
80 years of Doug’s life, his vision for augmenting human intellect, the
evolution of technology and culture of the world around him, and his impact on the history of computing and collaboration. She also brought her own mural innovation
process to a new pinnacle with the
largest mural she has created to date.
December’s Program for the Future conference, programming
wizard Mei Lin Fung, her co-leaders and volunteer teams brought together a few
hundred of the most interesting visionaries on the leading edge of communication technology, many of whom worked with Engelbart in the 1960s, for an experiment to galvanize Collective I.Q. Eileen’s 4-foot by 27-foot timeline mural surrounded a two-day swirl of activity. The colorful, sprawling mural
felt as if it would come to life.I
was reminded of the powerful centuries-old Bayeaux Tapestry, one of the most
exquisite and important landmarks in the history of European art.
The Tapisserie de Bayeaux was embroidered in the 11th
century to document the events that led to the Battle of Hastings - the Norman
conquest of England in 1066. At almost 230 feet long, this historic tapestry
fills a room and includes the auspicious sighting of Hally’s comet which, to
the medieval mind, was thought to portend impending doom.Animation wizard David Newton’s recent media version of the tapestry is a vision to behold, replete with
sound effects and music such as “O Fortuna” from the legendary medieval poetic work, Carmina Burana.
This type of animation is what I visualize co-creating with one of
Eileen’s upcoming murals – hopefully for our very own mural now being visioned
forth for our book Shape of ThoughtJ