Press "Enter" to skip to content

The Gateway to Educational Materials


A Cantor Set on an Egyptian column. Click to enlarge.An excellent resource for any teaching, but especially K-12, can be found at the Gateway, a site run by the U.S. Department of Education and Syracuse University. The site isthe project of a consortium whose member institutions join what is known as GEM, the Gateway to Educational Materials.

The Gateway is an essential site, both for educators, and for anyone interested in anyone learning any topic on-line.

You will use the Gateway primarily for its very sophisticated search engine, specifically designed to search for educational materials. When you search for a particular topic, e.g. "fractals", you will get a nice listing of hits that describe not only online educational fractal resources, but also a categorization scheme linked to the appropriate educational setting.This is implemented on-screen by a category list thatappears in a right-hand pane followingasearch. Similar to clusty, the categories allow you to instantly narrow your search into one of the categories. The categorization is an incredibly helpful way offinding the right resource for you class. For example, back tothe fractal search: categories include areas such as curriculum support, lesson plans, and individual categories for grades 1 through 12.

The real benefit of the categorization scheme, however, are the categories that you probably aren’t aware exist - theseare the ones that allowthe cross-connections across all disciplines to become evident.One of the categories that appear when searching for "fractals" is Cultural Perspectives on Mathematics.A click here yields 5 hits, one of which is African fractals: modern computing and indigenous design, an articleona fractal geometric view of the " self-organized location of huts in Tanzania, art design among the Mangbetu in central Africa, and Mali windscreens."

So plan to spend plenty of time on the Gateway - learning, teaching, and marveling at the sophistication and powerof a search engines designedspecifically for the educational community.

Categories Education Fractals

Information Science Blogging


I’ve read the articles of Joyce Kasman Valenza for years in the Philadelphia Inquirer, where she is a columnist in the [email protected] section, but I’ve just now come across her blog, and her library page for Springfield Township High School.

Joyce is pursuing a Ph.D. in the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program at UNT’s School of Library and Information Science. Her blog,Joyce Valenza’s Neverending Search, is an incredible resource or all things info-and ecucational-technology-related. She is also an EduBlog 2005 winner.

A nice feature of her site is a blogroll that consists of many dozens of information-science blogs.

So look into Joyce’s work, and sites - they are invaluable for any type of information literacy course. You will also e able to find many posts on the efficacy of blogging and wikiing in the classroom.

Categories Blogging Education

Heisenberg and The Conscious Object


From "Seven Attempts at Liquifying the Self" by N. Schultz in his Experiment in Private Self-Consciousness Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle is rightly seen as the first 20th Century result that puts an absolute limit on what can be measured, and, by implication, known about the world. The principle states that complementary variables such as the position and momentum of a particlecannot be simultaneously discerned to any arbitrary degree of precision. The principle is often illustrated with a standard thought experiment: in trying to observesmaller and smaller objects, the wavelength of the light used to"illuminate" the object must use a smaller and smaller wavelength, i.e. photons with larger and larger energy. This large energy then gives the particle to be sighted some momentum change that makes it impossible to determine the particle’s momentum. This explanation, referred to as the Gamma-Ray Microscope thought-experiment, is widely used at many educational levels. See the Discovery Education site for Grades 9-12, for example. A more interesting use of the illumination examplecan be found at the Fly in the Honey blog, posted by Mary (that’s all the info I can determine about the author other than I believe that sheis a teacher), where she claims to be very poor in math and science, yet is incredibly moved by the standard conclusion of the Uncertainty Principle: "the very act of observation changes the object being observed."

The Gamma-Ray Microscope thought-experiment, amythological story that began with Heisenberg himself, has been de-valued as a good example of the principle. It turns out that the world is much weirder than that pictured in the thought-experiment. (I will explain this in a future post.) Regardless, it does not diminish from the fundamental idea that observation affects the observed in fundamental ways that cannot be eliminated with more precise and careful instrumentation andmethodology.

On one hand this is a very deep concept; on the other it appears to be tautological, especially when both the experimenter and experimental subject are conscious agents.

The idea of observation implies an observer, and usually a conscious one. (For some, the consciousness of the observer is an essential component of the act of measurement in quantum physics - specifically in the notion of wavefunction collapse, a staple of the so-called Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics.) The object being observed is usually not conscious - except if you consider the feline consciousness of Schrödinger’s Cat (Click here for a recent poston Copenhagen and The Cat.) Yet what happens if the observed is conscious?Certainly knowing that one is being observed can cause a conscious or unconscious change in behavior.This is obvious. So the act of observation definitely changes the observed. What’s so earth-shattering here?

Onespecial trait ofconsciousness is the ability to function and analyze on meta-levels. Maybe Heisenberg’s Principle is more essential ona level that allows for consideration of the consciousness of the observed. Or maybe the way to get at the effects of the observed being conscious isto design an experiment that deliberately attempts to change the subject of the study through the act of observing.

A recent study by Steven Heine, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia, and colleagues has indirectly looked at this question via an intriguing experiment. In the study two groups of womenwere given difficult math tests. One group was toldof a theory that claimspositive math performance is genetic, with the controlling genes on the Y-chromosome, i.e. women aregenetically pre-disposed to do worse at math than males. The second group were told of a theory that the differing abilities of male and female mathematical performance was primarily based on their upbringing. Thus the two groups represented basic nature vs. nurture samples. The wicked twist to the experiment is that neither theory is true, so the women are being manipulated for the purpose of the study.

Amazingly, the women who were told of the genetic theory did poorer on the math exams! According to Heine the reason for this isbest explained by consideringthe "nurture" group:"apparently, hearing that personal experiences might cause poorer math performance among females enabled women to conclude that the stereotype might not apply to them."

So the Heisenberg Principle is much deeper than expected for conscious subjects, and much more interesting. Here we have a case of the subject being observed believing something about the conscious intentions of the observers, i.e.the women believed that the experimenters were testing out the theories of math differences in men and women. Just "knowing" what theory was being tested was enough to change their behavior (which in this case is being treated as equivalent to performance). Of course, the theories here weren’t reallyvalid theories, but the repercussions arehuge: Not only does the act of observation often change change the outcome of the experiment (with conscious subjects) - just knowing about the experiment, and what might be in the minds of the experimenters is enough to change the behavior of the subjects of the experiment!

Somewhere Heisenberg is spinning in his grave, although if we try to observe this he would most likely not be there….

Note: This post was inpired by Steven Heine’s Nov. 5, 2006 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer titled Scientific theory affects psyche.

Categories Consciousness Philosophy

Stem Cells as Lightning Rods


French lightning-rod experiment based on Franklin’s ideas. Click to enlarge.The lightning rod is considered to be one ofBenjamin Franklin’s greatest inventions, combining basic scientific discovery, understanding,modeling, predictionand intuition in producing a truly life-saving device. Certainly it is one ofhis most useful, and essential. To produce such a device meant learning about the nature of lightning,which first had to be shown to bea manifestation of electricity - itself a poorly understood phenomenon in the 18th Century. Franklin’s work is part scientist, part engineer, and wholly practical - a homeowner trying to protect his house and family from the vicissitudes of electrical storms.

Some excellent sources on lightning rods and Franklin can be found in The Jan 2006 issue of Physics today (by E. Philip Krider)and at

Interestingly, lightning rods were the subject of intense religious debate at that time. In a manner not unlike the religious right’scampaigning against -take your pick -genetic engineering, cloning, stem cells, etc. - research, lightning rods wereviewed as "presumptuous" because they interfered with the will of God. Franklin had anticipated this reaction, but even his prefaceto the 1753 editi0n ofPoor Richard’s Almanac describing the discovery of rods as a gift from God did not stem the cry. Here’s Franklin:

It has pleased God in his Goodness to Mankind, at length to discover to them the Means of securing their Habitations and other Buildings from Mischief by Thunder and Lightning.

Consider the argument against lightning rods, and what it implies about a Creator. It is certainly a vengeful God who would not want us to protect ourselves if we could. Given that churches were often the sites of extreme lightning activity due to their soaring steeples and metallic bells, maybe it was natural for priests and clergy to occasionally wish that their place of worship, rather than being a sanctuary of safety, was instead a stage for manifestations of God’s wrath. Note the paradox on the flip side of the picture, however - God is powerful enough to cause lightning to punish earthly sinners, yet isso powerless that he couldn’t come up with another method if lightning were not available?

See Franklin’s Unholy Lightning Rodfor more details on religious efforts to thwart the lightning rod, and the ultimate victory of Franklin’s method and device.

It is natural for opponents of new, cutting-edge science to resort to scare tactics, and gloomy prognostications of the calamitous effect of unleashing unseen forces. But conjuring up a God who will do even worse - byasserting that God will bring on Armageddon because of scientific attempts to understand nature and use it for our own well-being brings us all back to the 18th Century and before.

Without a rod, and without a reason to do all that we can toimprove our health and safety.

There must be strongly enforced safeguards in all research that involves the human condition - not outright bans in the name of a vengeful creator. As we have seen, this stanceonly leads to paradoxical results about the powers, or lack thereof, of sucha creator.

Categories Religion Science Weather & Climate

Science by Blogging


Particle Physics Tracks in a Bubble Chamber. Click to enlarge. Blogs are normally thought of as more personal diary/opinion vehicles, butI havebelieved inthe potential for blogsas an excitingteaching toolever since my small success withblogging in the Fall 2005 Chaos and Fractals course.

This potential is taken to the nth degree in a very informative article by Sean Carroll in APS News (May 2006). There Carroll describes his own view of blogging as "a great opportunity for physicists to exchange ideas more readily with each other, and to let the rest of the world share the thrill of the process by which science truly progresses."

Carroll, is a a member ofthe Cosmic Variance group blog whose physicist/astrophysicist contributors write about "science, art, politics, culture, technology, academia" (the similarity to FractaLog is not intentional -but I am heartened to see all of these scientists out there willing toplace their science in the context of life itself.)

Read Carroll’s article for ideas of howblogging helps him, and how it might help you - in teaching, research, and, everything else.

Carroll describes a number of interesting blogs. I list them here as a resource.

Distler's Musings - a REAL physics blog, with "musings" on cosmology, string theory, and other heavy stuff - you'll get the sense that real science is going on here. Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics (UC Santa Barbara)-here separate blogs are used for news and interaction for individual Institute programs Quantum Diaries- set of blogs kept up by 25 particle physicists during the 2005 World Year of Physics in 2005. The blogs could be on any topic. There are no more posts as of the end of 2005, but the archives are available. Bad Astronomy - Phil Plait of Sonoma State University writes about myths and misuses of astronomy, and also the good stuff coming out of modern astronomical studies Uncertain Principles - Chad Orzel, an atomic physicist at Union College,covers "physics, politics, andpop culture" Biocurious , maintained by grad students/postdocs Andre Brown and Igor Kulic (U Penn) and Philip Johnson (Simon Fraser U), is a "weblog about biology (and physics, grad school, and miscellaneous other things!) through the eyes of physicists." Inky Circus - Maintainted by British journalists Anna Gosline, Katie Law, Anne Casselman, this blog is an accompanying effort to their goal of launching "a new popular science magazine aimed at women. It will cover interesting and timely science stories, with an emphasis on topics that appeal to women, such as medical research and the environment" Cocktail Party Physics -By Jennifer Ouellette,a science writer with a non-science backgroundat spins , this provides "Physics with a twist" I'll say! Jennifer's posts are incredibly interesting, with possibly the widest variety of topics you'll find anywhere - and their connection to physics. And when Sean Carroll writes about the potential of blogging, consider this: when Ouellette's blog came on the scene earlier this year, she and her site were lauded by Carroll on his site. Mutual kudo and trackbacks followed leading to the ultimate permalink - they are now engaged.

Categories Blogging Education Science

The Spam Artist

583047-554247-thumbnail.jpgSpam Plants - Click to enlargeOne of the most innovative and creative artists working today is Alex Dragulescu, a Romanian”visual” artist who heads the Experimental Game Lab at the Center for Research in Computing and the Arts at University of California, San Diego.

His images are absolutely fascinating. Some ofthemare beautiful and organic-looking, while othersappear to be views of some alien architecture.

But it’s not the images that are interesting so much as the process. Dragulescu uses spam to generate some of hisimages. He does this by using words in spam mailings to trigger different structures to be digitally rendered. The image at the top of this post comes from his Spam Plants series.

Dragulescu definitely pushes the art/mathematics interface to an extreme, with the random detritus of life thrown in for good measure. He describeshisprojects as “experiments and explorations of algorithms, computational models, simulations and information visualizations that involve data derived from databases, spam emails, blogs and video game assets.”

It’s impossible to describe Dragulescu’s work without seeing the images, so check his website for much more.

Be sure toinvestigate some of the other work being created at the Experimental Game Lab , where”somewhere between media art, scientific visualization and computer gaming a new territory of expression is emerging.” Sheldon Brown’s Scaleable City project is one such project.

It is hard to imagine how amazing it must be to teach or go to school at a university like UCSD, where anything short ofthe absolute limitsof creativity is viewed as abject failure.

Categories Art Fractals Mathematics

Prediction, Fiction, and Science Policy: The Jurassic Park Syndrome


Michael Crichton needsto visit anER for an arrogancectomy…

It’s amazing to me how global warming is now accepted as fact, when not too long ago it was still being described as possibly a climate condition that appears, and has appeared, from time to time in the course of the lifespan of the earth. There now seems to be an article every week in the major press about the latest discoveries confirming a warming trend thatdoes not appear to be part of some grand cycle through earth’s history. This has led several countries and continentsto proclaim global warming to be the BIGGEST threat to humanity in the not-so-long term, enacting legislation and controlsthat will stem thetide of further warming.

The U.S. is not one of them, of course.Hopefully, this sad state of affairs will begin to change with the new makeup of Congress. If so, it will be those who aren’tfans of Michael Crichton that may make the difference.

From Jurassic Park to ER, Crichton’s fortune has been built with high-concept, rapid paced stories for which science and medicine is the backdrop of human drama. I can’t comment on the medicine in ER - Crichton is an MD, after all, but the Jeff Goldblum riffs on chaos theory in Jurassic Park are mostly a juxtaposition of concepts that don’t make sense in terms of connecting chaos concepts with re-generatingdinosaurs. But the mathematics, or rather the portrayal of a pretty cool mathematician certainly adds high drama to the storyline, with the benefit being that Chaos Theory now has a certain cachet that it would never have otherwise. Literature as an entry to science is definitely a good thing.

Crichton hasn’t done nearly as well with the science of global warming in the book State of Fear. Crichton’s take on global warming is an extreme one - in fact he draws an analogy with the eugenics movement of the late 19th -early 20th century. The analogy is that a "theory" can be adopted and made part of the political and social milieu, and then ultimately proved incorrect, discrediting years of effort and leading to wasted time and resources. In the case of eugenics, the problem is far worse: science seemingly gave "rational" reasons for racism - reasons that are still quoted in support of the views of hate groups everywhere.

Even though he states that he is not implying that global warming is equivalent in any way to eugenics - he only wants the analogy clear, to me the damage is done. Here are his words from an intro to State of Fear, titled Why Politicized Science is Dangerous:

Now we are engaged in a great new theory that once again has drawn the support of politicians, scientists, and celebrities around the world. Once again, the theory is promoted by major foundations. Once again, the research is carried out at prestigious universities. Once again, legislation is passed and social programs are urged in its name. Once again, critics are few and harshly dealt with. Once again, the measures being urged have little basis in fact or science. Once again, groups with other agendas are hiding behind a movement that appears high-minded. Once again, claims of moral superiority are used to justify extreme actions. Once again, the fact that some people are hurt is shrugged off because an abstract cause is said to be greater than any human consequences. Once again, vague terms like sustainability and generational justice --- terms that have no agreed definition --- are employed in the service of a new crisis. I am not arguing that global warming is the same as eugenics. But the similarities are not superficial. And I do claim that open and frank discussion of the data, and of the issues, is being suppressed. Leading scientific journals have taken strong editorial positions of the side of global warming, which, I argue, they have no business doing. Under the circumstances, any scientist who has doubts understands clearly that they will be wise to mute their expression.

Notice how Crichton slips in the line "Once again, the fact that some people are hurt is shrugged off because an abstract cause is said to be greater than any human consequences". He doesn’t exactly describe why global warming is hurting some people. I find this statement incredibly offensive because of its juxtaposition with eugenics - a movement that was the total antithesis of the whole-earth concerns of global warming.

Moving beyond the outrageousness of putting global warming in the same category as eugenics (Lysenkoism is also described as another analogue), Crichton believes that global warming is an "abstract cause" because there is a problem with the science. His main claims against global warming are that the science doesn’t show it, and that dissenters are not being heard. Because he is not a climatologist, and with no apparent background in mathematical modeling of climate, the claim that the science is wrong, or done wrong, is incredibly arrogant. For very solid and thoughtful rebuttals against Crichton’s views, see James Hanson’s article in the April 2006 APS News. Here Hanson, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, describes how Crichton has misused his (Hanson’s) warming predictions for his own ends.


Hanson’s predictions compared with real climate data. Click to enlarge.Hanson points out that a standard methodology of climate modeling is totally ignored by Crichton. When modeling any complex system, and especially for one as complex as climate, it is standard practice to vary the models and their parameters i order to produce predictions for a number of scenarios, i.e. best case to worst case scenario. Usually the predictions in the middle range - which are often a case of several parameter sets yielding roughly equivalent behavior - are then presented as the most likely to happen. Crichton has taken the extreme outlier scenario and described it as the prediction of climatologists, when in fact it is nothing of the kind. Because the outlier prediction is not what is now being measured, well, it must be the case that the science is wrong, and the entire scientific community is caught up in a eugenics-like craze.

Another excellent dissection of Crichton’s selective use of data to further his novel (and with it his beliefs) can be found at the RealClimate blog site. ( I have written before about the RealClimate blog. Anyone remotely interested in climate science should subscribe!)

Crichton’s views are very popular in an administration that at first claimed that global warming was not happening. Now the administration does come close to admitting that it looks as if it is occurring, but that it is not necessary human-induced, and therefore the U.S. does not, and should not, take measures that will hurt our economy. Non-scientists view of science is shaped by how the science is presented through the delivery vehicles of popular culture. Given that many in Congress probably don’t read fiction that is much deeper than Crichton, the real danger is that he is politicizing science in the most dangerous way.

I am not naive enough to believe that science occurs in a vacuum, and that culture, politics, and ideology don’t play major roles in the acceptance of theory and practice. (I regularly post about the overlap of science and politics - see the Archives). By making a connection between global warming and eugenics, Crichton has, without conscience, introduced the volatile elements of race and morality into a debate that should remain in science and public policy.

An excellent review can be found at The Skeptical Inquirer. Titled Bad Science and Bad Fiction, the author Chris Mooney sums up a lacerating review with the perfect closer:

Let's face it: Such writing is pure porn for global warming deniers, in much the same way that fictional accounts of UFO abduction skeptics converting into true believers titillate UFO fans. In the end, State of Fear bears little resemblance to Crichton's most successful sci-fi thrillers, like Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain. Instead, it's far more reminiscent of Disclosure, Crichton's perverse attempt to address the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace by focusing on a case in which a woman harasses a man, rather than vice-versa. Similarly, in State of Fear the specter of a vast environmentalist conspiracy--a problem even less significant than sexual harassment of men by their female superiors--gets trumpeted while real concerns (climate change, for instance) get scoffed at. By the book's end, one can only ask: What planet is Michael Crichton living on? Because this one is clearly getting warmer.

Categories Chaos Literature & Poetry Modeling Politics Understanding & Prediction Weather & Climate

The Most Expensive Fractal in the World


No. 5, 1948 (click to enlarge)The basic free market model of supply and demand is pushed to the limit in the case of the price of art pieces. Just how much will someone pay when the supply is only one, i.e. when the piece is one of a kind? Especially when the artist was truly one of a kind?

Last week the Jackson Pollock painting No. 5, 1948 was sold at auction for $140 Million, the most money ever paid for an Americanpainting.(Click here for story)

This stunning number is now going to color the debate on the validity of the Pollock paintings discovered earlier this year and claimed to be possible frauds because they were not fractal enough. (See my previous post on this controversy.) Given that computer software can regularly produce fractals with the same fractal dimension as any of Pollock’s paintings,determining if a painting is an original Pollock or a computer-generated image should bea concern for anyone with $140 Million to burn.

This situation suggests that a lucrative, niche career-op exists for anyone who can discern the difference -a fractaconsulter.

Categories Art Fractals

The Economic Modeling of Religion


I usually view economic modeling as a more asymmetric activity than, modeling in physics. In physics, models are used to both understand why something happened or happens, and predict what will happen in future circumstances - the twin pieces of understanding and prediction. This is probably a biased view on my part, or a woeful lack of knowledge of the predictive power of economic modeling, but it seems to me that most economic models I read about are more useful in explaining the past. Any extrapolation of the model into the future basically depends on assuming similar conditions. Physics models are often tested by finding out what they predict for future situations under different conditions. (I am not including econometric modeling here, which I consider to be a qualitatively different activity - it is modeling that is more empirical in the sense that data crunching is used to establish the coefficients of the model equations.)

Again, my opinion may be totally nearsighted. If it is, let me know.

I write this because of a recent book titled The Marketplace of Christianity by R. Ekelund, Jr., R. Hebert, and R. Tollision, which was described in a recent issue of the Chronicle of Higher Ed. (Nov. 3, 2006, page A13) In the book the authors use economic analysis to describe such things as the number of different Christian churches through the centuries and the different acceptance rates of the Protestant Reformation.

Some of the models, at least as reported by the Chronicle, seem very far-fetched - a huge, Procrustean stretch, if you will.

The Reformation is the biggest example. For example, the authors view the Reformation as a reaction to the monopoly of the Catholic Church. On a basic level, the metaphor of Church as monopoly does seem on the mark. It’s when the authors bring in subsequent price/market explanations that the model appears a bit outlandish.

Thus the concept of purgatory is claimed to be invented so that the Church could charge folks exorbitant sums of cash to move the souls of their loved ones on to heaven. (I note that purgatory is now closed for business, Pope Ratzinger having banished limbo earlier this year.)

There’s more: Luther single-handedly helped create a "competitive market in Christianity ", with the Catholic church increasing their holy days to keep peasants from drifting to Protestantism. Meanwhile, Protestantism was burgeoning because it had a simpler, less expensive "pricing scheme."

Ok, maybe this is more fun than I thought. Certainly the Catholic Church had no competitors when it came to greed and avarice, as is graphically portrayed in Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror and March of Folly. There were times when the church and its leaders - especially the popes of the middle ages - behaved as a sort of theological Enron , selling indulgence futures.

The problem I have with all this is that I can’t think of a topic, institution, or social movement where economic modeling can’t be used to explain it. It’s only when predictions are made and tested that the qualitative difference between physics modeling and church-as-economic-agent modeling is brought out in stark relief.

And the predictions of the church using the economic model are not earth-shattering.

For example, the author’s prediction that religion will always be around because of "existential angst concerning human existence" is a weak and obvious one. The other main prediction is that Westerners will continue to demand forms of religion that are "cheaper" in terms of time, money - a statement that is almost tautological.

I am always leery when models are used for social institutions because of this inability to produce models that correctly predict future situations. The church analyzed economically is one of the most feeble at this - the predictions can be made without the economic trappings, so why force -fit the economic analysis?

In other words, don’t show me the money - show me the understanding and prediction. With that I’d accept any model.

Categories Modeling Religion Understanding & Prediction

Art and Science Transvergence: Glowing Bunnies


 Albo, the GFP Bunny    

On first glance, the intersection of art and technology should have a much more complicated boundary than the intersection of art and mathematics, or even art and science. Mathematics and the sciences are relative newcomers in terms of their effect on the arts; available technologies have been used to produce art forever. Here I am using a broad definition of technology as formulated by Edward Tenner, author of Our Own Devices - The Past and Future of Body Technology. For Teller, technology is the "human modification of the natural world" - a definition that encourages us to view fundamental objects such as the shoe, chair, and eyeglasses as transformative technologies.

By extension, then, the technologies of the paintbrush, paints, and perspective -invented to create visual art- are inextricably mixed with art. There really is no boundary.

Until very recently, I didn’t believe that the same statement could be made about science and art. What got me thinking was coming across some very provocative art/technology essays in a fascinating journal of art and technology called SWITCH. A production of the CADRE Laboratory for New Media of the School of Art and Design at San Jose State University, SWITCH’s goal is to foster "a critical viewpoint on issues and developments in the multiple crossovers between art and technology" with a "main focus on questioning and analyzing as well as reporting and discussing these new art forms as they develop, in hopes of encouraging dialogue and possible collaboration with others who are working and considering similar issues."

Transvergence and Art History, written by Ami Davis, is the article that caused me to reevaluate my position on the science/art interface,or at least on the special opportunities and possibilities that it provides. Transvergence is a new word for me, but one apparently well-defined in the art/technology world. Specifically, Davis focuses not on art history and science:

The term “transvergence” is an invitation to take an opportunity to rethink art history, science, and the inevitably permeable lines that arbitrarily divide these disciplines. Transvergence demonstrates an attitude that the boundaries separating academic disciplines are restrictive. It exposes the artificial construction that art and science are opposites...

According to Davis, transvergence goes well beyond mere interdisciplinarity:

583047-527216-thumbnail.jpg Eduardo and Alba. Click to enlarge Transvergence creates a distinction between art that is interdisciplinary and art that is transdisciplinary. In interdisciplinary pursuits, disciplines collaborate. Scientists and artists, commonly regarded as ideologically opposed practitioners, can intersect and contemplate their common relationships. However, these interacting disciplines ultimately retain their identities as isolated from each other. Transdisciplinary projects also have an agenda to explore common practices among disciplines, but with a more holistic approach. By transcending conventional notions of what appropriate activities within a discipline are, participants attempt to bridge disciplines in innovative ways. The result is that new commonalities are discovered among disciplines, which have implications for future innovative transvergent events.

Davis sees a transvergent event/process/artistic creation as one that chaotically mixes the distinction between art and science. On first reading this, even with Davis’ caveats, I thought of transvergence as just interdisciplinarity that works really well - so well that the participants are truly moved to adopt some of the mind-set, and perhaps techniques, of the co-participant.

I wondered, though, whether there wasn’t an inescapable asymmetry here - something along the lines of can scientists more readily adopt an artistic stance than an artist can adopt a scientific stance? I recognize that this view is from my privileged physics-chauvinist position. Unfortunately, this view blinded me to some very interesting science/art efforts that really is qualitatively different from interdisciplinarity, and which are truly symmetric in terms of the artist-science contribution.

Davis describes the work of Eduardo Kac, the artist behind Alba, the Green Fluorescent Protein(GFP) Bunny, the most audacious example of what Kac terms transgenic art:

Kac recruited a zoosystemician and scientists to help him breed a rabbit that glows bright green under certain conditions, a result caused by the integration into the breeding process of a green fluorescent gene found in jellyfish. Interested in establishing life invention as art, Kac wished to transcend the boundaries of what science and what art can be...The traditionally established boundaries between art and the science of genetic engineering demonstrated permeability, and new connections between fields were explored, ranging from ethics, biology, aesthetics, and even human-animal relationships. One “product,” the rabbit, was the vessel for the interaction of all these fields of study.

This idea and its implementation is so far beyond my idea of interdisciplinarity; it bears the unmistakeable glowing footprint of transvergence. Update on Monday, February 12, 2007 by Registered Commenter

R.A. DiDio

This article appears in The Carnival of Art - #10

Thanks to Jennie Rosenbaum for hosting this carnival, which has many interesting categories, including Artworks, Art History, Art News, Art Philosophy, Creating Art, and The Biz.

Categories Art Science