Tuesday, January 16, 2007

YouTube and Conceptual Framing

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We have now posted the 11 minute video for Imagining the Tenth Dimension up on YouTube: it's in two parts. Part 2's very first comment was a phrase similar to ones that I've read a lot about Imagining the Tenth Dimension in the last six months: "my mind is officially blown" (thanks for the comment, WeeklyTubeShow). By the way, the video also continues to be available in its continuously running 11 minute version, for viewing, embedding or download at revver.com.

One of the things that has made this animation so popular, I believe, is that it deals with a wide-ranging amount of conceptual information in the way that the mind is best able to deal with it: one layer (or frame) at a time. Up until a year or two ago there was a wonderful show in the Rose Center’s Hayden Planetarium at New York’s American Museum of Natural History, called “Passport to the Universe”. Narrated by Tom Hanks, it was a highly effective visual journey which took the viewer through one order of magnitude leap after another, from the earth to the solar system, to our galaxy, to our local group and then our local supercluster of galaxies, and on out to the hundred billion galaxies and seventy sextillion stars (that’s 7 followed by 22 zeroes!) currently believed to make up our observable universe.

The resulting journey was mind blowing, and intellectually stimulating. By connecting from one layer to another, we were able to track through an idea that is potentially completely overwhelming, simply by presenting the information in a way that allowed us a chance to digest it. This is absolutely necessary, because our monkey minds would find it impossible to simultaneously imagine the size of an atom, along with the size of the earth, along with the size of the local supercluster, and so on: we simply aren't wired that way.

With the amount of information the internet places before us, the result is similarly overwhelming. Tagclouds and other conceptual framing tools show promise, but the need for a graphic interface that allows us to mine complex data in a way that lets us appreciate the big picture but still drill into the fine detail is something for which I can hardly wait.

Have you seen this video?

This is Jeff Han at the TED conference, demonstrating a dramatic visualization tool that shows how we will deal with graphics and data mining in the future. As you watch this, forget for a moment that this screen of the future runs the risk of becoming a greasy haze as we paw away at the screen: that is a minor detail, and if you can achieve this by touching the screen, then a tool that allows you to grab the air in the front of the screen is just one step beyond. The important thing, I believe, is that this gives us back what our motor-sensory systems have been yearning for - the ability to reach out and grab something. Watching Jeff "pinch" a place on the screen to draw that part closer, or placing two fingers on the screen to define the pivot point as he examines a 3D map, makes me want to throw my mouse in the garbage right now.

A "Google Universe" tool, then, that allowed you to quickly zoom in and out through the journey from atom to solar system to the known universe and back again would be a profound educational tool. Likewise, a flickr interface that allowed you to quickly zoom in on a tag, narrowing your choices from cateogory to subcategory, and down to the picture you are looking for cries out for an interface where you are using natural physical gestures to pinch and pull at the data you are traversing.

And finally, back to the tenth dimension. A physical interface that allowed you to take the tenth dimension journey using an interface like the one Jeff Han is demonstrating would be equally illuminating: defining your most basic laws as you descend from the ninth through the seventh dimension, picking the point in the seventh dimension that represents our universe and all of its timelines, then zooming in to explore the sixth dimension and all the timelines that could have occurred up to now that didn't, stepping down to all of the fifth dimensional choices currently available but not taken, and down to the time and space that we see as our universe would be a thrilling journey. Then, zooming back out to the seventh dimension and above, and re-entering at some other point to explore the expressions of time and space that that unique "other-different-initial-conditions" universe could hold, with expressions from the sixth dimension and down to the first that are just as real but completely inaccessible to our own, I believe we would have a tool that allows people to imagine how something as daunting as a "multiverse of universes" could actually exist.

Enjoy the journey,



telafree said...

I understand. At least up to the 8th. There is a work of fiction out there that along with a great story explains the 8th dimention and what the other planets with different percentages of oxygen and gravity are like. It uses a concentration camp as the place that 'bends'.

I found your animation today, Wed. the 17th. Only 1 day after you made this post. Your website says at least a million people have watched it. I feel lucky to be among that many.

Rob Bryanton said...

Hi telafree,

According to the "way of imagining" that we are exploring here, by the time we lock in a point in the seventh dimension, the remaining six dimensions below are where we would find one of the possible expressions of a particular universe from the multiverse. This would mean that a journey through the eighth dimension, according to this reasoning, would be moving through "biggest-picture-of-all memes", such as the desire for continuity, the desire for change, the desire for destruction. Each of those preferences (and many others) would be found in the different parts of the seventh through ninth dimensions where different multiverses with different initial conditions could be found: including ones like our own, which would appear to have been influenced by a desire for order over disorder, a desire for creativity over destruction and so on - otherwise we wouldn't be in a universe that has already managed to last almost 14 billion years!

Thanks for writing,


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