Saturday, May 2, 2009

Mindwalk and Twitter

Here's a movie my friend Chuck Salyers recently told me about, a 1990 film by Bernt Capra called "Mindwalk". This is a film about ideas, sort of in the style of My Dinner With Andre, but with content that is more akin to films like Waking Life and What the Bleep Do We Know. If you have an hour and fifty minutes to spare, and are willing to slow yourself down and accept its more peaceful pace, this film is worth watching. It blends together a number of discussions about politics, connectedness, quantum mechanics, and how everything fits together. In other words, it relates very nicely to the generalist's perspective and playful synthesis of seemingly unrelated topics that I'm often playing with in my project.

A direct link to the above video is at

One of the things this movie mentions is Systems Theory. This, according to wikipedia is...

an interdisciplinary field of science and the study of the nature of complex systems in nature, society, and science. More specifically, it is a framework by which one can analyze and/or describe any group of objects that work in concert to produce some result. This could be a single organism, any organization or society, or any electro-mechanical or informational artifact.
"Informational artifact" is an unusual term which ties to a number of my past blogs: if, as some quantum physicists say, Information Equals Reality, then finding ways to visualize the creative processes and hidden connections of our surprisingly Non-Local Universe is the goal of my project. What's the difference, then, between a physical artifact and an informational artifact? They're just two ways of describing the same thing.

In many ways Mindwalk was ahead of its time: what a shame it's never been released on DVD, I think it could develop a substantial following today. The growing feeling of connectedness this movie talks about is certainly much more established now, as like-minded people around the world find a way to share their voices through connections that could hardly have been imagined back in 1990.

Which leads me to the darling of the moment, Twitter. Is tweeting a useful tool for establishing connectedness, adding an immediacy that surpasses even what Google is capable of conveying? Yes, that's one of the promises held within instant distributed communication. Critics of Twitter have always looked askance at this constant stream of 140-character-long tidbits: how can any of us separate out the signal from the noise, the zeitgeist from the inane? My own twitter feed is at, and I've moved it up to near the top of the right hand column here at my blog. As you'll see, I'm not micro-blogging to tell you what I had for breakfast (not that there's anything wrong with that sort of thing!), rather I am trying to make my twitter feed a stream of links and thoughts relevant to my tenth dimension project.

Right at the top of this blog's right hand column you'll see I've added a "Tweet this" button. If you'd like to share my blog with your followers on Twitter, this button works in two different ways: it sends out a very general "this is interesting" tweet if you're looking at my blog's main page, and it creates a much more specific tweet if you are viewing a specific blog entry.

Further down in the right hand column, you'll see a blue box filled with words, kind of like this one:

What you're looking to the left is just a picture, it will never change. But over in the right hand column you'll find the live version of this box, provided by, which will be different every time you come back to the site, as it tracks what words are being used most often right now in the tweets passing through twitter. Is one of the current words you see there interesting to you? You can click on it and be taken to a page showing all the most recent tweets that have included that word. There is also a "Hot Trends" button you can click on at the top of the box that will track the words or phrases that have seen the most activity for the last half a day or so. If you actually go to their site, a larger version of this cloud updates in real time, and you can watch as one word grows and another shrinks away as the conversations change from minute to minute.

Data cloud visualizations like these can reveal moments of synchronicity - why, for instance, did "10th" and "awareness" happen to come up when I took this picture? They can also reveal intense groundswells of opinion, news as it is being made, new memes that are capturing the attention of the world: which is why I've called this window "Twitter Memespace", to show how this is yet another way of thinking about information patterns that connect across time and space.

Is what you see in the Twitscoop window profound? Only occasionally. One of the ways to grab more layers of meaning out of the microblogging world is to apply filters. For instance, there is a site called Twistori that provides you with a list of six emotionally charged words - love, hate, think, believe, feel, wish - and clicking on any one of those gives you a real time scrolling list of tweets that include that word.
Unlike Twitscoop, though, Twistori is a dead end. There's no way to see the name of the poster, or click on each of the tweets as they go by if you wanted to see more from that same poster or perhaps even follow their feed. In other words: none of the connectedness I was just talking about is possible here, this is only a voyeuristic window into what people are saying.

I started my blog in January 2007. My second post was called "Everything Fits Together", and it too was about connectedness. Coincidentally, in that entry I mentioned a site called, which Twistori was inspired by. Created by Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar, "We Feel Fine" gives us fascinating real-time visualizations of people's emotions as expressed in recent blog entries: any sentence that includes the phrase "I feel" or "I am feeling" becomes part of the presentation. Blog entries can also be sorted by gender, location, local weather conditions at the time of the post, pictures attached to the blog, and even a color coding based upon the emotional word attached to the "I feel" phrase. Unlike Twistori, though, any of the entries that come up in these visualizations can be clicked on, and you can read the entire entry, allowing much more possibility for connections to be made to the original poster.

When you go to, click on the box labeled "Open We Feel Fine". The first window you are presented with is called "Madness", and it is a swarming cloud of dots (blog entries) and rectangles (pictures) that are color-coded according to the emotion expressed. The emotional word attached to each of these dots or boxes appears as you pass your mouse over the shape, and you can click on any of them to see the full entry that they came from.

As with all of the different views, you'll notice that there's a bar across the top of this window that lets you filter what is shown by a variety of parameters. Meanwhile, down in the bottom left, there are six words: the first was "Madness. The second is called "Murmurs", and it gives you something more similar to the twistori experience, with the added bonus that you can still click back to the original post. "Montage" shows a screen full of pictures posted to blogs or flickr that have an "I feel" phrase attached to them.

Next is the "Mobs" window. Pictured at left is a screen grab from that window, sorted for only entries that appeared on April 29 2009. You can see that "I feel better" was the most common phrase that day, followed by "I feel good", then "I feel bad". As you look through the almost seventy emotional words in this screen grab, does a certain overall feeling start to arise? How would you say we're doing over all? This is interesting, but there still seems to be quite a lot of variation here, just the usual diverse sets of emotions you would expert a large crowd of individuals to express.

The next window is called "Metrics", and it shows how much the currently cataloged emotions are different from the average:

As you can see here, on April 29 2009, over five times as many people felt "behind" compared to the average occurrence of that word since this site was launched in 2005. If you were to look at the results for all of 2006 by comparison, you would see that over five times as many people felt "wanted". The possibilities for sorting this information are endlessly fascinating! Want to find the most common emotions expressed by Canadian women in 2008 on days when it was snowing? You can go amazingly deep into the data.

The last window is called "Mounds", and it looks at the results overall, with quivering colored mounds representing each emotion. This is similar information to the Mobs window, except that it doesn't allow you to sort down to subcategories. I should mention that many of these windows scroll as you get to their outside edge, so for instance if you move your mouse over to the right edge of the Mounds window you will be able to see smaller and smaller blobs representing the other emotions and how often they occurred.

I'd love to hear from visitors to this blog about other websites they think are doing a good job of drawing sense from the noise. Other data visualization websites I've tweeted about recently are neoformix, Opinion Space, Visual Search Engines, Designing for Big Data, TwitterSpectrum, The Allosphere, and Virtual daVinci.

To finish, here's one of the 26 songs attached to my project, this one is about the memes that rise and fall over time in modern society. It's called "Insidious Trends".

A direct link to the above video is at

Enjoy the journey!

Rob Bryanton

Next: Polls Archive 36 - Do Plants Use Quantum Effects?

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