There is a new exhibition of mobile sculpture by Alexander Calder at the Whitney Gallery in New York. Scientist can monitor the changes. The resulting patterns mean that Calder’s art can be extended to create new rhythms, shapes and relationships.

Double-click on the image below.

Rorschach Tests

Nearly a century after Hermann Rorschach invented his ink blot test, a controversial assessment that he used in psychiatric clinics. Patients gave many different interpretations of the shapes and figures in Rorschach’s blots.


Now, in the journal Plos One, R. Taylor et al at the University of Oregon, claim to have an answer. They analysed ten Rorschach ink blots and found that the five black and white patterns varied in their fractal complexity. The less complex the fractals in the blots, the more images people tended to see.


Rorschach’s Blot Seven is shown at the top (a). Note the tell-tale fractal signatures of irregular curves or shapes at the edges of the symmetrical image. Some people see a woman’s head with a ponytail. Below (b) the inkblot has been altered with the fractal borders removed. The ability to see hidden patterns is reduced.

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Fractals are patterns that repeat themselves over different size scales. The most familiar ones appear in nature, in the branching of trees, the edges of clouds, and the contours of coastlines. When the ratio of fine to coarse details is high, scientists say the image has a high fractal complexity.

“Your eyes are amazing pattern detectors, but why are they getting fooled? It’s almost as if they are getting trigger happy, seeing things that aren’t there,” Taylor told The Guardian. His work on fractals began with studies of Jackson Pollock’s spectacular drip paintings

Big Data

The Big Bang Data exhibition opened at Somerset House in London on December 2. This is 130 years after Francis Galton began collecting data of human features for his new statistical analysis. Then the biggest difficulty was to get enough of it. Now, with digital technology, there is too much to handle.

The exhibition shows how designers and other artists can find patterns where none was known.


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The image below represents the sex life of its author and his wife during the year 2010. The couple typified their usual sexual practices and noted on a calendar the days that they had sexual relations and of what type, according to their own classification. To make a formal representation of it, a black line was drawn for each day of the year, and each of the 365 lines was divided into 7 thinner lines, representing each of the practices through the use of a different colour.


The show highlights the data explosion that’s radically transforming our lives. It opens on December 3, 2015 and runs until February 28, 2016 at Somerset House. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images for Somerset House)



A New Science, A New Art

Complex networks are created by social media on the World Wide Web.

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They hinge on the spread of information from very small nodes to the whole network when activated. This is what can happen when you tweet.

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The studies of how activation happens, what it means to be such an ‘influencer’ and whether similar interactions happen in nature, are rapidly establishing new science and art forms.

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Just one recent study is by F Morone & HA Makse, Nature 524, 65-68, August 6 2015.

Peopling Britain

In Europe, the history of human migration over the last 11,600 years is being mapped by geneticists with data from DNA. Some old ideas are shown to be false.

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In this week’s Nature magazine (519, pp 309-314) S Leslie et al compare the fine-detail genetic structure of the British population. They have analysed DNA data from 2,039 British people and compared the clusters to those from 6,209 mainland Europeans.



After the last ice age falling temperature allowed migration from the south and east. Genetically distinct groups of Britons and Saxons occupied the largest region.

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Other populations invaded from Scandanavia and lowland Europe making a complex pattern of populations.

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There is no evidence that Celts were ever a discrete group. However, the Welsh, Cornish, Devonian and Orkney populations were distinct and remain in those regions.

Circular Arguments

For more than 150 years, graphics have helped us understand the meaning of the things we measure, and sometimes, the images are circular. Beautiful Science is an exhibition at the British Library until 26th May shows old and new graphical representations of data from nature. J. Snow and W. Farr plotted temperature and cholera deaths through the year of 1852 (below left). During the Crimean War 0f 1853-6. The campaigning nurse, F. Nightingale, compared deaths from preventable epidemics (blue on the diagram blow) with those from actual battle (red).

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Specially for the exhibition, artist Martin Krzywinski gives a colourful representation of genetical features, comparing the human genome with those of other animals (opossum, below left). Other representations of genome databases are more complex and colourful. th-4  th-5   th-2  th-3 General feelings about the weather have been summarised from social media and compared in the diagram below left with data from actual weather records. th-12        th-13

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Data, Data Everywhere

Only 150 years ago a major obstacle for scientists was the lack of data. Without data, the results of measured observations and experiments, it was hard to test any theory. Now there’s so much data scientists even have trouble storing it, let alone using it.

At the International Health Exhibition in 1885 Francis Galton (1822-1911 and Charles Darwin’s eccentric cousin) began his mobile drop-in centre to measure visitors’ head size and (proxy) IQ. The resulting data were kept in notebooks.

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Fifty years later the analogue data of musical recordings were stored on shellac gramophone discs.


Artists seem to approach these problems very differently to scientists. Or are they so different? Next week the Festival for Art, Technology and Society at Linz in Switzerland gives transparency to some of the issues involved.

One is found HR Giger’s art of biomechanics from 50 years ago. The data are loaded into a series of powerful symbols which in turn lead to very clear and simple objectives. At a stroke, the whole complex process of data acquisition, storage and usage is achieved with your own interpretaion:

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Necronom 1976 (an alien designed to remember)         Birth Machine 1968 (a womb in a pistol)

Even more mechanistically the latest idea to store data is published on-line in Nature, 23 January 2013. Nick Goldman et al show it is possible to store large amounts of digital data in specially synthesised DNA, and that requires very low maintenance.

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Already Goldman has stored more data than anyone has done before. Biological evolution has taken billions of years to test the technology so it can be expected to be the most reliable of all known methods. But the more subjective world of the artists at Linz still have important things to say – a for us to feel in our own ways.