Relax – it’s all part of one big pattern

Patterned by Nature was commissioned by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences ( for the newly built Nature Research Center in Raleigh, North Carolina. The exhibit celebrates our abstraction of nature’s infinite complexity into patterns through the scientific process, and through our perceptions. It brings to light the similarity of patterns in our universe, across all scales of space and time.
10 feet wide and 90 feet in length, this sculptural ribbon winds through the five story atrium of the museum and is made of 3600 tiles of LCD glass. It runs on roughly 75 watts, less power than a laptop computer. Animations are created by independently varying the transparency of each piece of glass.
The content cycles through twenty programs, ranging from clouds to rain drops to colonies of bacteria to flocking birds to geese to cuttlefish skin to pulsating black holes. The animations were created through a combination of algorithmic software modeling of natural phenomena and compositing of actual footage.
An eight channel soundtrack accompanies the animations on the ribbon, giving visitors clues to the identity of the pixelated movements. In addition, two screens show high resolution imagery and text revealing the content on the ribbon at any moment.
Patterned by Nature was created by
Plebian Design –
Hypersonic Design & Engineering –
Patten Studio –
Sosolimited –

Bargaining for a Living

English: A homeless man in Paris Français : Un...

Heidemarie Schwermer is a sixty-nine year old German woman who lives entirely without money.  Until 1996, Heidemarie lived her life pretty much along the same lines as her compatriots – she taught for almost 20 years and practiced as a psychotherapist for many years after that.  She raised two children and now also has three grandchildren.

In 1994, she moved to Dortmund where she determined to do something about the homelessness she saw all around her.  So she opened a swap shop – a place where people could trade skills or things for other skills or things.  The shop didn’t succeed in helping the homeless but it did attract many unemployed people and retirees and thereby became well known.

As time passed, Heidemarie grew tired of her life and quit her job.  She began to do all sorts of other jobs – whatever she could find – in exchange for low wages or other services.  By 1995, she was spending almost no money and still managing very well.  In 1996, after her children moved out – she embarked on an experiment that was to last a year – she sold her apartment and decided to live like a nomad – trading goods and services for goods and services.  She loved it so much that she’s still living that way, 15 years later.

Everything Heidemarie owns fits into a single-back suitcase and a rucksack.  She has an emergency fund of 200 euro and any other money she earns she gives to charities.

Interesting experiment which at the very least make us question the way we view – and use – money in our societies.

(Thanks to Tales from the Lou’s Blog for posting on this yesterday – see below for link)

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The Banality of Heroism

Philip Zimbardo, the psychiatrist in charge of the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment has a new venture – he’s studying the components of heroism.  Zimbardo and his associates believe that instead of looking at heroes as the exception, we should create an idea of heroism as banal and commonplace.  They believe that we will all have occasion in our lives to make heroic decisions and if we see heroism as a universal attribute of human nature, we are more likely to do the right thing, even when we are under pressure and afraid.

Zimbardo et al believe that this reconfiguring of heroism as a commonplace attribute can guide our behaviour in moments of moral uncertainty.

There are a number of steps that Philip Zimbardo believes will help us to foster ‘the heroic imagination’ we need to progress in this regard.

  • We can start by remaining mindful,carefully and critically evaluating each situation we encounter so that we don’t gloss over an emergency requiring our action. We should try to develop our “discontinuity detector” — an awareness of things that don’t fit, are out of place, or don’t make sense in a setting. This means asking questions to get the information we need to take responsible action. 
  • Second, it is important not to fear interpersonal conflict, and to develop the personal hardiness necessary to stand firm for principles we cherish.  
  • Third, we must remain aware of an extended time-horizon, not just the present moment…In addition, we should keep part of our minds on the past, as that may help us recall values and teachings instilled in us long ago, which may inform our actions in the current situation. 
  • Fourth, we have to resist the urge to rationalize inaction and to develop justifications that recast evil deeds as acceptable means to supposedly righteous ends. Finally, we must try to transcend anticipating negative consequence associated with some forms of heroism, such as being socially ostracized. If our course is just,we must trust that others will eventually recognize the value of our heroic actions.(1)

Butterfly Effects for Change – Part 5 – Hero in ‘Train’ing?

 (1) The Banality of Heroism - Greater Good Magazine - Fall / Winter 2006-07 

A new look at family-ties.

In 1967, social psychologist, Stanley Milgram conducted his small world experiment while he was teaching at Harvard. 

This is the experiment that we have come to know as six degrees of separation (or even Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon as in the game) and it basically tracked chains of acquaintances in the United States. In the experiment, Milgram sent several packages to 160 random people living in Omaha, Nebraska, asking them to forward the package to a friend or acquaintance whom they thought would bring the package closer to a final individual, a stockbroker from Boston, Massachusetts.

The result was, that on average, most strangers are separated from each other by (at most) five to six other people.  Milgram’s experiment is much criticized and often repeated and while the exact outcome is disputed there does seem to be mounting evidence that we are more closely linked to everyone else on the planet than we imagine.  Given that Milgram’s experiment was conducted before the world wide web pulled us all even closer together, this is an amazing thought.

The implications of all of us being so closely connected to each other are very profound. Many of us have nameable relatives that are separated from us by six steps and in a broad sense we consider these people to be part of our family.  But the fact is that biologically the entire human race is beyond doubt one family.  This can no longer be disputed – a banker on Wall Street and a pygmy in the Amazon are family.  The sequencing of the human genome has proven beyond a shred of scientific doubt that we are not only all originally from the same family but, in fact, that we are all originally African.[1]

In spite of differences of race and colour and culture and attitude we are just one big dysfunctional family.  It is obvious that we are not a united family, there is no doubt about that but that is because unity is an outcome of action and it doesn’t just happen by itself.  When we make a conscious decision to work together, to cooperate and strive to find ways to make the world a better more functional place we will have a chance of achieving unity, but not until then.

Oneness is different.  Oneness is a fact. A natural fact. Like gravity.  Or electro-magnetism.  Or death.  The oneness of humanity is not a utopian ideal it is a fact and as long as we fail to recognise it as such we will continue to find it difficult to get on with each other at all levels – from the family to the workplace to the governing of our countries and the interaction between our governments.

Within a functional family we would expect to find love, mutual assistance, support, forbearance and concern with each other’s welfare.  This is not considered ridiculously idealistic as a goal for a family and many therapists and supports exist to help us all achieve these important ideals within our families.

Now that we know that ‘our family’ includes all sorts of people – children who are being sold for sex and slavery, men, women and children struggling and needlessly starving to death, minorities who are persecuted for their ethnicity or beliefs – maybe we won’t only feel concern for them but also responsibility and a certain entitlement to have a say in their welfare just as we might with members of our known family?

There are many factors that we need to incorporate if we are to become a functional human family and developing an understanding of reciprocity is one.  It’s not the only one and it’s not an obvious one but it’s a bit like oxygen – it may not be obvious and life is sustained by many, many other things but oxygen is a deal-breaker – life on earth can (largely) not exist without it.  Reciprocity is a bit like that – it’s the energy that makes the system run, the medium that allows it to grow, the atmosphere necessary for progress.  In a sense, reciprocity is like the principle of functional oneness.

[1] Race, Ethnicity and Genetics Working Group, National Human Genome Research Institute, Bethseda, California, USA. The Use of Racial, Ethnic, and Ancestral Categories in  Modern Genetic Research.