The Catalytic Algorithm


Session Title:

  • Algorithms and the Artist (Visualization: The Next Generation)

Presentation Title:

  • The Catalytic Algorithm



  • Panel Statement

    Panel: Algorithms and the Artist

    With technology it is possible to manifest mathematical ideas as images, sounds, sculpture and even poetry. Artists in all media have found mathematical processes of value in their creative enterprise. These processes are often described using algorithms. An algorithm is nothing more than a recipe, a finite list of instructions. This recipe will have precise steps to follow, perhaps requiring some initial input (i.e ingredients). The algorithm will have a desired outcome, and be considered effective if the outcome is achieved. A tasty apple pie is the result of one algorithm, an image or piece of music derived from a mathematical process, generated from a computer program is another. In describing mathematical processes with algorithms, beauty and meaning can be discovered. Numbers are mapped into light and/or sound, and perceived through the senses as objects. It is the mathematical source of these works that has aesthetic worth. Algorithms, implemented on computers, make it possible for us to see and hear the beauty of mathematical processes. We can explore the inherent beauty of these abstract processes, logical, human-made constructs that initially seem to have meaning only because they can be used to predict natural phenomena. These are processes our culture exploits to myriad purposes, from predicting tomorrow’s weather, to navigating and landing a jumbo jet. When we see a mathematical model visualized, perhaps a model of water resistance over the hull of a racing yacht, a chart of planetary motion, or even the abstract image of a Mandelbrot Set, are we looking at something that, in some metaphysical way exists? Or is the mathematics describing nothing more than an intellectual construct, and the images simply pretty, and sometimes inexplicably useful? Is meaning culturally attributed, or is mathematics meaningful and effective because it describes ‘grand truths’? We trust our lives on a daily basis to the effectiveness of these mathematical models. What is the basis of our faith? Why do we trust them? The algorithmic image or composition gives us something to see or hear and begin to ponder. Aesthetic experience isn’t in the viewing or the listening, it’s in the pondering. For me it reduces to a question of divine presence, a point of irresistible curiosity and a source of infinite wonder.