relating to the work of

People, Places, Books and Papers


Ralph Abraham, PhD:
Dr. Ralph Abraham, professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has been a great inspiration to me. I met Ralph at a conference in 1991, and credit him with encouraging me to believe in myself enough to leave my job and strike out on my own, leading among other things to writing my evolutionary art system. I derive much of my fascination with computer models of dynamical systems from Ralph's writings and conversations with him. As he stated once:

"When we see these computer generated spacetime patterns of chaotic cooperation on the computer screen, we recognize them. We have seen them in our dreams. We have seen them in our telescopes. We have seen them in our microscopes: the universal language of spacetime pattern, which is the subject of the mathematics of tomorrow." (emphasis added; see longer quotation in my statement of philosophy)

Though my own efforts are a far cry from Ralph's supercomputer simulations, his comments resonate with my feelings about my own images, and the elements of deterministic chaos in some of them are indeed evocative of Ralph's spacetime patterns. Click here to jump to Ralph's homepage, or here for the Visual Math Institute homepage.

Ralph's use of computer graphics to visualize dynamical systems (chaoscopes), writings on morphodynamics, and experiments with chymatics to study vibrations and rarefactions in fluid media suggest to me that it might be possible to construct an apparatus to function as a putative `archetype camera'. See also Sheldrake.

Ruth G. Applegarth
I cannot write these webpages without acknowledging my mother's influence and support. I have certainly benefited from Ruth's wide-ranging knowledge, including her personal remembrances of Aldous Huxley and Gerald Heard around mid-century, and a general Jungian outlook.

Richard Dawkins, PhD.
Dawkins' books on evolution have been very helpful to me in understanding some of the subtleties of Darwinian evolution. Dawkins also wrote the first computer software that caused virtual organisms to evolve under guided selection to produce line-drawing graphic figures (see The Blind Watchmaker). Karl Sims credits Richard Dawkins with some of his own inspiration.

I was initially led to Dawkins' The Selfish Gene by a passage in Rupert Sheldrake's The Presence of the Past, quoting Dawkins' introduction of the term meme. Since then memes have become a popular concept, and I see visual memes replicating throughout the graphic arts and commercial advertising worlds everywhere. Evolutionary art could give us a new tool for studying meme propagation, since visual elements may be selected by people for inclusion (replication) in different forms, but also by passing around and mutating the genetic expressions from which they derive. This would require an international standard of visual image genetic representation.

How likely might another evolutionary artist be to replicate one of my images by guessing at my `nucleotides' or building blocks and attempting to retrace their evolution? Richard Dawkins once offered $1000 to anyone who could re-evolve an image of a chalice he had bred in his Biomorph Land (reported in Out of Control, p. 269) - and lost his bet within a year. But I agree with Kevin Kelly's analysis that it was the secondary biological nature of biomorphs that permitted the chalice to be rediscovered - that, and the size of the search space. Perhaps a real mathematician could calculate the odds for me; I'm currently using some 120 `genes', hence a 120-dimensional search space, with hundreds of additional parameters setting initial conditions, and zillions of choices made during evolution by a pseudorandom number generator, dependent on the seed I assigned it for each run, not to mention all my own aesthetic fitness score assignments and later color post-processing... that, and the fact that an image such as In the Beginning has a history of prior evolution going back thousands of generations over three years. I'd be happy to offer $2000 of my own to someone able to re-evolve In the Beginning down to some specifiable error tolerance once this thing gets going, and the right forum appears.

Murray Gell-Mann, PhD, Nobel laureate in physics
A cofounder of the Santa Fe Institute, Gell-Mann's book The Quark and the Jaguar has been influential in helping me understand complex adaptive systems. I have to agree with his comment about the process of evolving images being addictive (p.299). And I am now putting my own artwork to the test of a higher order complex adaptive system by placing it in the marketplace. As Gell-Mann indicated, failure would mean pleasing myself with these images but, like a dilettante horse breeder, enjoining in a maladaptive process. Failure in the next year or two would also prevent me from continuing to support my expensive computer habit and pursuing my consuming interest in furthering evolutionary simulation and artwork.

John Holland, PhD.
Professor Holland of the University of Michigan and the Santa Fe Institute basically invented the field of genetic algorithms. I currently employ a genetic strategy in the lineage of John Koza's tree-shaped "chromosomes", but that lineage traces its own ancestry back to that of Holland. His book Hidden Order is an accessible treatment of how adaptation can build complexity from a simple starting point.

Aldous Huxley
One of the giants of English literature, Huxley's writings, and lectures as recalled by my mother, have had a profound influence on me. In his last decade of life Huxley practiced and advocated for certain individuals a style of safe, infrequent, and responsible use of what are now called `entheogens' (a certain class of psychoactive substances) with which I largely credit my remission from debilitating rheumatoid arthritis some ten years ago. Without that remission, along with the extensive hand surgery it enabled, I would have been unable to function as a computer programmer generating evolutionary art.

Stuart Kauffman, PhD, MacArthur Fellow
Kauffman's influence on me is far-reaching. When I first heard him talk and later read his books, I realized that he was articulating beautifully an intuitive feeling I had always had that the increasing order and complexity throughout the evolution of the Universe since the Big Bang was itself "built-in" to the whole process, not some chance or unlikely event. I firmly believe that Kauffman's search for fundamental underlying principles of order and self-organization will bear rich fruit beyond its already impressive achievements.

Kauffman's description of the vast space of possible proteins that could be manufactured, compared to the relatively tiny number that have been manufactured by Earthly organisms - or that could possibly have been manufactured by hypothetical organisms working feverishly around the clock on planets all over the Universe in the 12 billion years or so since the Big Bang - is relevant to a discussion of evolutionary art. Some might argue that because we are creating images on a computer using a finite number of mathematical "genes" or "nucleotides", of finite genome size, we are merely prospecting for a smallish number of forms and shapes that anyone might uncover given enough time.

I would refer anyone thinking in that manner to Kauffman's book - the space of possible artforms that can be evolved in a computer is so vast that only the most limited, primitive forms are likely to be evolved more than once. I tend to create hyperspaces of hundreds of dimensions of art-genomic space, a labyrinth of possible images so huge I could never hope to view even a fraction of them if I had millions of lifetimes in which to do it. It would be most interesting, however, to be proven wrong; see Dawkins' Challenge.

One of my "back-burner" projects involves experimenting with Kauffmanian NK networks as part of a different kind of evolutionary art system.

Kevin Kelly
Executive editor of Wired Magazine, Kelly first came to my attention at MIT during the Artificial Life IV conference. His book Out of Control had just been published, and I found it a refreshing survey of the developing fields of ecosystem theory, complexity, and artificial life. Kelly's Chapter 14, "In the Library of Form", is all about evolutionary art and raises very interesting questions about the existence of form as an infinite library of eternal Platonic forms that may be best searched for using the principles of variation and selection.

In my opinion Kelly not only pulled together the right material on this emerging new view of the world in Out of Control, but he added to the debate with his own speculations and insights.

Wired magazine (3.12, December 1995) printed an article on me and the process I use, based on a packet of slides and descriptive materials I sent Kelly. I was later asked to create an Absolut Rooke artwork, which appeared on the back of Wired in April and November, 1996 (4.04 & 4.11).

For an interactive evolutionary art experience on the Web, check out Absolut Kelly.

John Koza, PhD.
John Koza gave a talk in Santa Fe in June 1992 at Artificial Life III on his new genetic programming paradigm, which provided additional information to that in Karl Sims' 1991 SIGGRAPH paper on how to write software that could be used to produce evolutionary art.

I read Koza's Genetic Programming (`Jaws-1') in January 1993, and was soon experimenting with public-domain LISP interpreters to run his GP kernel, downloadable from Stanford. Unable to communicate effectively with the graphics system on my Silicon Graphics Indigo workstation, I next obtained a commercial LISP interpreter and compiler, and was able to get a primitive form of image evolution working. However, I determined that LISP was just way too slow for image evolution (or maybe I just preferred my old favorite computer languages). Also, Koza's GP system was patented, and I wanted to keep open the option of doing something commercial someday, so I spent the last four months of 1993 writing my own system from scratch in UNIX/C, highly optimized for speed of just image evolution on SGI computers. Nevertheless, I have much gratitude to Dr. Koza for elaborating the theoretical underpinnings of tree-structured simulated genetic evolution.

Chris Langton, PhD.
Sometimes called the "father of artificial life", Chris Langton is an engaging thinker and spokesman for the field, and a permanent resident at the Santa Fe Institute. The series of Artificial Life conferences he organized leading to volumes I, II, and III helped me considerably getting started in this field in the early 1990's. I would like to talk with Chris about the possibility of using SWARM for image evolution as a way of making the evolutionary art process accessible by others.

William Latham, PhD.
I first saw Latham's wild, intriguing animations at SIGGRAPH. He employs a branch of evolutionary art in a different phylum from that originating with Richard Dawkins and Karl Sims, involving, I believe, a greater degree of control over the resulting 3D forms, described in his book.

Benoit Mandelbrot, PhD.
Inspiration to thousands of computer graphics programmers, Mandelbrot's 1985 cover article in Scientific American led me to begin writing my own fractal generating programs while I was an image processing programmer at the National Optical Astronomy Observatories in the late 1980's. I once sent Dr. Mandelbrot photographs of the very fractal Cauliflower Romanesco when it first appeared on the market, to which he replied with a nice letter.

Mandelbrot's description of fractal geometry as the geometry of Nature struck a resonant chord with me, leading to all sorts of speculations on underlying order in nature and later to inclusion of fractal equations in evolutionary art genomes.

Lynn Margulis, PhD.
Lynn Margulis' explanation of symbiogenesis has always seemed right to me. I gave a talk at Digital Biota-2 in Cambridge, U.K., September 1998 on Dr. Margulis' theories and how I believe they can be implemented and tested in artificial life software. We must avoid unexamined assumptions about `what is an individual?' in writing a-life genetic systems, to avoid building in programmatic strait-jackets that would prevent the occasional merging of formerly independent genetic lineages into composite organisms at the next higher hierarchical level of organization. This is what happened two billion years ago at the Eukaryotic Transition, where the ancestors of our cell nuclei, undulipodia, and mitochondria merged symbiotically. Margulis urges us to place a greater emphasis on the environment, metabolism, and symbiotic mergers rather than focusing narrowly on `selfish genes' and replicators as the sole mechanisms underlying adaptation and natural selection.

Terence McKenna
I have met Terence on several occasions. His ideas about the non-physical reality of imagery - a hyperspace where thoughts and souls dwell or visit (his `invisible landscape') - and their relation to entheogenic states have influenced my own thinking. This territory is explored in Trialogues at the Edge of the West, co-authored with Ralph Abraham and Rupert Sheldrake. [Note added 7/1/98: Terence is very interested in emerging Alife, particularly in Bruce Damer's end of things, the Digital Biota group. He liked my work-in-progress video Genetic Fractal Cephalopods from Hyperspace, and we had a good discussion on cephalopods and my emergent evolutionary psychedelic imagery at the launching of the new book The Evolutionary Mind.

F. Kenton Musgrave, PhD.
Ken Musgrave coined the term "algorists" for artists who manipulate mathematical algorithms in computer programs to produce works of art. Ken is famous for producing the "Genesis Effect" in a Star Trek movie, and is known for his fractal-generated landscapes as posters, IRIS prints, and calendars. Ken has web pages with examples of his work, discussion and philosophy, and has been a colleague of Benoit Mandelbrot.

Clifford Pickover, PhD.
Clifford Pickover's zillions of books and articles on computer graphics and mathematical beauty are an essential part of any evolutionary artist's bookshelf. I thank Dr. Pickover for his descriptions of 4D Quaternion Julia Sets in Computers, Pattern, Chaos and Beauty, the formulas for which I inserted into my genomic library, and for his biomorphs, not to be confused with those of Richard Dawkins. Pickover is a colleague of Benoit Mandelbrot.

When an evolutionary artist is searching for intriguing new formulae to insert into a genome, a good starting place is in Pickover's many books.

Tom Ray, PhD.
I first heard about Tom Ray and his artificial life program Tierra (click here to go to its website) from a New York Times article in 1991, and that was my primary reason for deciding to attend Artificial Life III in Santa Fe in June, 1992. I believe Tierra is one of the most significant breakthroughs in the study of the origin of life -- any living system, not specifically that of Earthly life. Although my own evolutionary art system is guided by the artist and thus not real Alife, I would like someday to try to design a Tierra-like system of self-reproducing and evolving organisms that produce images, with their own `Big Bang' bootstrapped by the artist's initial aesthetic selection. Imagine populations of evolving images with aesthetic parasites and aesthetic immune systems, hyper-parasites, ...

Such a process might even take place globally, perhaps something related to Ray's `digital nature preserve' on the internet coupled with some international standard for representing genetic art genomes. See Future Directions.

Jonathan Schull, PhD.
I first met Schull at Alife III, where he suggested to me the idea leading up to my design for an open-ended system of co-evolving image generators and image commentators. Schull's notion was an elaboration of an idea of Richard Dawkins' in The Blind Watchmaker to write software that generates images. The images appear on a monitor outside, with video sensors capable of detecting the presence of bees (the sensors could, initially, be dedicated human eyes). The longer the bees hang around looking at the images, the higher the fitness scores assigned to the alife organisms generating the pictures. The question is, would images of actual flowers evolve?

Schull is author of a very interesting paper entitled Are Species Intelligent? with accompanying critical commentary. I recommend a visit to his website.

Rupert Sheldrake, PhD.
Rupert is a personal friend, author of the controversial theory of formative causation and morphic resonance. In 1992 he suggested I try implementing a realtime random number generator as part of my genetic algorithm and genetic programming experiments as a possible means of searching for signs of the elusive morphic resonance. I did make an early attempt at this using a reverse biased Zener diode as a source of quantum noise, but the results showed primarily that the device was so slow there was no point in continuing the efforts.

I remain intrigued by the notion of a kind of memory in Nature, with which dynamical processes might resonate across time - this requires a fundamentally different notion of Time itself, as suggested by the title of Rupert's book The Presence of the Past. The theory is testable (falsifiable) in principle, though in practice it is quite difficult to perform definitive experiments, since the results of a universe dominated by habit would be very similar to those of a universe dominated by physical Law. Regardless of whether Sheldrake's theories or something like them ultimately prove correct, I believe they are a fresh way of looking at the world and at our own often forgotten and hidden assumptions about it, and are worth investigating. I intend to resume my morphic resonance experiment when time and finances permit.

In the current era of a dominant scientific world view which some entrenched parties are unwilling even to question, I believe Sheldrake's appeal to ordinary people to engage in experiments costing only a few dollars plus their time to test unconventional but testable hypotheses is courageous and welcome. I personally prefer the model of the independent private investigator - subject to trial in the marketplace - to the publish-or-perish model of academic research where over half your time is devoted to pursuing the next grant, and only proposals that express the dominant view are approved. Shame on the anonymous editors of Nature for suggesting in 1981 that Sheldrake's first book should be burned! (reproduced by Sheldrake in A New Science of Life, p. 221)

Karl Sims
To me, Karl Sims is the real pioneer of this style of evolutionary art. I had been impressed with his earlier work in SIGGRAPH animation festivals, but it was Karl's 1991 SIGGRAPH paper which really blew my mind. Here you could evolve complex colored patterns, to which most people refer as "textures" because they are really 2D images where every pixel is the result of operating the same program as every other pixel, differing only in their location. But the resulting images may look far richer than simple textures, often like three-dimensional landscapes.

I hope that someday Karl will be able to continue his work on evolving morphology and behavior. As a former geologist, I felt I was watching in Karl's 1994 animation, creatures from the Burgess Shale evolving their forms and ability to swim. Who knows how far such open-ended evolution might go? There is an interesting website about Karl's interactive evolutionary art installation in a Paris museum a couple of years ago. Recently the Digital Burgess conference organizer salvaged a webpage on Karl's evolving creatures .

Doug Tody
Doug was my boss for seven years at the National Optical Astronomy Observatories in Tucson, AZ, where I first had to unlearn my prized but inferior programming practices and then begin the difficult process of mastering serious systems programming. Tody is the author and Chief Programmer for the IRAF (Image Reduction and Analysis Facility) portable software used by professional optical astronomers around the world. Doug's programming prowess and discipline are legendary, and I am privileged to have learned my craft from him.

Andrew Weil, M.D.
I am fortunate to count Andy Weil as a friend. I credit his advice on alternative medicine with helping me put my otherwise debilitating rheumatoid arthritis into remission in the 1980's. Had the arthritis not gone into apparently permanent remission, I would certainly have been unable to type, and hence program my computer to produce evolutionary art.

Andy also introduced me to the Telluride Wild Mushroom Festival, which has served as a testing ground for my artwork in the form of slide shows and multimedia presentations. Searching for edible, gourmet wild mushrooms in the forest became a passion, and shares some of the attributes of searching for compelling images in the hyperspace of evolutionary art.

National Optical Astronomy Observatories

This is where I learned image processing and serious systems and scientific application programming. I also became very interested in astronomy and read probably as many books about it as I had about geology getting a B.A. and M.S. in it. NOAO was a great place to work, with access to top minds and equipment.

IRAF employs layers of portable code written in Tody's language SPP, which combines the better features of both C for systems programming and Fortran for optimized multidimensional numerical programming. User and site-dependent applications like the STSDAS analysis code used by the Space Telescope Science Institute for Hubble Space Telescope data reside near the top of the hierarchy, above a virtual operating system (VOS), also written in SPP and portable. Beneath the VOS is the Host System Interface, which includes system-dependent code for translating and compiling SPP and the host operating system kernel. In my later years at NOAO I was able to port the IRAF HSI to Apollo, Hewlett Packard, and Silicon Graphics operating systems.

Santa Fe Institute

The center for interdisciplinary studies of complexity theory, artificial life, simulated evolution. (Click here to jump to the SFI website). I am indefinitely loaning the Institute some of my IRIS prints to place on display (estimated installation date mid-March '97).

See Murray Gell-Mann, Chris Langton, Tom Ray.

Visual Math Institute (VMI)

Ralph Abraham was kind enough to install me as an "associate" member of the VMI back in the Paleo-Web Era, ca. 1994. The VMI has numerous projects past and current related to, naturally, visual mathematics. Click here to jump to the VMI website.


Abraham, Ralph, and Shaw, C.D.. Dynamics, the Geometry of Behavior. Second edition. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1992

Abraham, Ralph; McKenna, Terence; and Sheldrake, Rupert. The Evolutionary Mind - Trialogues at the Edge of the Unthinkable. Trialogue Press, 1998

Abraham, Ralph; McKenna, Terence; and Sheldrake, Rupert. Trialogues at the Edge of the West - Chaos, Creativity, and the Resacralization of the World. Santa Fe: Bear & Co., 1992.

Absolut Rooke. Absolut Vodka ad (Copyright 1996 V&S Vin & Spirit AB). Back cover of Wired 4.04 & 4.11, 1996.

Barlow, Connie, ed. From Gaia to Selfish Genes - Selected Writings in the Life Sciences. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 3rd printing 1993.

Bennion, Jackie. Breeding Edge. Wired Magazine 5.06, June 1997.

Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976, revised edition 1989.

Dawkins, Richard. The Blind Watchmaker - Why the evidence of evolution reveals a universe without design. New York: Norton, 1987

Dawkins, Richard. River Out of Eden - A Darwinian View of Life, New York: BasicBooks, a division of HarperCollins, 1995

Gell-Mann, Murray. The Quark and the Jaguar - Adventures in the Simple and the Complex, New York: Freeman, 1994

Gleick, James. Chaos: Making a New Science. New York: Viking, 1987.

Hitchcock, Nancy. Painting Pictures Through Time, Computer Artist, December/January 1996.
(a short early article on my artwork)

Holland, John H. Hidden Order - How Adaptation Builds Complexity, New York: Addison-Wesley, 1995

Kauffman, Stuart. At Home in the Universe - The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity, New York: Oxford University Press, 1995

Kelly, Kevin. Out of Control - The Rise of Neo-Biological Civilization, New York: Addison-Wesley, 1994

Koza, John R. Genetic Programming - On the Programming of Computers by Means of Natural Selection.Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1992.

Latham, William and Todd, Stephen. Evolutionary Art and Computers. New York: Academic Press, 1992.

Levy, Steven. Artificial Life - The Quest for a New Creation, New York: Pantheon Books, 1992

Lewin, Roger. Complexity: Life on the Edge of Chaos. New York: Macmillan, 1992

Mandelbrot, Benoit. The Fractal Geometry of Nature. San Francisco: Freeman, 1983.

Margulis, Lynn. Symbiosis in Cell Evolution New York: W.H. Freeman & Co., 1993.

Margulis, Lynn & Sagan, Dorion. Microcosmos University of California Press, 1997.

Margulis, Lynn & Sagan, Dorion. What is Life? New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.

Margulis, Lynn & Sagan, Dorion. Slanted Truths New York: Springer-Verlag, 1997.

Ott, Jonathan. The Age of Entheogens & The Angel's Dictionary. Kennewick, WA: Natural Products Co., 1995.

Pickover, Clifford A. Computers, Pattern, Chaos and Beauty - Graphics from an Unseen World. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990.

Sheldrake, Rupert. A New Science of Life - The Hypothesis of Formative Causation. Los Angeles: J.P. Tarcher, 1981.

Sheldrake, Rupert. The Presence of the Past - Morphic Resonance and the Habits of Nature. New York: Times Books, 1988.

Schull, Jonathan. Are Species Intelligent? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, v???, p???, 1990.

Sims, Karl. Artificial Evolution for Computer Graphics. "Computer Graphics", volume 25, number 4, 1991 ACM SIGGRAPH Proceedings.

Sims, Karl. Evolving 3D Morphology and Behavior by Competition. Artificial Life IV, Proceedings of the Fourth International Workshop on the Synthesis and Simulation of Living Systems; eds. Rodney A. Brooks and Pattie Maes.

Voss, David. Sex is Best. Wired 3.12, December 1995.
(first article published on my process and artwork)

Waldrop, M. Mitchell: Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992.

Weil, Andrew, M.D. Spontaneous Healing: How to Discover and Enhance Your Body's Natural Ability to Maintain and Heal Itself. New York: Knopf, 1995.

World, Linda. Aesthetic Selection: The Evolutionary Art of Steven Rooke. IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications, v.16, No.1, January 1996.