How do we ….really count and translate numbers?

Laser cut drawing of upset stomach 22" x 30" | Laurie Frick

Have been working hard on the concept of a unique patterned language for self-tracking. There has to be a metaphorical language that translates primal patterns of ourselves. Something far from data visualization or graphical output of data.

I think the way to come at this is to find a more instinctual approach to numerical cognition. Read about the Amazon tribe that can only count to five – we learn linear representation of numbers from using rulers, tape measures and simple arithmetic….turns out our brains can accurately recognize one, two, three and then it gets fuzzy.  Large numbers are totally abstract in our heads, a million, a billion…how many trillion was the (fill-in the blank) war/bailout/deficit?

Young kids estimate numbers on something closer to a logarithmic scale, small quantities are far apart, and then large numbers squish together as they get larger.  Just read ‘Number Sense: how the mind creates mathematics-updated’ by S. Dehaene – he is THE GUY for numerical cognition.  And Alex Bellos “Here’s looking at Euclid’ – interesting, easy ….reads like a Malcolm Gladwell book.

We humans look for patterns, like puzzles, have an intuition for simple arithmetic – there has to be a more intuitive way to convey personal tracking data about ourselves than the line charts and graphs that the gadget companies serve up.


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  • Short-short Statement

    The work pulls from my background in engineering and high-technology to explore science, human pattern and self-tracking.

  • The art of self-surveillance

    I’ve been experimenting with a future where everything about us can be instantly measured and significantly added to my daily regimen to develop a patterned vocabulary and language for self-tracking. Steps walked, calories expended, weight, sleep cycles, time-online, activities, location, daily mood, micro-journal of food ingested are all part of my daily tracking -- simple and easy to collect using iphones and gadgets that point toward a time where complete self-surveillance is the norm.

    Numbers are abstract concepts but we recognize pattern intuitively. I’m experimenting with wall size patterns that anticipate the condition of our daily-selves. Very soon walls and spaces we occupy will be filled with easy to decode patterns – a visual record of how we feel, stress level, mood, bio-function captured, digitally recorded and physically produced using 3D printers and lasercutters. Human data portraits transcribed as pattern from the all the sensor data collected about us.

    Will it kill the mystery of being human, simply magnify our defects or will sensors and a mass of measurements acknowledge and present patterns of self-examination that lure us into a future of self-quantification that is irresistible?

  • Neuroscience?

    I’m convinced the way we unconsciously slice our time, waking and sleeping reflects the underlying structure of our mind. Capturing time-based activities is a way to reverse-engineer subtle underlying brain rhythms. Each work and installation I make is an experiment to find the exact resonant rhythm which tracks the underlying spaces and neural patterns of our mind. Not a total fantasy, this follows from an emerging theory in neuroscience.

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    All the good stuff happens while you sleep. If you’re sick, you heal. You build procedural memory, grow taller, resolve conflict, reorder and organize all long-term memory. Recently I’ve learned you dream in all stages, not just REM sleep. I’ve been measuring my nightly sleep using a ZEO eeg headband for over 3 years and have in excess of 900 nights of sleep data. There is a definite pattern to the brainwaves, with much more activity than you’d imagine. It’s ragged with shorter bursts of deep sleep and REM sleep than I thought. I wake up a lot. My brain is pretty busy during sleep -- clearly, sleep rhythms are not so different than waking rhythms.

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