The “color” at the end of the universal tunnel

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“Hydromedia Atlantis” by Scientiquity

By Terry Poulos, Scientiquity founder

(Editor’s note: This blog was originally published on October 22, 2019)

What’s the true color of the universe? Einstein would say it’s all relative. Our eyes deceive us. They’re receptors of the full spectrum of electromagnetic waves which produce an emergent perception of color and images. The seat of those images is our “mind’s eye.” Color and all visual images in our mind’s eye are a construct. Repeat: Color is constructed, not an inherent property of the universe. But there is a species-wide consensus. We’ll get to that shortly.

Artists, myself no exception, are naturally fascinated by color. We mix and match and experiment with a myriad of varying pigments to produce arrays of images designed to inspire and provoke visceral thought and emotion. But what do we really see in color when we claim that the dress is blue (a recent viral internet phenomenon), a person has green eyes, or that blood is red? Red, blue, and green to whom? More to our point, to what?

The scientific definition is that light for human perception, and thus color, is a manifestation of the visible spectrum of electromagnetic waves, which is a range of wavelengths between infrared and ultraviolet light. You’ve probably heard of a few others in the spectrum which we cannot perceive without the assistance of mechanical instruments – microwave, x-ray, shortwave, ultraviolet, gamma, and infrared are a few examples. Human eyes only perceive those between ultraviolet and infrared (400-700 nanometers in length).

Humans, ever since our origin in antiquity, have evolved concurrently with the field of existence. We’re in the universe – part of it – ergo as Depak Chopra and Menas Kafatos wrote in their recent best-seller, “You are the Universe.” This is not simply a manner of speaking, it’s scientific fact. Nothing within any system is ever divorced from or independent of that system. With that knowledge, we’re forced to concede our ignorance of the overwhelming majority of reality. Why? Because we can never view it from outside the system. There is no privileged vantage point!

Knowing this, how do we trust red is red, blue is blue, and green is green (the three primary colors; all else are gradients)? It is true the human species has evolved a common consensus on the various colors, albeit we all see colors in ever-so-slightly different ways. There’s that pesky relativity again. We see a potentially infinite gradient of electromagnetic waves. My sincere apologies if that’s not romantic in the tradition of the Renaissance masters, but that is exactly the way the universe operates. 

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Hydromeda Atlantis.” Watch video on YouTube

To underscore that last point, a neurological examination of the genders revealed a significant percentage of women see up to one-thousand times more color gradients than the average man, owing to their having a more evolved system of optical rods and cones and functions having more degrees of freedom. No wonder husbands worldwide are pathetically dependent on their wives to mix and match outfits! Levity aside, you’d think with their enhanced visual prowess women would be the foremost artists globally. But alas, that is a historically male-dominated field with one-hundred Claude Monet’s for every Georgia O’Keeffe. We can chalk up most of that unjust imbalance to male chauvinism. But, as the modern saying goes, “time’s up.” Change is upon us, to be sure. And according to science, rightfully so.

Back to the original question! What’s the color of the universe? Two studies on the color of the universe and the color of our solar system shed new `light’ on the subject. In the early 2000’s, scientists proclaimed that the universe is turquoise, which excited me personally because I love a good patina! According to “Big Bang” cosmology, the universe is 13.8 billion years old, an awful lot of time to develop a rich blue-green color. But along came a more advanced study showing the universe is generally a beige hue, which is still good because I love the yellow-ish color of ancient manuscripts! As for our solar system, science is saying green again. Apparently, the life-giving force for humans, oxygen, carries with it one of the primary colors. So maybe the universe isn’t quite a patina but our part of it, the Milky Way and specifically our solar system, is exhibiting green and beige. Close enough for this fan of the science of antiquity (Scientiquity)!

In any event, we must be honest about our ignorance. Color is relative to human perception mechanisms, and even intra-species it’s relative from one person to the next. Who’s the grand arbiter? Where’s this great da Vinci or O’Keeffe in the sky to decree the substrate of reality? Nobody knows because it’s all relative and there is no privileged place to even decipher such things to begin with. All that said, I insist the dress has to be beige!

Terry Poulos is a Chicago-area writer, archaeological historian, artist and geometer whose investigations focus primarily on physics, fractal topology, and Number Theory 

Scientiquity. All images and concepts herein © 2022

Art as evolutionary mechanism of complexity

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Borneo, Indonesia cave art. World’s oldest known artistic rendering (c. 40,000-50,000 BCE). Creative commons image

By Terry Poulos, Scientiquity founder

(Editor’s note: This blog was originally published November 13, 2019)

`It’s hard to put into words. You have to see it with your own eyes.’ 

How many times have we all verbalized those sentiments? Countless. The reality is, some concepts cannot be conveyed by word alone. Maybe the verbiage will be invented some day but until such time we’re forced to `paint you a picture.’ Perhaps there’s sound logic as to why this here scribe evolved into an artist (hold the jokes please!).

An incontrovertible, elementary axiom of science is that the single most vital mechanism of navigation for humans is our eyes. We don’t “see” with echolocation like many marine mammals or bats, albeit sound is an important secondary mode of navigation as is vibration. That said, if we did not visually recognize predators in the three dimensional space we inhabit, we’d have died long ago. If we couldn’t see food, we’d have reached an evolutionary dead-end almost as soon as we arrived.

We also know art stimulates the optical senses, and thus the brain. When we gaze at art, we absorb it visually with our mind’s eye constructing the aggregate image while simultaneously our instincts construct a corresponding gut “mammalian” emotional reaction. That scales up via a fractal-like heirarchy to alter our consciousness. Neuronal links mutate to form new connections – good, bad, or indifferent. 

With this knowledge, we ask – is art just a luxury? Or is it a necessity to evolve higher intelligence and a requisite to the future viability of the human species?

The short answers: No, yes, and highly-likely yes. Let’s take a closer “look.”

Mainstream dogma has it that tool-making combined with crude forms of early verbal communication were the primary drivers of evolving complexity. However, before any commonly-understood language ever formed, there were only grunts, screams, yelps and what have you. This isn’t what a reasonable person would term “effective” communication considering there existed no group common consensus. There was a ton of miscommunication among neanderthals, to be sure!

Early in the human lineage, the more effective and expeditious mode of communication would easily have been physical gestures, including the use of the face and hands to convey messages. Want someone to come over, simply wave your hands. Hungry? Point to your mouth. 

Ergo, visual communication must have preceded the spoken word as the primary method of coordination among hominids. If you were the bold type, you might even call these gestures a form of visual art. Anyone who’s ever played charades can relate. It’s an art! Then would it be accurate to assert that “art” jump-started evolution? Hmm.

Over time, language matured. There are twenty-six letters in the modern English alphabet, exponentially more degrees of vocal chord freedom than the near monosyllabic cave-dwelling homo sapien. Modern humans have at their disposal a million or more words. No more “ug ug, me Tarzan, you Jane” for contemporary suitors, although there are exceptions.

This evolved complexity greatly advanced our ability to express concepts and achieve higher complexity, and invent things that better our chances for survival including weapons, agriculture, and medicine. Nevertheless, the visual almost certainly came before the verbal in communication. To this day, visual imagery still speaks to what auditory wordplay cannot and may never.

Visual representation, in this light, must always be thought of as more than a mere secondary driver of ever-more-complex intelligence. But do we require art? Our very future may depend upon the evolution of artistic expression. If the past is any indication, the answer is a firm yes!

Are not geometers “artists”? From the Pythagoreans to Euclid, Plato’s “Forms” and the seeds of geometric calculus sown by Archimedes, to da Vinci’s depth perception and “smufato” realism, the xy planes of Fermat and Decartes, Mobius involution, full-on Newtonian calculus and Reimannian nonlinear geometry, to Escher’s fractal art and Mandelbrot’s fractal geometry, and all the way through the curved space and hidden dimensions of General Relativity and on through Feynman diagrams and Quantum Electrodynamics, scientists and mathematicians have been and continue to be intuitive visual artists, and always will be.

What do the scientists say?

“The greatest scientists are artists as well.” — Albert Einstein. 

“The difference between science and the arts is not that they are different sides of the same coin…or even different parts of the same continuum, but rather, they are manifestations of the same thing. The arts and sciences are avatars of human creativity.” — NASA astronaut Mae Jemison

“Science and art sometimes touch one another, like two pieces of the jigsaw puzzle which is our human life, and that contact may be made across the borderline between the two respective domains.” — M.C. Escher

“Only art and science can raise men to the level of God.” — Ludwig von Beethoven

 “I’m convinced that art and science activate the same parts of the brain.” — Nobel Prize winning theoretical physicist Frank Wilczek

We’ve now come full circle where visual artistry is arguably on equal footing as an evolutionary stimulus (although it never really did take a back seat). When the world is at a loss for words or equations or philosophical insight, the `visualist’ steps in to fill the void. Visual imagery was the alpha of our initial evolution and remains the stop-gap for all that cannot and may not ever be expressed in the spoken word or via mathematical symbolism.

In this way, the future of the human species is inextricably linked to art. Evolution of complexity in the human organism is reliant on the art of the optical senses. And with that, art is not nearly “just a luxury.”

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“Discus Refractus” by Scientiquity, on display outdoor art exhibit in Greektown Chicago. Fractal design

Terry Poulos is a Chicago-area writer, archaeological historian, artist and geometer whose investigations focus primarily on physics, fractal topology, and Number Theory 

Scientiquity. All images and concepts herein © 2022

The universe: Sculpture, painting, music?

Photo by Pixabay on

By Terry Poulos, Scientiquity founder (originally published 12/10/2019)

What is the `stuff’ that constitutes the universe? Scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers – theologians too – have debated this since antiquity. There clearly is no tidy consensus. Nevertheless, let’s see if we can conjure up some semblance of what it most likely could be.

We can see the universe and its colors by virtue of light (electromagnetic waves) that meets our eyes, leading us to believe some of that stuff is at least partially a painting. The universe is also tactile. We feel it with our hands and every inch of our bodies, thus sculpture. We can also hear it with our ears and feel its vibration, indicating it could be a gigantic symphony.

Let’s begin with sound, or as physicists call it “resonance.” If the universe is a musical instrument, what type of instrument? String theory is one of the most studied and well-funded areas of theoretical physics. Some `first stringers’ might claim the universe is a guitar or violin to be strummed. String theoretic conjectures speak of tiny hidden-dimensions (10, 11, 24, 26, or 27 total in many models, with 3 visible macro dimensions) that vibrate to produce a zoo of particles. This is the matter we perceive. Which kind of particle depends on the frequency, angle, charge and momentum at which strings vibrate and interact. Mathematicians call it an integral. These are the “degrees of freedom” of dimensional configuration.

The Pythagoreans (c. 4th century BCE) may have inadvertently laid the foundation for string theory. Aside from inventing Number Theory and studying primes, which they imbued with an almost mystical quality and quantity, they were also inspired by the melodious overtones of the lyre, an ancient hybrid harp-guitar. They viewed these proportions as mathematical beauty that sprang from the spacing of notes. Some notes produced tones that are most pleasing to the human ear (E.g, an eighth or a fifth). The ratio between notes, they claimed, produced a system of harmonics that transcended all universal truth. But if the universe vibrates (note: it does), would not a more appropriate analogue be a saxophone or clarinet? To hear sound, there must be a medium to carry the vibration of molecules from emitter to receiver. That medium is air, ergo wind instrument. In any event, an emitter and a medium are both required, unless the medium is the emitter. Beethoven need not roll over just yet!   The ancient Lyre (wiki commons image)

Certainly, there is also a picture to be seen. Everywhere appears a luminescent color palette, the visible portion of the full spectrum of electromagnetic waves. Light emanates from electrons. All atoms have electrons. Even the lightest element, hydrogen, has at least one electron. When an electron is disturbed from its orbit around the nucleus of an atom (orbit is used loosely here), it can dislodge. When this happens, an excitation of energy is produced. This energy is what physicists call a photon (light). The question becomes, if electrons and their constituents – ever more smaller particles such as quarks – are merely vibrations of even more elementary string-like entities, how can we confidently proclaim the universe is a painting opposed to a symphony of myriad resonant activity? Maybe Van Gogh cut off his ear to spite his eyes!

As for sculpture, there are mountains and landscapes we have touched. Humans have stood ground on the surface of the moon. We’d be fools to deny there’s a topological `condensed matter’ of some sort that manifests in our perception of the space we inhabit. Yet, what is space? Einstein’s equations for the Theory of General Relativity predicted that space is curved and that all mass (and light, which is said to be “massless”) follows the geometry that condensed matter carves out. You might call this geometry a sleeve. Einstein predicted that even massless light from far away stars would be displaced by our sun’s (call it gravitational sleeve) to approximately 1.7 arc second degrees. In 1919, a solar eclipse experiment proved this calculation physically to near exact precision, making Einstein an overnight international sensation. Space is absolutely curved, or you might say sculpted. In this way, the universe can be articulated as Michaelangelo’s pieta, David.

There are elements in each argument that make intuitive sense. The universe is translated to our senses through a mechanism that is one part harmony, one part visual, and one part tactile, which coincidentally matches the number of familiar dimensions in which we are free to roam. The universe created its own genre of art and if there is a grand designer, all of ontology is its unique masterpiece.

Terry Poulos is a Chicago-area writer, archaeological historian, artist and geometer whose investigations focus primarily on physics, fractal topology, and Number Theory 

Scientiquity. All images and concepts herein © 2022

SOFA 2019: Touching Minds, Souls

By Terry Poulos, Scientiquity founder

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Sophisticated little art critics soak up “Hydromeda Atlantis” at SOFA 2019. For video of the kinetic light art, see Scientiquity’s YouTube Channel

(Editor’s note: This blog was originally posted on November 5, 2019)

[NAVY PIER, CHICAGO]. There are few things that bring more joy to an artist than seeing a child’s face light up as they’re dazzled with wonder by something you created. Sure, all artists want critical review from adult experts, not to mention commercial success. That’s a given. But children, oh that’s something extra special. They’re pure and innocent, untouched by the bias of nurture and experience. They react out of reflex. When they beam, it’s genuine and from the heart. It’s real! 

That kind of critical review touches an artist with an inner warmth unlike all the riches could ever bring. Many times last week, I was gifted that privilege. And each time it made my eyes a little misty. It felt as though I touched their mind and soul. But did it launch a cascade of neuronal connections and re-connections? Did it inspire them to greater things? It sure is wonderful to move people with aesthetics. That’s the primary function of art. Or so they claim. Granted, Scientiquity art is science and math-based, thus carrying with it an educational narrative. But how tangible is the reach of art?

This all started with an invitation at the behest of Arica Hilton, a globally-recognized artist who’s had her paintings exhibited all over the world. She’s also the atelier and owner of the longtime River North, Chicago gallery Hilton-Asmus Contemporary.

Arica asked me to exhibit my sculpture Hydromeda Atlantis (video below) at her booth at this year’s SOFA show (Sculptural Objects & Functional Art) at Navy Pier along with her own line of paintings titled “Flow Like Water.” SOFA, held this year October 31-November 3, attracts more than 30,000 attendees annually, making it one of the largest such art exhibitions nation-wide, second only to Art Basel in Miami.

Hydromeda Atlantis is a world-first kinetic light, under-lit aquarium sculpture. Light reflects and refracts off myriad glass, naturally-occurring geometric objects that fill the 70-gallon acrylic container. At three feet in height, this pyramidian approximates the dimensions of the missing capstone at the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Back to the future, the kids. I must concede, it’s almost impossible to pinpoint whether this was anything more meaningful than a simple `wow’ moment in the soon-to-be long journey through a child’s life. At SOFA, we had the opportunity to conduct an impromptu experiment with one adorable little 10-month old toddler. Quiet as a mouse, she was held for a minute in front of Hydromeda Atlantis, stared at the pyramid but showing no noticeable reaction, nor did she utter a sound. When she was sat down on the floor directly in front of the sculpture, about a half minute elapsed when all of a sudden she reached out, pointed at the alluring light show and proclaimed with an excited tone “da.” About five of us witnessed the event and we all got a good laugh. I’d like to think the art elicited the response. It sure seemed like it.

There were more similar encounters. Friday was the day they bus in student artists from around the region. Hoards of aspiring young artists were exposed to Hydromeda Atlantis, marveling at the unique kinetic light display. And on at least two occasions, we spotted adolescent-age kids grabbing their parent by the arm or hand and literally dragging them into Hilton-Asmus’ booth #49, demanding to see up close the never-before-witnessed new genre of art.

Anecdotal evidence aside, science does say visual stimulus alters our consciousness. Every new experience changes us, takes us in another direction. When we’re stuck, we require that something extra. Almost all the great innovators in science, mathematics, technology and the humanities shared at least a modicum of love for the arts. 

But, alas, perhaps I wish too much. It’s art, after all, and the machinations of the reality of the business world grind render art mostly a “luxury.” But is it just a luxury? We’ll save that for next week’s blog post. In the interim, we’ll leave you with this one quote to chew on until then.

   “The gift of fantasy has meant more to me
       than my talent for absorbing positive
            knowledge.” — Albert Einstein

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A wide-eyed child with her hand in the Hydromeda Atlantis “cookie jar”

Photo credit:


* Many thanks to Hilton-Asmus associates Sven, Matt, Kate, Max, Jason, Lourdes, and Beth for their assistance last week. I owe you all. Much appreciated!

* I bought out the entire inventory of 3-gallon water jugs at the local Target, not to mention a few other items. Art may stimulate the imagination but it also stimulates the economy, to be sure 

* Hosting an event of this magnitude, with more than 30,000 attendees, is a massive undertaking and the staff at SOFA and Navy Pier, along with the many carpenters, electricians and other hard-working personnel whose efforts are requisite to putting on such an exhibition, could not have been more kind and helpful. Just take a look at the photo below to get an idea of the sheer size of the venue. This is only about one-third of the entire layout

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Navy Pier, Chicago. Set-up for SOFA 2019

Terry Poulos is a Chicago-area writer, archaeological historian, artist and geometer whose investigations focus primarily on physics, fractal topology, and Number Theory 

Scientiquity. All images and concepts herein © 2022