Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Universal Code Oil on linen 92 x 102 cm
Code...it really has grabbed my attention. There are four recent paintings to prove it. I've written about two of them Code and Where there's Life There's... And, now Universal Code above. The fourth painting is yet to be completed. You will see it soon, here on this BLOG.
The word code is a loaded one. It conjures thoughts of secrecy, war time decoding of enemy messages, morse code and secret service type manoeuvrings. Then we have a more secular use of code that embraces body language, innuendo, sarcasm...you know the type of thing...when someone is not saying clearly what they mean, but seem to think [or hope] others will understand. And, then we have computer code.
And, computer code propels so much of our lives, from daily tasks to major research, from BPAY to high frequency market trading and more. I am sitting in front of my computer, writing this post, and code is working in the background enabling my words to appear, even correcting them. Code is helping me produce and communicate. And, of course there is the insidious aspect of code enabling surveillance, secrecy, data collection, cyber malevolence, manipulation and more. And, let's not forget the double-edged prospect of artificial general intelligence ie: artificial intelligence akin to, and perhaps exceeding, human intelligence.    
But, my paintings are not literally about code...I am not a computer scientist nor an IT specialist. However, I do have an IT specialist brother and my Dad is a decades-long HAM Radio enthusiast with a keen interest in, and knowledge about, technology.
As with my last two 'code' paintings  Code and Where there's Life There's... my new painting Universal Code has a ribbon-like trail of binary code, repeatedly expressing the word LIFE.
Here's a very useful and interesting link that briefly discusses the history of binary code and its importance. Indeed, the first two sentences on the siteAll computer language is based on binary code. It is the back end of all computer functioning. very clearly shows how important binary code is. And, what is absolutely fascinating is that binary code's history flows from Sanscrit, to the 17th century philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Leibniz, to people like Alan Turing and Sir Tim Berners-Lee...and the plethora of others who make pivotal technological breakthroughs. 
The ribbon of LIFE binary code in Universal Code has a wave-like appearance. But, it appears to be a closed ribbon cradling a pulsing orb at the same time as seemingly 'withholding' external forces. Yet whilst the ribbon may appear closed, there is a tunnel-like feeling, as if the viewer is being drawn towards the golden orb or possibly catapulted from it. This gives the impression that we have travelled, or can travel, through a number of these ribbon-like sequences of code, either towards or away from the orb. When painting Universal Code I wanted to create a dynamic resonance of movement, agitation and energy. The way the paint cascades out from the orb suggests a multi-dimensionality of space...and maybe time too. Funnily enough it also suggests a birth canal or maybe the light seen upon death?

Detail of Universal Code
I was also thinking about Prof Nick Bostrom's theory that all of universal existence is, in fact, a computer simulation operated by post-humans re-living existence. Here's his initial paper Are You Living In A Computer Simulation? You can also read more about the theory, with contributions from others HERE. I've previously written about how this intriguing and difficult theory has inspired some of my work. I am not saying I completely understand it, but its possibility is enormously thought provoking.
What is Universal Code's golden orb? Some might say it is the Sun. Others might think it is the Big Bang. Or it could be a star, a planet, an atom even. Well it could be all of these things and more. Any one of these would suggest that the painting is a landscape...a landscape of the Universe! And, regular readers know of my desire to untether concepts of landscape from Earth-bound horizons.
Or, maybe the orb is the highly sophisticated post-human 'computer' generating code which re-creates, maybe over and over again, in a kind of looping manner, all of existence. My repetition of LIFE in binary code sets up the potential for many looping re-creations! BUT...if we are a simulation run by post-humans, we are neither alive nor dead! Gee whizz that's a sobering thought! But, if we are not a simulation, there's an imperative for LIFE to continue. I did not include the code for DEATH, because whether we are a simulation or not, LIFE is a propelling force. It is a primary force, which axiomatically, includes concepts of DEATH anyway.
If we are living in a computer simulation the word LIFE certainly takes on different meanings. Indeed, to reduce LIFE to code provokes many existential questions. In fact, it is an important catalyst for reflection. And, that's why I think it is imperative that humankind pays attention to scientists, philosophers and anyone who thoughtfully poses questions about human endeavour.

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