Technology and the Origin of Life

It’s not every day that you come across something that truly inspires you.  You know those things that really grab you. Those things that make you say WOW that’s really cool.  I had one of those moments recently and it’s cascaded through my life sort of like a steel ball through a pinball machine.  If only we could all feel and put this inspiration to use in our daily lives, and more often.

Leo Villareal Big Bang

Big Bang

Walking through the office, I noticed a new piece of artwork in a coworker’s cube.  A perfect circle it was, thick and somewhat shiny and sparkly.  One side of it had a dark background with a smattering of little multicolored dots about it in what seemed like a random pattern.  If you stared long enough you might detect a pattern to it even if a trick of the mind, trying to place some order in the chaos.  On the other side of this post card was information for an exhibit that was on display at the Nevada Museum of Art.

The unique piece I saw in the office was a facsimile of one work by an artist named Leo Villareal.  It is true when they say a picture is worth a thousand words, though even more true when they say that pictures can’t truly do it justice.  Although the exhibit wasn’t a big one, it was enough to move me.  Enough to make me wonder where the ideas came from, the creativity, to just build something like he has.  I’m generally a logical type so when I see the logic of technology blended with the creativity of art, it piques my interest.

Leo Villareal Metatron (Large)

Metatron

As I sat looking around my environs, I felt a desire to create something new from nothing, something that apparently had no purpose and yet when watched closely enough, seems to do work with a purpose that only the human mind can fathom.  In it’s truest form, these are random bits that trigger electrical signals to lights (or LEDs as it were) autonomously.  These are the kinds of light shows that you simply set the stage for.  The rest comes from some ethereal digital life.

I understand the human propensity for granting certain attributes to things that do not think for themselves.  The thinking that your dog is truly behaving in any less than a contrived fashion, doing more than simply reacting to whatever situation they are in.  In this case, while these are fairly simple displays, they hint at something more.  I know my mind wants to think that in some way these pieces are doing all their own “thinking”, doing more than just randomly changing based on a set of rules, I do think that the reality is that much of life itself is an assembly of random bits, changing on a whim, coalescing into what we call behavior and conscience.  These pieces to me are some of the simplest forms of digital life.

It is truly fascinating to think of these digital things has having some modicum of life.  These things that are built from electronics and code, programmed to do but not to do all at the same time.  Where the programming is in and of itself just a set of rules, guidelines, for how that thing will behave.  As if a strand of DNA was inserted into them and based on that DNA something far more complex came from it.

Leo Villareal Field (Large)

Field

Is it a stretch to compare these works to those very early organisms, built from simple organic compounds and reacting to their environment without thought?  To think of RNA or DNA as the program and reality as the construct under which those programs run?  Is it really all that difficult to see that someday these autonomous pieces of instruction, built simply to carry out their execution as duly programmed, might someday become aware of what they are?

I don’t necessarily know the answers to any of these questions, and certainly much of what I think and say here could be (and should be) labeled as nothing more than a subjective opinion based on my experience and belief.  Disregarding all the cliche that naturally goes with art, and how it is all so “moving”, these pieces really made me reflect on the definition of life and the desire to create something from nothing.

The overall experience was inspiring and I would definitely recommend it for anyone who shares similar interests in the cross section of art and technology.  The exhibit has since moved on from our local museum but I am sure it is being displayed somewhere else around the world.  I highly recommend you make the trip if the exhibit makes it to a museum near you.

Leo Villareal Diamond (Large)

Diamond

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