This community of Symmetrists changed my story.
I arrived at a conference in 2001 as a fiction writer, looking for scientific principles that could be matched with adventure imagery, for an emerging novel. I wanted to make novel metaphors, using symmetry to combine contexts that are usually incompatible. I discovered deeper alignments than expected. The metaphors climbed off the page and into my life.
I still write fiction. But once I understood the principles of form more deeply, my work became transdisciplinary, so I now write papers in information science as well. I’m currently a PhD researcher at the University of Melbourne, exploring how story structures could enhance artificial intelligence. Narrative, being an art, deals in different phenomena from the science of Knowledge Representation. I’m exploring the ways that form is drawn from, is contrained by, and can also transcend such contexts.
In 2001, I wandered into that ‘Symmetry: Art and Science’ conference, planning to audit the event for only a few days. Two presentations caused me to shift from passer-by to member. One was by a representative from the Japanese Katachi Society, Tohru Ogawa. This was the first time I’d heard anyone talk about collection of information as a shape. When a detective walks in the room, Professor Ogawa said, she might see a broken window, a puddle of blood, and an empty jewellery case. The detective connects these fragments in order understand the shape of what happened. A form can tell a story.
The other presentation was by Ted Goranson. The future has to be invented, he said. Ted was researching new ways to communicate with computers. Instead of keyboards, which we use because it is a derivative of the typewriter, he was working on a system that would allow people to instruct computers using gestures. We inherit shapes from the past, Ted said, and if we re-imagine them, new futures become possible.
This community explores diverse perspectives and topics under a single principle, which I tend to think of aspattern rather than symmetry. Ten years later, I still collect new ideas here. This forum also made me realise I had much to say. My first presentation was given at the end of that conference in 2001, without a paper submission. The organisers simply made time for me to speak at the end of the meeting. The group is rigorous, but also informal and welcoming. It has included Nobel Laureates, but at the same time, won’t exclude an interested novice, if she has urgent ideas to share.
Since that first presentation, I’ve developed my ideas about story structure, becoming progressively articulate about my private musings in ways even a fiction writer could never have imagined. They have carried me across the world.
If you are interested in further details about my work, it can be found here.
For more information about my artificial intelligence collaboration, visit the site of the chief scientist, Ted Goranson, here.
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