Dense & intense - 3: The machines

Project statement: fabricate, within the operational MMPORG Second Life, three machines, experimental devices capable of extracting in-world data pertinent to the quantification and qualification of that world’s physical-material environment. The goal is to discover rules of materiality inherent to this world, and represent them through the network of form and space that has unfolded within, around and because of these machines.

Each machine has two potential states…

  1. edifice: the formal structures needed to extract and define this information; and, as an…
  2. artifact: the material forms and spaces emerging from this experimental procedure, capable of representing that which is revealed.

Project scope: position 3-dimensional virtual environments as platforms capable of functioning as highly accelerated cultural engines for the development of knowledge about space, time and materiality.

Discovering the rules in a virtual world, not those published by the world’s creators, but those that are the result of spontaneous, simultaneous in-world action/reaction, requires measurement and analysis. The inherent capacities and limits of the techniques used to quantify, describe or give meaning to a particular phenomenon, be it in the domain of particle physics or the physics of a virtual world, impose the modalities of defining and analyzing that which is measured.

Measurements are not the same as the attribute being measured. A system of correspondence or analogy is needed to determine the relationship between an thing’s attribute and the system used to measure it. The characteristic of the object, phenomenon or event (length, mass, duration, intensity…) that is under scrutiny, must be measured by the appropriately calibrated instrument.

The extraction of quantitative information entails an exchange of energy between the subject, that which is being measured, and the object, the device used to take the measurement. This procedure is capable of transforming the material states of both entities. The energy exchange, the material transformation engaged, is the formative material process of this project.

The action-event between the observed and the observing is a reciprocity that interlocks them in a process of mutual transformation, where entropic energy is both a by-product and a feature of the project’s resonant materiality. This energy is harnessed as the project’s engine of material transformation, of spatial mutation and of in-world representation.

Three machines for in-world experimentation :

  1. The Calibration Machine : for reading, a device that not only measures, but also contains the logic necessary to determine the units, scale and proportions appropriate for the given situation;
  2. The Analogy Machine : for learning, it could also be called the « uncertainty machine », it establishes a relationship between a measurement and the attribute being measured. Accounts for both the accuracy and relevance of the accumulated data, but also for potential factors of interpretation, connotation and representation. Determines the threshold of continuity, discontinuity or coherence connecting data and object ;
  3. The Mutation Machine : for writing, a tool that possesses the mechanics and intelligence necessary to physically transform the materials that compose in-world space and form, as well as a platform for letting emerge the vocabulary of symbology and representation unique to virtual worlds.

Neither simple nor abstract, the machines of this project can be thought of as machine-tools that take an energy source and transmit it to an instrument designed to produce a specific transformation; atmospheric-machines that use ambient environmental energy to make visible the forces inherent in a specific context; image-machines…

Machines that cannot be understood in terms of a linear formula proceeding from input to output, closer to dataflow than to a black box, they present an open environment for defining data structures and describing their association with a material representation, where form, color, movement, noise… can be attached to a signal. Though they are devices that « transmit and modify energy », a classic definition of machine, they do so to produce material from raw, in-world materiality. To imbue the spaces, objects and edifices built from these materials with a sense of place, an embodiment of the qualities and effects that the local environment can have on that which emerges from it.

These machines neither precede nor succeed the theoretical foundation necessary to transform data into shared intelligence, but are the inspiration, the structure and result of this creative reciprocality. They can be thought of as points along the lines of tension between that which is tangible –possessing shape, texture, color– and the patterns of space and structure capable of emerging from this context. The essential organization of this multiplicity of color and form, movement and discontinuity, constitutes the principles of composition and actualization of this world, and conversely, they determine the structure capable of revealing these conditions.


  1. Unfolding as an ongoing process that « rewrites itself and whose use dictates its content ». [from Unfolding object, a project by artist John Simon]
  2. Virtual worlds are constructed upon a computational infrastructure that offer persistence and coherence from a consistent set of physical laws, representational techniques and communication protocols. The world’s conventions –social, ethical, metaphysical, psychological– emanate from these rules. Learning them is paramount to being in control of one’s in-world experience. Although the specificities of this code can be more or less ascertained from what (little) information is freely available, their actual deployment as an operational, dynamic and complex system, transcends linear cumulative aggregation of their sequential incitation, while remaining immanently within their bounds.
  3. Virtual environments, in the case of Second Life, are produced by simultaneous calculations of multiple but simple physical algorithms that determine its physical, atmospheric and qualitative-material states. These states, in order to be operational, must be represented, and will necessitate the development of tools that are both sensitive to these forces and capable of producing analytical models of them. The world, taken as an immersive experience, is held together by the fact that there is a clear set of global physical laws. Gravity, material resistance, climatic simulations, light, geography permit the simulation of coherent physical states. The fact that these laws are consistent for the entire world give it cohesion, a global, metaphysical glue, that determines how we perceive it. At the same time, local variations are made possible by the gradual mutation of these states over a specific distance. Those two factors, coherent physical laws and their transformation over varying distances, determine the sum of the world’s external factors and give that world its texture
  4. In classic physics it was believed that if one knew the initial state of a system with infinite precision, one could predict the behavior of the system infinitely far into the future. But according to quantum mechanics, however, there is a fundamental limit on the ability to make such predictions, because of the inability to collect the initial data with unlimited precision. Until the discovery of quantum physics, it was thought that the only source of uncertainty in a measurement was the limited precision of the measuring tool. It is now understood that measurements are only as accurate as the probability distribution specified for it.
  5. Uncertainty is the characterization of the relative narrowness or broadness of the distribution function of a particular measurement and is sometimes referred to as the error in the measurement. The uncertainty principle (developed in an essay published by Werner Heisenberg in 1927) provides a quantitative relationship between the uncertainties of the hypothetical infinitely precise measurements. A fundamental consequence of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is that physical phenomenon can be described as neither a particle nor a wave, but rather by the microphysical situation best described in terms of wave-particle duality. Thus, the definition of the material substance of mechanical physics, where neither wave nor particle were exclusively appropriate descriptions, depended on the innovation of an essential duality.
  6. Measurement theory is a branch of applied mathematics that is useful in measurement and data analysis. The fundamental idea of measurement theory is that measurements are not the same as the attribute being measured. Hence, if you want to draw conclusions about the attribute you must take into account the nature of the correspondence between the attribute and the measurements. Measurement theory helps us to avoid making meaningless statements.
  7. That correspondence concerns not only the calibration of measuring devices, but also the statistical methods used in determining the relevance, precision and uncertainty of the measurement given the specific local conditions under which it is being taken.
  8. The relationship between a pre-existing milieu and built space is a symbiotic one. An edifice has the role of finishing or completing the site upon which it is placed, in order to determine its atmosphere as its undeniable, unique, singular characteristic. The first role for any intervention of a MMO territory is to render its local environment singular, permitting the atmosphere of its local context to emerge as material, and allowing the expression of the symboisis of space and site by molding this material into coherent form that has a tangible scale, proportion, distribution and limits.
  9. A simple machine employs applied force resulting in movement over a set distance, such as a lever, wheel, inclined plane…)
  10. An abstract machine is a theoretical model of a complex system, such as a Turing Machine…
  11. Dataflow as a model of information generation based « conceptually if not physically, as a directed graph of the data flowing between operations » [see wikipedia]. The reference is inspired by my work with Pure Data and by Mathieu Bouchard, of the Pure Data community, whose tag-line is « The Diagram is the Program ». The apparent ambiguity between structure (the diagram) and object (the program) is the door through which this project will pass.
  12. a black box is a device or system or object when it is viewed primarily in terms of its input and output characteristics. Almost anything might occasionally be referred to as a black box: a transistor, an algorithm, the Internet… [see Wikipedia]
  13. see terroir

One Response to “Dense & intense - 3: The machines”

  1. Daniel Says:

    I couldn’t understand some parts of this article intense - 3: The machines, but I guess I just need to check some more resources regarding this, because it sounds interesting.

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