Inside the Bomb


from simulation to understanding

A document-in-progress, last updated Wed Sep 30 1998

Bomb is a software system that produces visual music. It creates a video stream that is fluid, textured, rythmic, animated, and generally non-representational. It uses techniques of non-linear iterated systems, like video feedback, but implemented on an ordinary PC.

The result is a form of artificial life, or alife. The essential feature of life is creative expansion. When a seed develops it performs information decompression. In contrast to behavior that is static, repetitive, random, or predictable, life has the ability to keep doing new things. It maximizes how long you stare at it before you get bored. It cannot be quantified because random is a relative term; you can never be sure there isn't a message hidden in the noise.

Bomb is a visual parasite. It is also a free, living, software. The source code is available on the web under GPL. Over time it grows new versions & features. It promiscuously sprouts interfaces to other systems and projects. Others incorporate its code and its ideas. Because it can be freely copied it has the lowest possible friction in the marketplace of ideas, and thus the highest rate of evolution.

Some music has a verbal component -- lyrics, words, or symbols. Bomb has a symbolic component as well: icon sequences. The icons drive the graphics, and are drawn from a collection of scanned images. The meaning of bomb, which is reflected in both its dual natures (living/visual/alife and free/program/ai) appears both directly & symbolically in the sequences

The important sequences are: geometric, basic shapes and symmetries; faces, masks, petroglyphs (symbols for people); basic cultural and religious, human communication systems: letters, scripts, and words, and technology. Compound interest over time appears, then money and politics. Many are ambiguous or fall into several categories.

Bomb has about eighty color palettes built into it. Bomb never uses "palette cycling", instead every pixel is recomputed every frame (at about 30 frames per second). The palettes were algorithmically derived from photographs of natural scenery and famous 19th and 20th century paintings.

Life, consciousness, and intelligence are not an accident. If you rewound the tape of history back before the cambrian and let it play again, the result would not contain anything anatomically like people. But it's expected they eventually would have brains, and they would talk, and they would eventually have culture, just like we do. Similarly if you rewound further back. Organization is the rule, not the exception. We are left with Fermi's paradox: where are the extraterrestrials?

The Great Chain: the path from physics to chemistry to bacteria, cells, nerves, plants & animals, thinking, societies, culture/technology. Evolution. Commandeering of matter by the spirit, and the origin of meaning.

Life is not in balance or equilibrium. Life always does something new. Thinking and evolution are both search, a computation whose result is creativity. `It' gets faster and it gets smarter. Why? a positive feedback loop: time + energy + intelligence + ego => more intelligence + more ego. The result is illumination. Life is parasitic. There is no escape from the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Life feeds on the downhill flow-stream of energy. Symmetry breaks, eddies form in the stream, and the stream undergoes a phase transition.

This is a common idea and it goes by many names. Arthur Lovejoy, Murray Gell-Mann, Danny Hillis, Valentin Turchin, Terence Mckenna, etc. We are "becoming the light", accelerating to full speed, and entering the singularity. The eschaton.

Bomb is a living visual feedback system, one that never repeats itself, that always does something new. One that makes you stare. You relax to the color & motion on the CRT. Shapes appear, then a face, then a word, then something too distorted and obscured to recognize. As you try to read and understand, you can imagine anything; you see what you expect in the noise.

The objective is to erect/climb the chain. Bomb works because it is something new, something now available and part of culture. It provides raw material for further manipulation and creation. It disseminates an idea.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License by spot at draves dot org.