Thursday, September 30, 2010

My name is Aadhaar, and I am a Tessellator...

I can't help it.  And I say to you, defiantly, that I don't think I want to change.

But I wouldn't mind knowing a bit more about why it is I do this.

A hyperbolic tessellation.

I have this working hypothesis that there are in this matter two types of people - those who innately understand my habit from their own similar internal experience, and those who just plain don't.  So I guess from that perspective you'll either get this, or not.  Something I'm interested in is whether I'll get the best insight from the 'get it' group or the 'don't get it' mob.  We'll see.

What the Hello Kitty am I talking about anyway????

I'm using the term 'tessellation' pretty loosely, but it's a best-fit for this mental habit I've got going.  Technically, a tessellation is basically tiling, like you see with bathroom walls, mosaics, and paving stones and so forth.  It actually comes from the latin tessella, a small cubical piece of clay used to make mosaics.  And I have this mental tic that surely must exist somewhere on the OCD spectrum; of imagining the aesthetic and/or functional tessellation and rearrangement of all sorts of objects in a repetitive field (like tiles, or a stack of firewood, or a tray of pens, or cups and glasses, dishes in the sink, shampoo bottles in the know I could just go on with this forever, yes?) that I've had absolutely as long as I can remember.  One thing weird about it though (oh right, only ONE weird thing here) is that I completely cannot stand Tetris.

I'll give you a really basic and prosaic example, but you'll have to come to the bathroom with me.  And I mean that in the US euphemistic sense of 'bathroom'.  From where I sit for my morning enthronement meditation I can see spreading out on the floor before me a field of square tiles perhaps an inch a side.  They are almost all a sort of neutral grey/white flecked tone, with apparently random dark crimson tiles interspersed for accent.  Say, every 20th tile or so is a red one.  Of course, order does tend to spontaneously emerge from chaos, and I spend my time seeing interconnected patterns - symmetrical or otherwise aesthetically appealing constellations created by 'joining the dots' with the red tiles and then working out the smallest possible movements to shift the random pattern into something with at least two axes of symmetry, over as large a possible area as I can.  I make little stupid rules for myself like "no tile can move more than 2 spaces in any direction" and "no red tiles can be within 2 spaces of another red tile" and so on.  Given it's a finite field of floor that I can see, I then imagine it extrapolated out up the walls or onto an infinite flat field or if my morning is proving particularly meditative (say, from a higher-than-usual fibre content in my blend lately) I'll go 3-D.

So, it's not like a compulsive need to technically tessellate; making a bunch of things fit perfectly together because I don't find that quite as much fun - even if it is sort of what I do when I stack dishes to dry after I've washed them - but in that my aim is compactness played off against good aspect for drainage in terms of gravity, airflow for evaporation and minimisation of surface tension points from adjacent objects, which I find inevitably leads to interesting and harmonious overall constructions.

Reading back that last sentence it really does look a lot like some odd mental illness doesn't it?

If it weren't for the twee tree motifs, this would very much ring my bell.  I love the way that off-centre, slightly larger gap just makes the whole composition.  No, the one to the right and up a b.....oh, never mind.

But it's SO MUCH FUN!  To me, it's an artistic exercise in form and often function as well.  I'm wanting to make a pleasing arrangement of things, and I suspect there is some deep and ancient element of the sacred in it.  That it's like a form of prayerful meditation on finding the divine in the everyday, or creating little moments of  nature's own base patterns (like sacred geometry) as offerings to God, moments of gratitude, awareness, and simple being.  And honouring that legendary 'one wrong thread' they leave in traditional Persian carpets, so as not to mock God's perfection.  The ikebana asymmetry that is every bit as visually perfect as the most symmetrical design.

Or, of course, it could just be a meaningless and tiresome habit.

And yes, I am a bit fond of flower arranging too.

People have gone way into the study of tessellation, from both scientific and aesthetic/religious angles, and often from all the above at the same time.  For example, classic 2-dimensional tesselations (where there are patterns that fit with no gaps and are infinitely repeatable in all directions) have all been arranged into 17 'Wallpaper Groups', all of which are in fact represented in the architectural details of the Alhambra palace in Granada (Spain).  And there are only, and exactly 17 groups that exist in the entire universe of 2-dimensionality.  You can't go beyond this, because of a whole bunch of basic and immutable universal facts about polygons.  I shall spare you the details, but what I'm saying is I don't care about all these interesting but trivial details in and of themselves, I just really care about the look and feel of these patterns, and how they can spontaneously emerge in nature, or be coaxed to do so with a gentle nudge.

I find great peace and beauty in this practice.  It's probably in some way related to the little counting and number games I've always done.  It very difficult for me not to count the number of cars on a train that goes by, for example.  And I enjoy adding digits of larger numbers and reducing them to a single digit, a-la numerology.  But it can't be for numerological fetishism because I couldn't tell you what 'number' my car licence plate or mobile number is without thinking it through a fresh, even though I know I've done them each lots of times, idly.  If I cared about it I'd remember, surely.  Then again, I do remember my licence plate number, and most folks don't.

I used to do this little hand/body game as a child, like a soothing ritual.  It would involve getting an overall left/right symmetry thing happening.  I'd do it on long car trips, as an instance.  I'd perhaps simultaneously clench my left toes, my right thumb and forefinger, my left buttock and the right side of my jaw, and alternate in a 2/4 beat with the opposite sides.  All of this in a minute set of movements, undetectable to anyone else.  I'd harmonise in with the rhythm of the road, or my parent's conversation, or something.  Then I'd get complex, doing repetitive patterns with gentle finger pressure patterns, with some form of rhythmic, planar or spacial symmetry involved.  Set me up beautifully for flamenco guitar!  There is of course tessellation over time as well - we call it rhythm.

Doing the mental pattern play thing seems to fulfill a similar function as the childhood counting and rhythm games for me these days.  I can almost instantly be very much 'present' as they say, pondering where the patterns lie in things, and perhaps becoming more at one with the patterns behind the ways of the Universe in that moment, just by letting myself go into the pattern-recognition space that this pseudo-discipline over all the years has created inside me.  It's like a chant that is never the same twice.

Or what do you think, am I just tunelessly whistling?


  1. I do a similar thing with my teeth. Play music on them in my head, as if they're a scale, like you did with your body in the car. I think many of us have a range of 'fit the puzzle' autisms that flitter around our minds. I used to walk on pavements with a pattern that was quite complex and sometimes had me doing little skips in public. West Australian number plates are great in that they have a number and three letters. My game is to find a word that starts with the first letter and ends with the last but must have at least five letters so that none of the existing letters touch. eg a plate that is 1BET can make bleat or breast etc.

    edward de bozo

  2. By the way, I've just discovered your world, and it's good.

    Edward De Bozo

  3. I also play tunes with my teeth and move my toes up and down and clench my buttocks one side at a time to different rhythms.

  4. How very 'coincidental'! I am doing just that as I saw that comment come through, to the theme music from Twin Peaks. Glad I still have teeth, yes.