What do fractals have to do with personal privacy? Maybe nothing. Maybe a lot.
In a recent Grits post summarizing a workshop at the national Restorative Justice conference in Kerrville, I briefly discussed fractals and Twila Hugley Earle's theories about how relatively recent higher math enabled by computers (a set of approaches which she broadly labeled "chaos theory") implied new ways of thinking about crime, punishment, and identifying just, situation-specific outcomes in the criminal justice system.
So I was interested to discover through this post over at Ernie's 3-D Pancakes a new (to me) blog called Flight404, and in particular this post on Voronoi cells and Magnetism. What's a Voronoi cell? "Voronoi cells represent an enclosure where all the points within that enclosure are closer to the seed than any other seeds." I know, I know, it makes perfect sense, right? Here's Flight404's example:
Writes the author, "In the above image, I have created 3000 seeds. The boundaries are the Voronoi cells. All the pixels within a specific cell are closer to the parent seed than any other seeds in the image. Okay, so I just said the exact same thing twice. I'm sorry."
For me, an interactive explanation worked better, so check out this applet created by Paul Chew in 1997 - just click anywhere in the frame to create the first "seed" point, then each additional click will divide up the terrain in accordance with the Voronoi-based mathematical calculations. Go try it now.
Why do I think this might have applications describing human behavior? Because I think people move in packs but also behave as individuals, that we are at once individual decisionmakers responsible for our own actions and simultaneously gravitate toward family, peers, the people closest to us with power, charisma, traditional authority, or other "parent seeds," in this analogy. They themselves revolve around larger centers of gravity the way moons revolve around planets that revolve around suns that revolve around galaxies, etc..
We are each both motivated and constrained by others, and also independent free agents. It's not an either or, thing, both are true, simultaneously. Indeed, such nonlinear truth is why I think social scientists have trouble crafting predictive mathematical models, much less workable solutions, for many extremely human concerns like crime, migration, or in this train of thought, privacy.
I don't have a clue about the math behind this concept, but I can appreciate its utility and dynamism, and think the idea may well have broader applications. To get a clearer picture of how such math might describe human interactions, see this video and explanation of an installation art called "Boundary Functions" from 1998 by Scott Snibbe based on the Voronoi cell concept.
I'm totally spitballing, here, but in Snibbe's video in particular you can see how this mathematical approach might be used to describe nonlinear human interactions in ways that might, theoretically, enable a dynamic mathematical definition of realms of "personal privacy," a definition previously left to the domain of jurists, not math geeks.
Am I reaching? Probably. And as a commenter warned me in the post about Twila Earle's talk, one should beware of mathematics by analogy. But those were the thoughts that filled my head as I learned more about Voronoi cells, FWIW, and I thought them interesting enough to share.
Let me know in the comments what other implications or possible applications come to mind from the Voronoi patterns? See also Scott Snibbe's Voronoi Portrait Series, and the Flight404 author's gallery installation of Voronoi-generated pieces. And in parting check out the Voronoi Beat video that first attracted me in Ernie's post: It's really cool:
Voronoi from flight404 and Vimeo.