Vedic math machines and 3D zoetropes at Makerspace Urbana

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of doing a guest residency at the University of Illinois — Urbana-Champaign. Several of the people who came to my talks were from Makerspace Urbana, a local maker/hacker group. One day, I gave a luncheon talk at the School for Designing a New Society, on the maker movement, and they were in the same building as Makerspace Urbana, so I got a tour of the space from Stewart Dickson. Besides seeing their nice space, I was especially fascinated by Stewart’s pieces he had on display in the shop. The top-most one above, the Digit Yantra, is a three-dimensional, tactile display of the Hindu system of Vedic mathematics. I wasn’t even aware there was such a thing. Stewart explains the piece:

The Digit Yantra is composed of the digits 0-9 placed in visual and tactile form on dodecahedra at the vertices of Kepler’s Stella Octangula — a tetrahedron intersecting with its dual. The Red, downward-pointing triangles represent the Shakti principle, the blue, upward-pointing triangles represent the Shiva principle. Inside of each odd-numbered Pentagonal Dodecahedron is placed a blue Light-Emitting Diode (LED) and vibro-tactile actuator. Inside of each even-numbered, Rhombic Dodecahedron is placed a red LED and vibro-tactile actuator. An electronic circuit in the sculpture base sequences the Light-Emitting Diodes and vibro-tactile actuators through the successive digits in the quotient 1/19 = 0.052631578,947368421 repeating.

I’m not sure what most of that means, but I’m intrigued to find out more. I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of “spiritual machinery,” and whatever this device is, it’s really cool in person.

I didn’t get to see the Conic Sections (middle image), a three-dimensional, manipulative model of the conic sections (with Braille annotations). Stewart did show me the 3D zoetrope (bottom-most images). It uses computer-rendered images, printed out as 3D objects, attached to a bicycle wheel, which is then set in motion and viewed under optically-synchronized, stroboscopic light.

This was all really intriguing stuff and it gave me a charge to think that there are hundreds of such maker/hackerspaces throughout the world where people are exploring all sorts of off the radar technologies, ideas, and artistic visions, like “Vedic math.” Who knew?