The Kraken Wakes, pt. 5

What whale-song looks like

This is gorgeous: Mark Fischer, an audio engineer, has been using wavelets to transform audio files of whale music into these mandala patterns. Wavelets tend to emphasize regular patterns in signals, and when presented with a cylindrical co-ordinate system, they result in these lovely circles. As a story in yesterday’s New York Times Science section notes:

Peter Tyack agrees that the technique has potential not only as art, but as a scientific research tool. A senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Dr. Tyack studies the way humpback whales communicate, trying to show that the repetitions in whale songs follow grammatical rules similar to those of human language.

“Looking at those figures, it looked like you could see a lot of repeated units,” Dr. Tyack said of the images. “It looks like he’s visualizing some of the points that we made in the paper about humpback song.”

Reminds me of those dudes down on Wall Street who hired algorithm artists to parse stock-market data and produce similar mandalas. They claimed that by staring at them all day long they could intuit otherwise-unnoticeable patterns, predict stock trends, and make bazillions of dollars.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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