A book surprised our friend Anton, Jitter wizard and visualist: can feedback (video and otherwise) be understood more deeply in relation to consciousness? -Ed.

Wandering through a Barnes & Noble book store on the way to the checkout the other day, the cover of a book grabbed my attention. The cover showed the intricate geometries, swirls and loops of what most CDM readers are familiar with as video feedback. Instantly curious, I flipped through the pages to find no other illustrations like it, other than a few very basic examples in a small color insert. Then I noticed who the author was: none other than Douglas Hofstadter, author of Gödel, Escher, Bach – An Eternal Golden Braid – a book exploring a myriad of topics, but ultimately a book about consciousness. That book had both vexed and tantalized me, with language, logic and math seemingly just beyond my understanding. (Don’t forget Achilles and the Tortoise. I’ll admit I never quite finished it. I highly recommend it.)

A companion piece to G.E.B., I am a Strange Loop is the latest work by Hofstadter. I knew I had to buy it. On the subway ride home, I was delighted to find a chapter dedicated to video feedback. I skipped ahead and wondered what insights might lay waiting. Of course, G.E.B. had a brief encounter with video feedback as a visual study, but no detailed accounts of the rich phenomenon.

Hofstadter describes his “Visual Voyage” in loose terms, discussing the emergent behavior of video feedback as a sort of boot strapping analog to consciousness, a self-reflexivity that we are so used to when we think of ‘I’ / ourselves. As with most interesting discoveries, by accident he places his hand in front of the camera and quickly removes it to find residual memory of his action throbbing rhythmically on the television screen with no further input from any source, continuing on unabated. It acted on its own accord, alive and moving with its own rhythm as any good piece of visual art should do. He discovers patterns of galaxies, helices and corridors – a rich universe unto itself. He discusses the similarities to Mandelbrot fractals – interestingly, Bill Etra told me he met Mandelbrot and discussed the similarity briefly with him.

In my own personal work I use feedback not just for visual output (read pixels or the like), but for control parameters, generating geometry, dealing with sound, or adding a subtle layer of organic ebb and flow to my output. It has always worked wonders and provided subtleties and hypnotizing rhythms and patterns, yet I don’t feel I have quite mastered its complexities. I always thought there was more to it. Perhaps the reason the mesmerizing motions and entrancing colors common in video feedback are so interesting is because they reflect the inner workings of our own minds. If this is not a call for exploration, I do not know what is.

I think there is a lesson in here for those of us looking to raise our work to a higher level. Even if you are not interested in video feedback as a purely visual phenomenon, the ideas may prove useful in your own work, be it digital or analog, abstract or representational.

I am a Strange Loop [Amazon.com]

For more feedback intellectualism, see Video Feedback, Talysis, Data is Nature, add more links. We’d love to see what video feedback pieces you have seen that have a mind of their own.