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a double look

Design: Pille Bunnell
Artwork: Jane Wolsak and Kalev Tait
© Bunnell 1999

dragon and lizard
dancing the circular path
of myth and nature

Kathleen Forsythe and I were on our way to the 1998 ASC conference in Santa Cruz. We had rented a car in San Francisco and were driving through the redwoods, when we decided to stop for a walk. We gazed in awe at the circles of huge trees whose empty center represented a great-grandmother tree centuries old and centuries dead. Re-composed as the new living trees.

I had been a teaching assistant in Natural History when I was a graduate student in Berkeley, and remembered the joy of finding salamanders under logs. I knew we were likely to find a California slender salamander (Batrachoceps attenuatus) here, and I wanted to show Kathleen this aspect of life, so much in contrast to the great trees, yet intricately part of the same system. To Kathleen’s bemusement I began to carefully lift logs, peek under them, and gently place them back. Pretty soon I found what I wanted, and called her over.

On my open palm a little being lay in a double circle about an inch across. "Is it a worm?" she asked. "No, it’s a salamander, see the tiny little legs." For a few moments it lay there absolutely still, torpid with the winter cold. Then the warmth of my hand began to penetrate it, and it began to undulate in beautifully graceful circles.

"Look!" said Kathleen, "It is showing us recursion loops!"

It was after this conference that Kathleen and I were asked to run for presidency of the ASC. I was dumbstruck, quite literally I could not speak for many minutes. In my silence, a vision appeared unbidden. Almost as soon as I got home I sketched out what I saw. This image of two beings, one biological, one mythical, is based on the notion of recursion, and like the mediaeval ourubori, it refers to two domains. However, this new double ouruborus does not place an underworld below an upper one, but rather puts the domain of the biological, the bodyhood of living, in a continuous mutually modulating recursion with the domain of cognition, the virtual world of human imagination. Or if one likes, it is the harmonious relationship between art and science. Or between a generative process and the arising phenomena.

It seems that the image strikes an evocative chord with almost everyone, and no one has spoken against it… so here it is the new ASC logo, born from the inspiration of mother earth, in the space of poesis I live with my soul-friend, Kathleen.