My interest in philosophy from a young age, and penchant for browsing, before web browsers existed, led me to the Buckminster Fuller corpus, as chronicled in other my writings, including here on Medium. I’m glad my journey took this turn, as Fuller had a lot of friends, some of whom joined my network as well. One of those friends in common was the poet Gene Fowler.
I did manage to visit Gene in person, just one time, in Berkeley. He had already written Waking the Poet and had embarked on a solo development effort to write an XML editor in Delphi, a derivative of the Pascal computer language. For a former armed robber with San Quentin on his resume, this was all pretty impressive. Gene had embarked upon a “regeniusing” project, to recover his native smarts, and the effort looked to be paying off.
Gene isn’t only only friend of Bucky’s I knew. Difficult writers, unless read in universities for credit, tend to not have a big audience except in religious institutions and prisons. Both tend to have libraries, and more important, readers with the time to read, along with the motivation to keep rethinking their lives.
Some of the inmates at San Quentin had been studying General Semantics by Korzybski, under the direction of the warden, and now were turning to this invited thinker who would elaborate on this same topic.
Was Gene in the audience then, back in 1959? One could listen to a recording of his lecture on Youtube back in the day, but the recording was taken down.
By the time Gene and I started corresponding, I had already moved to Portland. Fuller had died in 1983. What Gene and I corresponded about may be mostly lost, but I do remember one thread especially well.
Consider the square as representing the “four directions” on a plane, or plain, a flat surface. One might put a circle around it, perhaps overlapping (of equal area?) and divide it into four sections or quadrants.
The plains Indians, the Lakota, would call this the Medicine Wheel. I’d done some Lakota training after moving to Portland, having been introduced to Wy’East by my future wife. I was quite familiar with the “four directions” by the time Gene and I got in touch. I knew the four colors: white, yellow, red and black.
Now consider the following little transformation: the square elongates along one diagonal, keeping the edges the same length, such that two of the corners come closer.
The “spine” (as in a book) or short diagonal of the resulting rhombus now becomes a new edge, with equilateral triangles on either side. The two triangles start to fold, forming a crease along the new edge. The tips come closer together and there you have it: a regular tetrahedron. Except Gene wanted to call it a “4sys” — a combination of 4, and system.
By this time I must have already been in touch with Richard Hawkins, a skilled animator, as Gene’s transformation made it into Clocktet, later put on Youtube.
To this day my Grunch.net home page features this short cartoon, for which I provided the storyboard, in the form of written descriptions.
Consider that out in zero gravity space, we might also want to define directions. Typically we go with XYZ axes crossing one another in some mutually orthogonal arrangement, defining the six corners of an octahedron, or face centers of a cube. We get octants that way.
However consider the four radials from a tetrahedron’s center. We get quadrants again. We still have four directions. The original square is now a 4sys. The number of directions stays the same.
Instead of a Medicine Wheel we might have a Medicine Ball, but with the same four colors: white, yellow, red, black.