Interview with PhiPhi is one of our newer Yachatians.
TYG: Can we get your name?
Phi: I go by Phi today, like the Greek letter. My parents were from Northern Maine, and they spoke French. I grew up on the east coast and lived on the east coast all my life until 2011, coming out here to Oregon for the first time.
TYG-Graphic Design: Why did you come out?
Phi: Well, somebody I was with at the time had grown up here, and her mother was living here. One thing led to another, and the next thing I knew, I bought an old church in Toledo and turned it into a house and a studio. It was fun for a while, until it wasn’t anymore. I went through a pretty serious battle with cancer. Just had my four-year anniversary of beating that; I nearly died, and it was a pretty serious battle. But I kind of had a miraculous healing—I came out of it very rapidly. I was down to like 150 pounds, I had massive tumors on me—you know, I was going. I was starting chemo, and I don’t think anyone else thought I was going to make it through. I had an almost miraculous healing—within a week of my first treatment, my tumors were gone; I started to feel better.
TYG: Wow! Maybe the cancer was just strong enough to keep going, but once you had chemo...
Phi: Well, I started something just before the chemo, and I think it had a lot to do with it. I—along with my partner at the time—said, “Why don’t we visualize the chemo going to the cancer, and nothing else. Let thought drive this.” Just prior to moving to Oregon, I had just finished a novel. I thought I was coming to Oregon to be a writer. I didn’t actually go in that direction—I was riding the wave [going with the flow of events]. The novel was kind of a science fiction thriller kind of thing: an MIT Ph.D. candidate at the Center for Theoretical Physics. The story starts with him in Tibet for the summer, meditating and looking inward for answers to what happens in the quantum world. And he kind of has a breakthrough. So I’ve always been intrigued with this mind over matter kind of thing.
TYG: I feel that we just know so little about quantum; I feel like we can’t rule out any sort of evidence at this point—all should be treated with skepticism, but none should be ignored.
Phi: Absolutely! We don’t really understand the nature of consciousness—how even this bag of protoplasm is able to do anything, frankly. I think a thought to raise my hand [raises his hand]. How did that happen? Really? How do all those atoms and molecules do that, just with a thought? So that connection is there, within, and we use it all the time. I think it’s truly quite powerful, and we can reshape things within the body and our health. I’ll tell you, I was chronically ill my entire life up to that point—I had all kinds of problems. And from that point on, from the day that I knew I was going to be better, I have been tremendously healthy. Like startlingly healthy, and getting healthier all the time. My body was pretty crapped up from it [the cancer]—I had a lot of atrophy and a lot of other stuff, and I was in quite a lot of pain—but it all seems to be kind of melting away, and I’m finding myself in this tremendously healthy state.
TYG-GD: So how many years was this ago?
Phi: Four years in April. Most people wouldn’t even know! After that, I made a practice of getting better, really seeking vitality within and bringing that out. You can raise that energy and vitality within, because that’s the only thing that’s going to heal you. You have to get the body to come back, restore your energy, restore your immune system.
TYG: That will really help, but it’s still not a magic cure.
Phi: Right. Well, we see this placebo effect, too. We know it’s real. There’s something, in the consciousness, that can manipulate the physical world. That’s of great interest to me—it always has been. So, I’m trying to manifest a billion dollars to come to me, but... [laughter] I’m going to keep practicing though!
But I’ve always been creative, all my life. [To the publisher] I think we probably share the same kind of creativity. I think I’ve always been an architect. From the very beginning, I was always designing things, inventing things, all through my youth. I can’t imagine what I would have done with computers, if I’d had them when I was young, particularly the internet as a resource.
TYG: The one great breakthrough my generation has is being able to come in from the very start with decent computers.
Phi: Absolutely. So, when I was in seventh grade, I had an art teacher who started to show us how to draw perspective drawings. [laughs] I felt like the whole world had opened up to me! This magic secret had been revealed: how to capture the world around you in an accurate way, through geometry, through mathematics, essentially. I was just fascinated with it. Everyone else in my class was drawing a house, or whatever, and I drew an entire cityscape with an amusement park! [laughs] I think you can probably understand the enthusiasm I was experiencing. I felt like I was not limited—[I could draw] whatever my imagination was capable of bringing out! It wasn’t about just capturing the physical world. I could think of things that didn’t exist yet, and that was really empowering. My art teacher said, “You should become an architect!” And I was like, “Okay!” I didn’t know anything about doing that. I didn’t have parents that helped shape that, so I continued along, thinking that the best skill I needed to apply as an architect was probably drafting. So I spent a lot of time in drafting classes—didn’t spend any time in art or design or any of those kinds of things, and I would have really benefitted from having some of that experience. But I went to college for architecture, at Syracuse University. Started there, then graduated the New York Institute of Technology. I was a partner in a small firm for a number of years in Connecticut, and I was involved with architecture for about 13 years. Then in the mid-90’s, I brought computers into our office. It was very technical—I just love technical things. Especially automation, the idea of automation. So, I’m looking at these CAD systems, what you’re experiencing with SketchUp [a 3D modeling software] right now, and I thought, “Oh! I can make components!” This was the very early days [before libraries of components had been created]. Or, “I can create a little script that would automatically create a window that is exactly the dimensions of the one in the catalog!” Or whatever—and I just built these models, and I was totally taken away. I started getting into other graphics software, like the predecessors to Photoshop or Illustrator—the Adobe suite.
TYG: There’s a really good alternative for that stuff by the way is called GIMP—GNU Image Manipulation Program. I’m guessing you’ve heard of it.
Phi: Uh huh. [nods] I’ve tried to become Adobe-free. I’m not quite there yet.
TYG: I don’t like the Adobe stuff too much—especially with their new payment model. It’s terrible.
Phi: Well, it used to be a lot of money if you wanted the whole suite.
TYG-GD: But at least it was yours.
TYG: It’s not yours anymore.
Phi: No, you’ve got to rent it.
TYG-GD: I refuse. I’m still working on CS5...
So mid-90s, the web was coming around. You had Windows 95 all of a sudden, it had a browser in it.
TYG: Was that the first browser?
Phi: Netscape was the first real big browser.
TYG: And that just crashed, for some reason.
Phi: I’m not sure what happened to the dynamics of all that. Browser wars, early on—it was quite an interesting time. I think it’s played out pretty well, though. Chrome and Firefox are excellent tools; they have really done amazing things on the back end, too, for developers. There’s almost a whole development suite inside the browsers today. You can actually write code and execute it right there.
TYG: Yes, you can right-click, examine code, and have everything right there at every level.
TYG-Editorial Assistant: Why did the work dry up after 9/11?
Phi: Everything just stopped in New York. All the clients we had were dropping their projects, no new work was coming in. [...] But it loosened me up! I then found myself down in the DC area, and got a job with Microsoft, and that’s when the real fun started. I was working in the federal district for Microsoft supporting federal agencies, and also some of the big system integrators like Lockheed Martin. So I suddenly was thrust into this world of really huge projects and really big budget stuff and spooky stuff. One of the first things they did when I got to Microsoft was put me through the process for Top Secret clearance, TSSI clearance, so I was working in these agencies at high levels talking to their brass around all kinds of different strategies—it was a really exciting time.
TYG-GD: What do you think about Google employees refusing to work on federal projects these days?
Phi: So, I started at Microsoft in 2003, so it was less than two years [after 9/11]. I was actually really proud at the time to be involved in something where I felt I could be contributing to the situation that was going on in a really positive way, but I’ll tell you, it really didn’t take long before I got jaded by the whole thing. Seeing the truth of what’s going on, the real nature of these big organizations... We think we’re run by representative government, but we’re really run by these corporate-like government institutions that really have a mind of their own, and that really have almost no accountability around what’s happening. There’s a culture of things that really kind of surprised me. And it just kind of wore me out. We’re definitely in a different time today, and the power, technology, the use of it puts us into a whole different realm. Some of the projects I was working on... gave me pause around the nature of what I was doing. [laughs] I started to move away from it all. And then, that was just kind of unraveling me and my personal life as well; the pressure of it, and everything. It was a very intense position that I was in, and towards the end I was the technical architect for the Lockheed Martin account team. Lockheed is huge, and the kinds of things that they were doing... I was working across their four businesses on all kinds of topics, giving presentations on Microsoft technologies to people who were making decisions on things like satellites, and other stuff. It was pretty fascinating! My favorite project was working on a model for the ground stations for the GPS satellites, actually doing the visualization of where the satellites were, and the planet, and just my introduction to the whole science of satellites and how they work and how they actually determine the position of things, and how the GPS satellites work. Do you have any idea how they work?
TYG: Yes—they use the speed of light as a constant, and they use that to determine position, based on the bounce-back times and the quandrangulation from four satellites.
Phi: So my understanding is that each satellite is broadcasting a signal, and it’s a random stream of zeros and ones that’s known in advance.
TYG: It’s a unique code from each satellite.
Phi: Right. And where you are in that as it’s broadcasting has a time signature associated with it. So you have all of these signals that are coming in, and the receiver gets that, and then somehow it can know the position of the satellite—because they’re always moving, too—that’s what really surprised me. I thought they would have been geostationary, because then you could easily triangulate. But there's a lot more complicated algorithm with all these satellites that are moving, and you’re getting positioning.
TYG: Then you just determine the delay. Because you have a stationary time stamp, which is the time it was sent out from the satellite, then that gets transferred into the phone. [...]
Phi: So I’ve had a chance to work on a lot of interesting projects, but then in 2010, 2011, I met someone new, and she was from Oregon. I came out here for a visit, and I fell in love with Oregon, and I just said, “I need to find my way out here.” I was really ready to break from all that rat race and all the chaos of it and get to a simpler, more creative life, get back to doing some design work and all of that. I ended up with the rug pulled out from underneath me in the course of it, but I’m getting back on track now. [...] As an architect, I’m interested in the architecture of all that is. I’m fascinated by how everything fits together. From the quantum scale, to the atomic scale, to the cellular scale within us... I’m fascinated by the idea that we have fifty trillion cells in our body, all with independent life cycles. If you started counting every cell in your body at one second, you don’t have enough time in your life to actually account for yourself. Isn’t that something? And each cell has some fifty to a hundred trillion atoms that make it up, that are all just as weird and complex. There’s a whole world happening in each cell that is just as diverse as this back yard. How is that all possible? How is it that we are capable of understanding it? How is it that consciousness can come into being within the physical form of our bodies? How is it that we can have true insight?
My real passion right now, if I had enough resources, if I had that billion dollars, I would be spending it all looking into the golden ratio. I believe it is kind of the Rosetta Stone of showing us some underlying structure of all of reality. That’s why it just pops up in so many different places. What I love about it is not only does it show up in nature—we can measure it in nature and we see its occurrence in a lot of things—but it is a formidable principle in just mathematics.
TYG-EA: What is the golden ratio? How does that relate to you?
Phi: As an architect! I have this wonderful book from an architect named Francis D.K. Ching. It’s called Architecture: Form, Space, & Order. I think every architect should have it. So this book has these amazing drawings in it, architecture from all around the world, principles of design, all kinds of things hand-drawn, and there are several pages towards the end that are just about the golden ratio, kind of demonstrating how it had been used as an ordering principle in architecture. Architects are lining up things within plans or elevations using golden ratios.
TYG-GD: What is the golden ratio?
Phi: It’s a ratio of two numbers, two unequal values, a and b; a is the shorter or smaller, b is the longer or larger value. Two numbers are “in the golden ratio” if they meet the following criteria: a is related to b, as b is related to the sum of a+b. So the lesser is to the greater as the greater is to the sum of the lesser and greater. So if you have two numbers that satisfy that condition, then those numbers are in the golden ratio.
TYG: And there’s also some empirical way to do it, which is 1.6 something.
Phi: So, if you take that ratio, a/b = b/a+b, and you replace the a with a 1, and the b with an x, now we’ve got an algebraic formula that we can start to solve. We can look at that same expression as 1⁄ₓ = x/1+x. When you do that and start moving the parts around, you end up with a quadratic formula, x2-x-1=0. So you can solve that now, and run that through a quadratic equation. And what you get is (√5 ± 1)/2. And that, if you run that out, equals 1.618 or negative 1.618—the two factors of the quadratic solution. So, it's interesting that they are two [units] apart, but that number has these really amazing properties: the square of that number equals 1 plus the number. And I can kind of go on all day long with these different algebraic relationships, these identities; and it's the only number that does that. It seems to find itself in this place between arithmetic and geometry, in one-dimensional thinking and two-dimensional thinking; it's this balance point between the two when you start to look at different relationships. So I've always just been curious about it. You've probably heard of Fibonacci numbers, right? You start with this sequence: 0, and 1, and then you add the two numbers that just came to get the third, so 0+1 = 1...
TYG: Which is very similar to the golden ratio.
Phi: Right! You keep going down this line, and you get 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, you just keep going. And the further out you go, you take any of those two consecutive numbers and divide them by one another, you start to approach the golden ratio. As you get larger and larger, it keeps getting closer and closer. And there are other amazing kind of things that I'm not really prepared to talk about today, but I'd love to spend more time.
TYG-EA: I don't know if we have the typesetting to handle it! [laughter]
Phi: I do, actually, so that will lead me to what I'm doing with illumiphi, and the tools that I've built to actually explore this. I built a contact development system that could explore this, that could handle the math, that could handle all the research that I've been pulling together, that can do the graphics. So I've built a graphical engine that creates vector diagrams all through an algorithm, basically, exploring geometric relationships of the golden ratio, and discovering them within a geometrical field.
TYG-GD: Wow! That's fun!
Phi: I'd love to demonstrate it to you another time. [...] I want to talk about this stuff, but I haven't really put it all out there yet. I want to have a little bit more of a professional view of my work, even if it's thin, and I'm not quite there. I own geometor.com, and that's where all my geometry and golden ratio research is going. I'm also quite interested in pi, and I think there's some kind of hidden relationship between these principles. But over the winter, I really kind of hunkered down and said, "I'm going to get serious about this." But, maybe I should back up a little bit. After the cancer, my interest in the golden ratio started to re-emerge. It had gone back to my architectural days, and I'd always been kind of intrigued. And I said, "Well, let me look into it a bit more! Let me make some drawings! With a straight edge and a compass, how would I draw some of these golden ratio forms? Can I do them from memory? How would I draw a pentagon from memory?" And I just started going down this road—actually, let me find my sketch-book. [...] So I just started keeping a sketchbook, and making different drawings. I started seeing all these things, and I've got my favorite tool, my golden ratio calipers [pictured]. I just started investigating by hand. I was making these drawings, and using these calipers, and going around and trying to find instances of the golden ratio. And I found that once you set up a certain proportional system—like this one is based on a right triangle with a base of one and a height of two, and that diagonal—what would that diagonal be?
TYG: It would be Pythagorean, it would be the square root of ... five, and that's the end of the golden ratio!
Phi: Right! What did I say about that number that we were looking for? So what we're doing here... this all started with two points. This entire construction was derived out of that with just a compass and a straight edge. So if we take the measure between these two points as one, then we can say that half of that would be one half minus the square root of five, over two, so you start to see geometrically how you're arriving at that quadratic solution that came out of just a ratio of numbers.
[Continues through the sketchbook] This one is really interesting: Circumscribe an equilateral triangle, and... [points with his golden ratio caliper as below]
TYG: That's the golden ratio!
Phi: It's everywhere. I started to discover! I'm going through, making drawings like a madman, and I'm finding it everywhere, [flips a page] and everywhere, [flips a page] and everywhere... And I'm like, "Okay, I need to formalize my thinking here. I need to go back and teach myself algebra, because I didn't remember anything." [laughs] And geometry, and everything! I felt like I was starting fresh, but I felt, "Well great! I can just erase all bad ideas that I ever had about any of this stuff, and start from the beginning." I've really been interested in creating a foundation of thinking, essentially, of logic, that can help me to explore this. I found a tool called GeoGebra. If you haven't found GeoGebra yet, it's a free software online, and it allows you to actually make geometric constructions with the algebra being done for you on the side. And that was when I really started to learn some of these relationships. It was showing me if I had the golden ratio, but only in a decimal representation. But I wanted to keep it all symbolic. So I'm keeping the symbols of the square root as an entity, just as if you were doing the algebra by hand.
TYG: Right! So it's π, not 1.416...
Phi: Right, not some approximation. Because then, if you're only looking at the decimal equivalent, you're missing the patterns.
TYG: And you lose stuff each set.
Phi: You're losing the specificity, you're losing the proportional relationships that are happening.
TYG: Because once you get into stuff like this, so often, probably 90% of the numbers you're working with, even the basic stuff I do, so many of the numbers are infinite. So if you cut it off at anything except for the very final answer, you could be off by a factor of some very significant portion of the number.
Phi: Right. So in my research, I'm watching various You Tube videos, and I come across this guy named Norman J. Wildberger. He's at the University of New South Wales in Australia; he's created over 900 videos on mathematics—he's one of the most dedicated people I've ever witnessed in my life! He's just constantly pumping out these videos! He really got to me on that topic. So I knew that building this from the ground up, it had to be algebraic, symbolically algebraic. But I was like, "Okay, how am I going to do that? I'm not going to do all these calculations by hand; I'm going to need to find some way to develop it."
TYG: So did you make the automation?
TYG: I love the animations—although it could just be a tad faster.
Phi: Well, this is very much a work in progress! I was just happy to have it calculate correctly. [laughs] I thought that was a huge achievement. I've gone back and actually recast all of the calculation engine so that it works with fully generalized equations for both lines and circles. So the whole thing can be developed as a matrix. And my goal is, number one, to create geometric diagrams, and then have the computer find the instances of the golden ratio. So Explorer is doing that today. When you run it today, it's finding almost all the instances—I still have some kind of fringe things to figure out. But I think that the work that I've done with this new solver and generalizing the equations is maybe going to take care of some of those discrepancies I was having. I haven't gotten fully out there yet. I'd love to have some intern working with me over the summer though... [looks at the publisher and grins] Because it's kind of a big puzzle. For me, it's almost like a game! I began to realize that the choices that I made, like when I took two points and whether I was going to make a circle or a line between them—there's a choice there. And it almost becomes chess-like in the exploration of the field. Each choice that I make is going to lead to another choice to another choice to possibilities... but only in a certain set, right? And I've been really trying to figure out: are there certain paths to go down that are going to lead to more gold? So I'm very interested to take this to the next level. Each instance of the golden ratio that I find in this field is scaled. And I really want to kind of create a database for all these instances and look for the pattern in them. If they'll scale, I think that's going to start to tell me something.
TYG: Yes, I'm wondering if the scales will be golden ratios in themselves.
Phi: Well, what I've seen so far and from what the Explorer is showing me is that prime numbers are showing up. The square roots of prime numbers. But maybe that's just what would happen anyway. I don't know. [laughs] But in some of the instances where I'm seeing the golden ratio, I think I may be the first to see some of these. I've done a lot of research and I've read a lot of books—one of the best reference books has about sixteen ways of constructing the golden ratio with a straight edge and compass. I probably have hundreds at this point, with all of the models that I've created and the different approaches and relationships that I've found. The reason I have hundreds is because I've realized there's almost a resonance that begins to happen. Once it happens once, it's like those elements are going to cut every other element and it's always going to create the golden ratio! So I would really like to take it fully and put it out there in the world! I think a lot of people would be quite interested in what it has to show. [...] I know that if I put it out there in a big way it will create a lot of interest. So, I've got tons of research, I've got the Geometor Explorer that I can begin to explain, and I want to put up a You Tube channel, essentially, that's going to just go deep into these concepts. I'm going to try to attract other like-minded individuals around it, and make kind of an open-source project around it. This is a really key aspect of this: I don't see any of the work that I'm developing as proprietary. I want it to be out there in the world; I want other smart people to gather around me and help me in development so that we might find something. The golden ratio clearly has something to do with the ordering principles of the universe. I think it's a mystery that needs to have some attention.
TYG-GD: I wonder what a human golden ratio might look like.
Phi: Well, for example, your finger...
TYG-GD: I know about the construction of the human, but I meant in terms of human groups, what it might look like.
Phi: Oh! Interesting. [pause] Aristotle referred to the golden ratio as the perfect balance between indulgence and denial. [laughter] And if you think about it as an ordering principle for the universe, and growth in the universe, it's perfect. It's perfectly balanced. The next generation is never too big, never too small: it's just right. And if you folllow Fibonacci, and you keep progressing in that way, you're always going to have this natural balance of things that is always going to end up there.
TYG: And for me, at least, the golden ratio has this sort of clarity that it gives the human eye; it's naturally pleasing.
Phi: [...] I think it's true! Nature uses it. That's why we find it pleasing. That kind of segmented growth is just a part of what we expect. There's not always a perfect golden ratio in things in nature, but I'm surprised at where it shows up. It's just incredible. And not only in the distance of things, but in the rotation as well. Like in plants—are you familiar with the term phylotaxis? That's the study of the geometric organization of plants. Branching on almost all plants occurs where the radial angles that happen of the next branch that's going up is going to be a golden ratio proportion of the entire circle. But it's the way nature gets a leaf to appear and not have it cover the other ones. It all makes sense.
TYG-GD: Even the nautilus shell too, right?
Phi: The nautilus shell is actually a logarithmic spiral, not a perfect golden spiral. That kind of progressive growth is just something that's built-in. People attribute the golden ratio to a lot of things where it's not really there. So I'm always kind of skeptical when people are putting up memes about the golden ratio. If the math isn't behind it, it's not there. But scientists are finding its presence at the atomic scale, in all kinds of molecular relationships, they're finding it within the cellular level—all kinds of places. Even the spacing of the humps of the DNA, the way the spirals come out—that's the golden ratio.
TYG: Yes, because it's not a perfect double helix. It's off-set.
Phi: It's not a perfect double helix! It's shifted by the golden ratio. So right down to the fundamentals of our architecture, it's showing up there.
TYG: Something that I just thought of, that's probably not true at all, but because you were talking about the atomic scale and the golden ratio: what about the energy levels of the electrons?
Phi: I would love, love love love, to spend some time better understanding electron fields and the geometric forms of the fields. When I was growing up and in school, I don't think we had the same notions, and really just talked about concentric shells. But now there are all these kinds of ideas about fields, and probability fields, and I wonder about that a lot. [...]
TYG-GD: Is there anything else you wanted to say to Yachats, while we're at it?
Phi: Well, with this interest in the golden ratio I started building a set of tools for communicating. And then in the winter my daughter called me. She'd just moved to New York (she's an artist), and she was working as an assistant to a well-known artist in New York, and she said, "She needs a website—would you be interested?" I really just wanted to do the geometry stuff, find my way through it, and maybe make a living at it. But then I was like, "Well, maybe I should think about getting some work." So I said I'd take on the project. That really got me going to say, "Well, I might as well start a consulting business using these tools and my experience as a designer, and somebody who can write, and just helping people with their content." In all my experiences with helping people with design and with the web, where things start to fall apart is in developing the disciplines around content. So putting practices in place where they're creating stuff on a regular basis. You guys know what it takes to put something out on a regular basis, right? It's a lot of hours, a lot of discipline. Most people have ideas where they say, "Well, I want to have a website, I want to do all this stuff." But they don't realize that they have to get geared up and have processes in place. You have to take care of your work! Before you know it you're going to have a massive amount of content; you need to put that in a place where it's protected, make sure you have it backed up, you can roll back—do all those things that are really necessary. So I started kind of testing the waters, thinking about a number of different things. I got involved with the Port [of Alsea] over the bond referendum, and that started a relationship there. Now they're a customer, and I'm helping them with their website and developing content around their website, and really kind of bringing order to the management of the Port and the documents that they need and all that, making that easy. I'm back working with Michelle [Korgan, at Ona Restaurant & Lounge] and helping with Ona and the [Heceta] Lighthouse. The Lighthouse thing could be very interesting too. Over this next year, they're going to be preparing to put the original wings onto the back of the residence. Michelle's been saving money through the Forestry Service to get this project going. One of the things I'm going to look to do is create a 3D model of the lightkeeper's residence, very accurate, and create some 3D printed models of it that we might sell to raise money for the lighthouse. So I started modelling that in SketchUp, including the Fresnel lens. It was a bit of a puzzle to figure out how to do it, how to create the shapes in SketchUp and make an eight-sided Fresnel lens. [Illumiphi.com is where Phi offers all these services.]
TYG: Thank you so much!