The Mentaculus, as featured in the Coen Brothers’ film A Serious Man (2009).
According to this interview, The Mentaculus was something originally written by a mathematician-friend of the Coens who went off the deep end trying to create a probability map of the universe. But though they kept the title the same for the film, the book needed to be re-created by two artists: Eric Karpeles (official site here) and Mike Sell (I regret that while I can find several Mike Sells in the art world, I can’t be sure which; probably this one).
Perhaps springing from a residual desire left over from my abandoned career in engineering, I retain an interest in the esoteric visual aesthetics of advanced mathematics. I know I’m not the only one. In art and media there’s all sorts of fetishization of the visual signifiers of rarefied calculation: from Alejandro Guijarro’s ongoing Momentum series, in which he photographs partially-erased chalkboards left over from quantum physics lectures around the world, to the depiction of John Nash’s work in A Beautiful Mind, to the TV show Numb3rs, to this terrific image from J. R. Eyerman’s photo series Space Frontiers. Even Glenn Beck’s madness has a naive aesthetic appeal to it.
At a certain point, the fact that the complex strings of notation describe patterns no longer matters; the awed outsider appreciates instead that from a distance they merge into a new visual pattern with its own rhythm and visual flux. That’s what interests me. Clearly, The Mentaculus doesn’t have any meaningful mathematical notation in it - but mathematics clearly inform it, at least in the sense that its design embodies mathematics without actually representing mathematics.
So my question: when mathematical laypeople set about generating faux mathematical notation, what ur-patterns underlie their aesthetic choices? What patterns their patterns?