The Cybernetic Aquarium


The Cybernetic Aquarium is computer-generated art work, combining natural and mathematical principles to create a visual environment with an organic feel but a decidedly cybernetic aesthetic. The creatures in this aquarium are made of pixels, algorithms, feedback loops, logic gates, and a host of other building blocks of the cybernetic universe. There is enough overlap with the processes that create our physical universe that we can relate to this world. The species in the aquarium are somewhat familiar but also alien, as are the creatures of the deep sea. The aquarium motif allows us to observe creatures that are alien and surreal, harmoniously going about their daily lives. It consists of three ecosystems.

Primordial Soup - Emergence and Chaos

Primordial Soup is a symbolic re-enactment of the mysterious moment when simple molecules began to combine to create living organisms. The basic building blocks of life are represented here by primitive graphic elements - dots, circles, line segments, and color. Their interaction is governed by four basic forces: linear motion, oscillation, chance, and chaos.

Dots, shown as tiny circles, jiggle randomly. Lines move straight ahead, swaying rhythmically as they go, bouncing off the edge. When dots and lines cross paths, they hook up to create Animated Molecules, which may in turn get snagged by the watchful eyeball creatures known as Swoopers that patrol the area. A black circle inside of a white one becomes, in our anthropomorphic gaze, an eye, or even a conscious observer.

Translucent colored circles, known as Social Circles, pulse and lazily pursue each other. As they overlap, they create new colors, but do not interact with the other species. Their motion is governed by a simple algorithm inspired by the chaotic feedback of three bodies orbiting each other in space.

Microbiota - Genomics and Growth

Animated Molecules in the Primordial Soup grow by accumulation of existing parts with no central control. In this ecosystem, an organism grows oscillating limbs according to its genetic blueprint. Each creature has digital genes that store the numeric values of its various properties - size, number of limbs, limb sway rate, and so forth.

There are three species:

Wavers are the most primitive of the limbed species, sessile and primarily decorative. They grow on the foreground decorations and show relatively little diversity.

Swimmers are limbed versions of the Social Circles of the Primordial Soup. A Swimmer’s combination of genes, along with its randomly-assigned color, gives it a unique identity and personality. Some are fidgety, others serene; many are comical, others plain. Since the limbs are purely ornamental, all combinations have an equal chance at survival. Some have eyes.

Mandaloids are specialized Swimmers who have a large number of limbs, all of which move in unison and create complex patterns as they do so. They drift across the screen and do not interact with each other.

The mobile species, Swimmers and Mandaloids, die when they drift off the screen. Each is replaced with another, but with a newly-generated set of attributes. There is no actual evolution taking place, because there are no predators and no competition for resources, resulting in wide diversity of appearance within the species.


Since true evolution to create new species does not exist in this cybernetic world, they must be added by the Coder. New species may be derived from old ones, or created entirely new. This ecosystem presents a variety of species created as a work of art, rather than to illustrate any basic principles. The species:

Collectors and Pulsoids: Pulsoids are simple organisms, small colored circles that pulse and move in straight lines. Collectors fancy them and will add one to its own structure if they cross paths. This may be considered a relatively benign form of predation. Collectors have a limited life span, so when they expire their captive Pulsoids are released into the wild.

Amoeboids are descendants of Social Circles, with an amoeboid shape that brings a modernist sensibility to this environment, echoing Calder mobiles, atomic age design, and lava lamps.

Wavers are sort of living fossil, unchanged from the Microbiota era

Branchers are Wavers that have evolved a more complex branching structure with multiple stems

BranchBlobs are floating versions of a Branchers. They have colored disks.

Further information

A personal history of the development of this project is available here (PDF).

A brief technical guide to this project is available here (PDF)
Processing code for this project may be downloaded here.This code is provided with no warranty and is primarily intended for programmers who are interested in collaboration.
Running the code requires the Processing development environment, available from