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Reptilian Squares

'We only live to maintain our biological structure. We are programmed since the state of the fertilized egg for this sole purpose and any living structure has no other purpose, than to be.’ (Laborit, Henri, 1976)

produced by: Romain Biros


This work was inspired by the work of neurobiologist and philosopher Henri Laborit. He was one of the pioneer of the complexity theory and self-organization in France and one of his major contribution was to write book where he vulgarizes his ethological laboratory research and marries it, through systems thinking.

Concept and background research

In its most popular book “Eloge de la fuite” but also in the Alain Resnais’s movie “Mon Oncle d’Amérique”, Laborit describes the three different layers that the human brain is made off as follows:

1.     Reptilian, which triggers immediate survival response, drinking, eating, allowing us to preserve our structure, and copulation which allow us to reproduce.

2.     Memory, mostly present with mammals, which allow us to remember the positive or negative outcome of our experiences and act accordingly. “A living being is a memory which acts” (Laborit, Henri, 1980)

3.     Cerebral cortex, highly developed with human being, it enables us to create, to be imaginative by connecting the various nerve paths which have retained traces of past experience in a different way than from the one in which they were imprinted by the environment.

Those three parts developed and evolved one after the other throughout the years of our evolution, they individually exist in each of every human being brain. Our impulses are still the ones from the Reptilian Brain. The first two layers function unconsciously, beneath our level of awareness (impulses, socially conditioned reactions). The cerebral cortex furnishes an explanatory language which gives reasons, excuses, alibis for the unconscious acts of the first two.


I chose the Laborit division on the brain as it could be easily applied to the form of the shape. It can be divided in some kind of three layers, thus the animation is divided in three parts which consists of abstraction of the three parts of the human brain described by Laborit.

The functionality of the reptilian brain is represented in the first part of the animation as two different squares that can join together, it was designed as a metaphor of our basic needs and its responses. At first the two shapes are separated and then finally meet and unify their color (the color of the response takes over the one of the needs, “you are what you eat”).

The memory Brain consists of a pile of moving squares which colours alternates, it’s an abstraction of the memory that we store as experiences comes and go. The colours are the one from the three remaining reptilian animations at the center of the shape to show the relation between the brain parts. They start from being very unstable to slowly become stable and give the feeling of a pyramid seen from above.

The last part of the brain, the cerebral cortex consists in a particle system representing neurons. They get attached to one another once within a certain distance. The neurons travel fasts across the shape then slow down to finally form a steady neural path. Then a neural message is simulated as a colour message traveling across the neural paths. The colours are the one from the reptilian and memory brain (three different ones) and the message travels neurons after neurons with a nearest object algorithm.

In the end the shape reach some king of balanced rythm as if it succedded to possess a tangible structure like the one every living being wants to aim for.

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I display the reptilian squares on all the faces of the shape, there are 48 of them and each one is being projected a new instance (which means a new set of lines separation) of the ReptilianSquare object upon it. In order to be able to add 48 instances (+the one from the other part of the animation), I had to modify the code of the ofxPiMapper addon interface. It was only afterward that I realized that I could have made things simpler by just creating a fbo containing all those 48 squares and mapping them individually to each of the square of the shape. Each instance of the reptilian brain as a different form, using a random ofPath from the top to bottom of each square representing the variety of our basic need. Each square starts with a random angle and angle speed and the two parts of the square joins after a time defined by a timer and once close enough to overlap.

The number of memory brain of each instance increase as the ofNoise function that make them move has less and less impact. They switch colours at a decreasing rithm to finally become a stable pyramid.

The particle system was inspired by the bouncing balls exercise from our course, they are designed as squares and are joined by two ofCurve path when close enough to each other. A collision reaction algorithm was also added in order to give a more dynamic feeling to the animation. The speed of each individual neurons slow downs once they become close to each other to finally reach a more stable and tangile state before the colour message propagates. This simulates the creation of stable neural paths.

The shortest distance object algorithm was the most (unnecessarily) challenging part of the code. Unnecessarily because not yet being aware of the possible usage of Class and Objects in OpenFrameworks, the particle system and its algorithm was entirely made in an old fashion way (using vectors of information rather than independent objects with their properties).

Self evaluation and improvements

Before starting coding, I wanted to have a clear idea of what I wanted to express and was quite satisfied with the topic I got inspiration from. But I think I limited myself a lot on the way of aesthetically expressing it. I lost a lot of time on not very useful aspect (hacking the piMapper addon to add 48 different fbos and more, making an algorithm based on vector which could have been made much simpler).

The shape was not the easiest one in terms of freedom of expression as it is very specific in its form and brings a lot of constraints. Also the fact that it was quite important in terms of sizing and that we were 6 in our group made the mapping process quite long and intense. The positive side was that it made us bond with each other and made us all learn from each other's skill while preparing the popup exhibition.

The colour of the shape is always changing each time you run it, after the submission of the assignment and before the popup, I added a triadic colour selection algorithm which kind of improved the general aspect of the colour though remaining far from satisfying.

At the very last minute before the popup exhibition I decided to project the text of Laborit in the movie from Alain Resnais in which he explains the different layers of the brain. I loaded the text with a specific font and phase to imitate a generic and mapped it to the front tape defining the shape boundaries on the floor.


‘Henri Laborit’ (2019) Wikipedia.

Laborit, Henri (1976) Éloge de la fuite. Gallimard.

Resnais, Alain (1980), Mon Oncle d'Amérique (My Uncle from America)

Bouncing ball and Moving square code from Theodoro Papatheodorou.

Music from the video : composed and produced by Romain Biros (2016).