Randomness in Humans

I was curious if it would be possible to use statistical analysis to investigate whether human movement was random. The American physicist Leonard Mlodinow in The Drunkard’s Walk (2008)suggests that our path is governed by randomness, but I had begun to suspect that this was false, and realized I had a few million GPS points from my studies that I could use to test it.

To do this I developed a variation of a box-counting algorithm in processing in which a matrix is projected onto the landscape and a count is made of how many GPS points fall into each cell of the matrix. The next step was to make a histogram (a diagram which shows the frequency of a variable’s occurrence within a set) by taking every cell of the matrix and placing them into bins with all other cells with the same amount of points. The amount of cells with the same amount of GPS signatures are then counted and this is plotted as a graph showing the distribution of the data. To test this I ran the algorithm on the GPS data I collected from over 367 people for my Masters of Architecture Thesis. A diagram illustrating the algorithm is below:

What the histograms of the GPS data I collected in Rome, Mississauga, and Waterloo show is that the distribution of people across a landscape follows an inverse relationship best described by the equation:


Where “y” is the number of points a person visits, “x” is amount of time spent at a specific point, and “k” is a value which allows the curve to best fit the data. From these histograms below, we see that people spend a lot of time at a small set of points (long low tail to the histograms at right) and small amounts of time at a large amount of points. This distribution shows that people have tendencies towards certain regions of space.

If human movement is random then we would not expect there to be any tendency towards a small number of specific regions of space and we would see what is called a standard distribution, more familiarly known as a ‘bell curve’. Based on these histograms: human movement is not random and fits within a “power law” relationship. Therefore, based on my analysis: human movement is far from random. More rigorous analysis is required however.


Group Paths

Over the course of two years, in Rome,and Missississauga, I
worked with 8 volunteers to collect over millions of GPS data points.

Below is selection of the maps I created based on the data collected.

What emerges shows that our worldlines are informed by a combination of laws, property divisions, cultural practices, Infrastructure, as well as our own particular ideas and beliefs. The maps reveal that we are in a particular space at a particular time because of the decisions we make, as well as decisions we do not make and cannot control, such as the place, time, and culture into which we are born. In the worldlines of a family in Mississauga, a group of students in Rome, 367 students at the University of Waterloo, and in four Catholic liturgies, we see how, in various places and contexts, people appear in spacetime. Similarities emerge in the shape of the worldlines of individuals, along with differences that trace the history of their decisions, beliefs, and motivations.

The worldline of each individual embodies the algorithms for various ways of movement. These algorithms undergo a process of selection in which the fit are selected and the unfit are discarded. Through trial and learning, individuals adopt the algorithms which are best suited to their ends.

The result of the process of cultural evolution is a localization of certain practices in space and time. This is what is known as “homophily”. These social forms have a corporeal manifestation – as Herbert Spencer, aptly called them a “fabric” – in the form of worldlines, the variation of which is due to both internal and external forces.

We act out our ideas, beliefs, and ambitions within a physical world, and move in the material framework established by buildings, cities, roads.

The ideas and assumptions which have governed the deposition of matter (architecture, infrastructure) are unique to the culture, place, and time. The shared interpretation of a space by many people (as codified in the laws and traditions) over a long period of time, results in the delimiting of that space in a manner reflective of the differential success of these interpretations within a particular environment. When a community, city, or species has existed for a long period of time in the same environment with little external interference, then these algorithms can reach a state of equilibrium that may persist for millennia without variation in what is called an “evolutionary stable strategy”. When a ‘foreign’ set of algorithms enters a place which has equilibrium a process of selection will occur between the sets of algorithms. This will change both of the algorithms as well as the physical environment (architecture, infrastructure).

All data was collected with Ethics Approval from the University of Waterloo.

See more at Ariadne’s Thread.

See more at:


Churches of Rome

On March 4th, 2012, I went to four Catholic Masses in the City of Rome, and documented the worldine (path) people took to generate four maps. I was curious what the shape and patterns of the paths which emerged would reveal.

The four masses whose spacetime shape I documented in Rome
were the 10:00am in Chiesa Santa Maria dei Martiri (Pantheon), the
11:30am in il Gesu, the 5:30pm in Basilica Santa Maria di Trastevere and the 6:45pm Byzantine Rite in Basilica Santa Maria di Trastevere.

In the maps which emerge, the variation not only within the same
mass, but also across multiple churches, shows the particular forces that each Mass’s liturgy has been subject to as it moved through spacetime. The resultant morphology indicates how it has altered, mutated, drifted in response to the conditions it has faced on its journey to the present. Each liturgy has interacted with forces in the environment, such as the design of the church building, as well as with itself, through variations within the liturgy.

In common, all four masses show the existence of two genera of
worldline: the Clergy and Laity. These two genera differ significantly in their shape yet it is clear they participate towards the same end, in that they loop about each other, and move in a co-ordinated manner.

There are also different hierarchies visible within the Clergy’s path, each having a specific liturgical function.

More information can be found in Ariadne’s Thread.


Neighbourhood Paths

I carried a GPS device as I went on my nightly walks around my neighbourhood for almost 160 nights. Over this time, I logged over a million GPS points, and also asked my parents to do the same. From the data which emerged I created a number of maps, models, and visualizations. Below is a selection of visualizations of the data, showing the worldine as a physical tube.

More information about this can be found in Ariadne’s Thread.


My Family

Made using DNA submitted to the Genographic Project, and data about the overall pattern of human migration patterns via from the human mitochondrial genome database ( this map depict one version of the ancestral migration of my parents.

The Base Map is a Fuller Projection, which triangulates the globe and allows the elements to be re-configured as required to display the information (via wikisource). I submitted this map to the for the Buckminster Fuller Institute‘s DYMAX REDUX competition.

“This map makes the best use of the Dymaxion projection, by hilighting information that is primarily land-based and allowing for the paths to extend in an unbroken fashion throughout the world.”

Nicholas Felton, a Juror for the Buckminster Fuller Institute’s DYMAX REDUX competition.

Below you can see a detailed blow up of Africa, Europe, Asia and North America:


UW Student Body

Working with members from the University of Waterloo’s Student
Success Office, Secretariat, Office of Research Ethics, Office of the
Provost of Student and Info Systems and Technology, I developed and deployed a custom-built mobile application for iOS and Android that allowed students to record their faculty, expected year of graduation, favourite colour, and a contact, and would run silently in the background of their smartphones, logging their location via GPS while they were on campus.

Working closely with the Student Success Office, and using social media, 367 students participated (surpassing our goal of 300, or 1% of the 30,000 students of the school) and logging over 380,000 GPS points.

The data collected on the students’ worldlines shows that the
primary orientation of pedestrian traffic on campus is east-west, and
that there are currently two major arteries. This east-west connection demonstrates the importance of the city of Kitchener-Waterloo in the lives of students, more so than is currently acknowledged in the 2009 uWaterloo masterplan.

Another discrepancy between the masterplan and the reality of how
students use campus, is that what is called the Transit Gateway in the masterplan is actually one of the most significant connections between the university and the city. This space currently is among the poorest, ugliest, and least pedestrian friendly on campus (see photos at left) and is almost completely ignored by the masterplan. Any investment in this area will improve the quality of students experience and directly address an area completely overlooked by both the masterplan and the university.

Learn more at Ariadne’s Thread.