Interpretation of the Diagnostic Metrics
The Diagnostic Metrics are 18 symbols that appear throughout the artwork on the content and promotional materials for the album Artificial Heart. The symbols were created by the graphic designer Sam Potts.
The interpretation at the end of this page may be considered a spoiler. Read no further if you want to remain mystified.
What Is Known
On the back cover of the Artificial Heart CD jacket, the track listing also includes three columns of symbols. They are:
|Track||Title||Metric A||Metric B||Metrics C, D, and E|
|1.||Sticking It To Myself|
|4.||The World Belongs to You|
|5.||Today With Your Wife|
|8.||Je Suis Rick Springfield|
|9.||Alone at Home|
|11.||Good Morning Tucson|
|12.||Now I Am An Arsonist|
|15.||Nobody Loves You Like Me|
|17.||Want You Gone|
The titles of the columns of diagnostic metrics are not specified on the CD cover or in the liner notes. The names used above for the Metric columns are arbitrary and only for reference here.
In the track listing, each symbol appears exactly once in the Metric A and Metric B columns.
The relationship between the Metric A and Metric B columns is symmetric. That is, if a song has a Metric A symbol of X and a Metric B symbol of Y, then the song with Metric A symbol of Y has a Metric B symbol of X. One such example is Want You Gone and The Stache.
For each song, Metrics A through E consist of five different symbols. There is no case of symbol duplication within a single row.
The track listing on the label of the Outdated Technology Platform has the symbol from the Metric A column to the left of each song title.
The header of each of the metrics columns is:
- Metric A: A dashed line with an arrowhead pointing to the right
- Metric B: A pair of adjacent parallel lines, each with an arrowhead at the opposite end of the other
- Metric C: A pair of line segments with arrowheads pointing away from a common center point
Lines, arrows, simple shapes, and differences in color are often present in artwork featuring the symbols.
Analysis of the CD Cover
No explanation of the symbols has been given beyond their names on the Tucson Diagnostics web site, so there is no authoritative interpretation of the meaning of their use on the CD cover. However, it is possible to infer a reasonably consistent explanation of their meaning from the context of their usage by associating:
- the lyrical content of the songs on Artificial Heart,
- the naming of the Diagnostic Metrics given on the Tucson Diagnostics web site, and
- the relationship between the songs and symbols given on the Artificial Heart CD jacket.
Using the given names of the symbols in each column, the following pattern becomes evident:
- Metric A represents the primary theme of the song,
- Metric B represents the opposite (or nemesis) of the primary theme, and
- Metrics C, D, and E represent secondary themes.
This interpretation is reinforced by the arrows in the header of the Metric A, Metric B, and Metrics C, D, and E columns:
- Metric A: The right-arrow suggests a primary relationship
- Metric B: The parallel opposing arrows suggest opposition
- Metric C: The linear but opposed arrows suggest a range
For example, consider the symbols for the song Still Alive. Using this interpretation:
- Its Metric A symbol, or primary theme, is Success
- Its Metric B symbol, or opposite (or nemesis) theme, is Ruin (which is the Metric A symbol for Dissolve)
- Its Metric C, D, and E symbols, or secondary themes, are Betrayal , Rebirth , Confidence
Analysis of Symbol Usage in Other Contexts
The lines, arrows, colors, and simple shapes often found with the symbols seem to imply connections, groupings, dependencies, oppositions, relationships, and/or temporal flow.
The elegance this approach is that a simple set of symbols can efficiently convey powerful statements about the complexity of human emotional experience. Interpreted that way, they constitute an abstract, visual poetic art form.
As an example, consider the artwork on the front of the red Level 4 Participant shirt, which shows arrows between several symbols:
- From Freedom to Glory
- From Freedom to Control
- From Control to Success
- Bi-directional arrows between Glory and Possibility
The black Level 3 Participant shirt shows a similar arrangement of symbols and arrows:
- From Surrender to Oblivion
- From Surrender to Nostalgia
- From Nostalgia to Rebirth
- Bi-directional arrows between Oblivion and Ruin
- Obverse: Glory , Success , Destiny , Freedom (the first three are of type Causa Sui)
- Reverse: Oblivion , Chaos , Surrender , Ruin (which are all of type Entropic)
The artwork on the front of the Artificial Heart CD (the actual disc, not the cover) features one symbol (and it's quite huge): Success . Whether this represents Jonathan Coulton's own feelings about the album or what he hopes his listeners will feel is left as an exercise to the reader.