Interpretation of the Diagnostic Metrics

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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.

[edit] What Is Known

The names of the Diagnostic Metrics symbols were given on the Tucson Diagnostics web site.

There are 18 symbols in the Diagnostic Metrics and 18 songs on the album Artificial Heart.

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 Control Chaos Ruin
Rebirth
Freedom
2. Artificial Heart Rebirth Nostalgia Freedom
Confidence
Oblivion
3. Nemeses Destiny Possibility Control
Distrust
Commitment
4. The World Belongs to You Glory Oblivion Commitment
Destiny
Ruin
5. Today With Your Wife Betrayal Commitment Nostalgia
Surrender
Ruin
6. Sucker Punch Possibility Destiny Chaos
Ruin
Freedom
7. Glasses Commitment Betrayal Struggle
Glory
Chaos
8. Je Suis Rick Springfield Nostalgia Rebirth Glory
Struggle
Captivity
9. Alone at Home Captivity Freedom Commitment
Surrender
Ruin
10. Fraud Struggle Surrender Captivity
Possibility
Betrayal
11. Good Morning Tucson Chaos Control Captivity
Struggle
Destiny
12. Now I Am An Arsonist Oblivion Glory Nostalgia
Surrender
Freedom
13. Down Today Freedom Captivity Rebirth
Control
Glory
14. Dissolve Ruin Success Captivity
Betrayal
Glory
15. Nobody Loves You Like Me Surrender Struggle Distrust
Oblivion
Control
16. Still Alive Success Ruin Betrayal
Rebirth
Confidence
17. Want You Gone Distrust Confidence Freedom
Surrender
Nostalgia
18. The Stache Confidence Distrust Success
Glory
Control

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.

[edit] 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:

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 Success
  • Its Metric B symbol, or opposite (or nemesis) theme, is Ruin Ruin (which is the Metric A symbol for Dissolve)
  • Its Metric C, D, and E symbols, or secondary themes, are Betrayal Betrayal, Rebirth Rebirth, Confidence Confidence

[edit] 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:

The black Level 3 Participant shirt shows a similar arrangement of symbols and arrows:

Consider also the Decision Mechanism in the Level 4 Access Kit. There are four symbols on each side, and the symbols on the same side seem to be either all positive or all negative:

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 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.

[edit] More Instances

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