The Meanings of the Wind aided by AI (17 May)

Visualization of a software for the analysis of mentions of the word "wind" on the internet, a project by Haseeb Ahmed in collaboration with Alexandr Shvets of the Knowledge Based Natural Language Interaction lab at the University Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona.

My decade of working with the wind has entailed research into its historical, linguistic, religious, and symbolic meanings throughout history from the ancient to modern periods. This broad reading aggregate into a hypothesis: it seems that in the premodern period wind was associated with vitality, divine breath, and creation. Many creation myths referred to the breath of god bringing existence into being as Ruach from the Hebrew of the Old Testament or Om in Vedic texts. The word for soul Nafs and breathing Nafas in Arabic are linked in its tri-syllabic structure. 

However as we enter the modern period it starts to seem that air and wind’s meanings shift. They become a source of instability and chaos. In horror films they constantly forebode atrocity while being deemed “just the wind.” In political literature like that of Chicago’ Weather Underground of the 1960’s change in weather takes on revolutionary connotations. 

Together with Alexandr Shvets of the Knowledge Based Natural Language Interaction lab, at the University Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, I tested this hypothesis. We trained an AI to search for mentions of the words wind, air, and ambience, first in Wikipedia and then beyond. We utilized models of complex syntax evaluation developed at UPF by Shvets and the research group he belongs to. Thousands of entries returned and we trained an AI to recognize four different entities. They are Negative Emotion, Chaotic Weather, Positive Emotion, Pleasant Weather and began to chart correlation in which these entity cases correlated with one another. During this time I also started to hypothesize that wind and air constitute a special kind of metaphor in which the literal function of the wind is transposed into a literary context without any change in form but in meaning. I was inspired by Urban Planner Emiel Arendts’ Talk for Rib Rotterdam which I organized as part of my project Taming the Horror Vacui in June 2020. I could summarize his talk as stating that “the modern city creates its own turbulence.” One can see here how loaded the wind can be. We hope to claim a special class of metaphor. 

Our work on this is still in progress. It is supported also by the Mindspaces project funded by the EU Parliaments STARTS initiative.

Contributed by: Haseeb Ahmed