Storms in Nature and in the Human Experience - Part 3 - Visual Representation of the Storm


In previous articles, we looked into the symbol and metaphor of the Storm, as it appears in Primary Scenes.

In the first part, we looked at storms in nature, to get a grounding in the real-world phenomena. We saw how currents and constraints, drive the emergence of form, from otherwise formless air and water. We came to understand that storms in nature, are just a way for a concentration of energy, to be dissipated efficiently. In the process, we get all the wonderful and terrifying aspects that come along with nature’s storms.

In the second part, we looked at the metaphor of storms in the human experience. We saw how the electrochemical activity in the brain, can be viewed as having storm like properties in various states. We discussed how narratives in the mind, come to represent the semantic1 content, we experience as storms about the people, places, and events, in our lives. Furthermore, we also looked into how storms can be used to characterize collective properties of society, especially in times of war.

In this piece, we will spend some time looking, specifically, at the visual representation of the Storm in Primary Scenes. Hopefully, it provides some insight into why the Storm is such a powerful symbol, and what it represents.

Visual Representations of the Storm in Primary Scenes

If there is one characteristic that defines humans, and the human experience beyond any other, except for insanity, it would be symbolism. All jokes aside, we are a symbolic species, more than we are anything else.

What this means, is that humans do not merely live in a world of objects and events, rather, we live in a world of symbols. A red rose on the 14th of February, doesn’t mean anything, but we have decided it symbolizes love. Black clothes and long faces don’t have to mean anything, but in the west, we have decided they symbolize respect for the dead (this is not the case in some other cultures). A pine tree and glass of sweet milk doesn’t mean anything, but we decided it means the holiday season. The markings or pixels on this page don’t mean anything, but Webster’s dictionary would have you think otherwise. Perhaps, most important, the very thoughts in our minds are possibly just meaningless ripples, in some empty underlying awareness, that is devoid of meaning entirely2.

This may seem strange at first, but it’s just the nature of symbols. We take one thing, and use it to suggest another, which is not the thing itself. Life is like that, so Primary Scenes is like that.

We use one thing, to refer to another, which is not the thing itself.

Let’s see how that works for the visual representation of the Storm.

The Symbol

Like all the symbols in Primary Scenes, the Storm symbol, compresses a lot of information into a stripped down, minimal design. Here are some of the key elements that went into creating the Storm symbol.

The Spiral

Probably the most identifiable aspect of the Storm symbol, is that it is a spiral. Without even thinking about it, the depiction of the Storm as a spiral, already brings some concepts to mind.

The spiral as a generic shape, apart from its use in Primary Scenes, already creates a sense of being pulled in, and perhaps even trapped. Unlike, say, a square, a spiral already suggests motion and change, in a way that most other simple shapes or graphic symbols, do not.

Going a bit deeper into the use of the spiral, we can see that unlike most other shapes or symbols, the spiral indicates motion, within itself. Further, this self-contained motion, appears to accelerate the further one follows the spiral inward.

Stepping back to look at the larger context, we can see that these kinds of spiral patterns that are manifested by storms in nature, are driven by energy flowing through currents, that become constrained in a particular region.

Taking that concept of energy flows being constrained within a particular region, lends itself naturally to the metaphor of storms in the mind and body. When one experiences rage or depression etc., we can consider this to be a flow of energy currents, constrained within the region of the body and mind. Just like the graphic of a spiral, and spiral storms in nature, storms in the mind and body have an inward motion, that tightens and accelerates as they go further in.

The spiral is also a graphic symbol, and a concept, that has this strange quality in which it grasps “itself”, and yet paradoxically, there is nothing for “it” to grasp. It is merely a coiled trajectory, no more substantial than a straight line, and yet it seems utterly different.

We can see this in the human experience, in the way that being in the Storm, requires us to have this kind of inward, self-referential grasping and “coiling”. We take it for granted, but this does not really seem to have a basis for existing. Upon closer inspection, you can realize that the self grasping of the Storm, can only be a narrative representation. A figment, trying to “pull itself” off the “page” so to speak, and into some more substantial and permanent form, it can never obtain. This is like the famous M. C. Escher lithograph “Drawing Hands” (1948), which depicts two hands sketching each other, as if they got caught mid-way, in their attempt to become real hands, and remained half stuck on the page. This is evocative of the way that storms in nature emerge as forms, from formless collections of air and water, driven by energy flowing through currents, around a “hollow” center. In yet another similarity between storms in nature and the Storm, of the human experience, both are at the height of their power, precisely when they are dissipating and destroying themselves, the fastest.

So, you see, in this metaphor, the “eye” of a storm, is the “I” of the “Storm”.

Off-kilter Coils

When looking at the classic / original version of the Storm spiral symbol, we can notice something different about it from many other depictions. There is an off-kilter aspect, to the way it coils around itself.

It has a subtle sense of dipping and wobbling, as you trace from its outermost starting point, to its innermost coil3.

Why is it like that?

One of the most important aspects of designing the symbols for Primary Scenes in general, is that I wanted to make sure they always felt dynamic, even as static images. One way this is done across all symbols, is varying the thickness of lines, so there is constantly change, regardless of which way your eyes run across the symbols.

In the case of the Storm symbol, there was an extra element that I didn’t know I was missing, until I saw it. Initially, the Storm symbol, was depicted as a conventional spiral, meaning that even with the varying line thickness, it had more consistent spacing and alignment between the coils (more like an “Archimedean” spiral than a logarithmic spiral). While this looked “fine”, it just didn’t feel quite right.

One day, I did a vector drawing of the Storm spiral in an app on my iPad Mini 2, called “Graphic”. This was at a time, when most people did not consider iPads to be useful for doing any legitimate productive or design-based work. Coming from a background of using Photoshop and Final Cut on powerful computers, I must admit that I had my doubts as well. That said, there is a saying that “the best tool, is the one you have with you”. This is something that would be proven true again and again, during the process of creating Primary Scenes. I didn’t always have the MacBook Pro with me, I wasn’t always in front of a large second monitor to lay things out, but 99% of the time I had the iPad Mini. So, this is what I used for the vast majority, of the initial design work for Primary Scenes. Keep this in mind when pursuing your own projects and dreams. The best tools are the ones you have with you, whenever it’s time to work. For, if your tools are always with you, then it's always time, to work on advancing your dreams, one step closer to reality.

At the time of creating the Storm symbol, I was not using an Apple Pencil or any other kind of “smart stylus”. Instead, if you can believe it, I was using a simple rubber tipped, capacitive stylus from Wacom. I had gotten pretty good at drawing and writing on the iPad Mini this way, but it was not perfect. So, when I started drawing the vector shape for the Storm spiral, it came out a bit imprecise, and off-kilter. I could have easily just corrected the shape and made it look more consistent. I also could have just taken various stock vector spirals to really have the “perfect” spiral, but it turned out that’s not what felt best.

That off-kilter, wobbly trajectory of the spiral would eventually become a key aspect of the Storm symbol. It was communicating something very subtle that had to be spontaneously captured, rather than created from top-down foresight.

So, in this case, it turned out that the “bug” of an imprecise drawing method, lead to the “feature”, of communicating a disconcerting instability, that is so crucial to the Storm symbol in Primary Scenes.

Sometimes, you only know what works, when you see it.


One of the distinguishing features of the Storm symbol, is that it has much more of a tilted or shifted perspective than the other symbols, in their original form. This may not be noticeable at first glance, but you can see it if you focus on that specific aspect compared to the other symbols.

So, why is the Storm symbol at such a shifted perspective relative to the other symbols, and why isn’t that shift immediately noticeable?

It’s important to consider both questions at once because the answer to one, is also the answer to the other.

The other symbols in Primary Scenes, in the original form, are presented in an almost straight-on perspective. This means that when you look at original style (sometimes called “Classic”) symbols in Primary Scenes, the symbols are generally depicted as if they were directly in front of you, on a flat plane. This is a style of presentation that tends to work well in modern, minimal design. You can see this used in many of the icons for our favorite apps, as well as in typography that is used in digital type fonts.

If you think about a spectrum encompassing different degrees of detailed representation, you can imagine plain text letters on one side, and actual 3D objects in the world, on the other side. Symbols, especially those in Primary Scenes, are somewhere in between plain text characters, and full 3D objects. There is a trade-off between making the symbols, super minimal and simple, and on the other hand, giving the symbols enough detail to make sure they communicate the weight of what is being suggested.

There is an additional element to consider that is a fairly unique characteristic of Primary Scenes. These symbols not only have to work on their own, individually, but crucially, they must also work as a whole set, when viewed together.

The Storm symbol, could have worked without the perspective shift, as a traditional flat depiction of a spiral, but only if it was viewed independently from the other symbols. In particular, the Scene that the Storm symbol is a part of, The Inner Landscape, is actually designed not only to convey the concept of a landscape, but to actually “feel” like a minimal depiction of a landscape in nature.

Once you understand this, you see that the Storm is in a bit of a unique position. When combined with the Land and Sky symbols, it would not make sense to be looking straight down into the eye of the Storm. It wouldn’t make visual sense, relative to the Land and Sky symbols, which give you an almost dead on perspective, when looking towards the horizon. As a result, the Storm symbol, is depicted with a perspective shift, to indicate the depth of looking “into” the symbol, and over the Storm, towards the distant horizon.

People generally do not notice this unique perspective shift of the Storm symbol, for the very reason that the Sky and Land symbols, are implying that the Storm must in some sense be “in front” of them. Our eyes and brains naturally get this suggested perspective, so it seems completely ordinary and expected, even though on closer inspection, it has a significant perspective shift, relative to the other symbols.

The Color

Like all the Scene symbols in Primary Scenes, the Storm has a characteristic color. All the symbols of a particular Scene will have the same color, as this is one of the main visual cues that links the Scenes together, from the separate symbols.

The Storm is a part of the Inner Landscape Scene, which is blue. Naturally, this implies that the Storm symbol must also be blue. This is not very surprising.

What may be more interesting, is how the Landscape Scene came to be blue, in the first place. Here the Storm symbol played a major role.

In some sense, the Scenes could potentially be any colors, but there are certain colors that make more sense than others. This was especially true, once the color scheme itself, became not only a matter of aesthetics, but also a channel for carrying information and meaning, itself.

In summary, once it became clear that each Scene would have its own color, and that they would all be primary colors (from the RGB color model), things started to fall into place. The fact that both the Sky and the Storm, were in the Landscape Scene, made it a natural fit, for blue.

The Shade

The Storm has the characteristic shade of all the symbols of the “Lockdown” level, which is the darkest shade used. This shade not only darkens the Storm symbol, but actually gives the Storm its unique bluish grey appearance.

This unique combination of the blue Scene color, and the darkest shade, gives the Storm a unique visual signature, that is identifiable even without the use of the symbol itself.

Closing Thoughts

In this piece, we covered the visual representation of the Storm and its use as a symbol to convey metaphor and meaning in Primary Scenes.

We saw how the spiral symbol, is used to convey the sense of inward motion, that accelerates towards the center. This was evocative of both storms in the natural world, and storms in the minds and bodies, of the human experience.

We covered why the Storm is blue, and how it took on the darkest shade. We learned how, collectively the color and shade, give the Storm its own distinct look and feel, unique among the other symbols.

Now you have some additional background on the visual representation of the Storm symbol. This enables you to look across the whole of Primary Scenes, and spot various features and themes, in places, and in ways, that most people won’t be able to notice.

This is also a good microcosm of life, and the importance of being a sharp observer, and a lifelong learner. If you do this over time, you will start to see things, and understand aspects of the world, that most people do not comprehend. It’s not so much a matter of raw intelligence alone. It’s more about learning to see what is literally in front of your eyes. At the same time, it’s about seeing in symbols, towards what is suggested, beyond the thing itself. The final aspect involves learning to integrate both views, the literal and the suggestive, into a more wholistic perspective. This is at the very core of what Primary Scenes is all about. Developing and sharing this way of perceiving and interacting in the world, is the work of a lifetime, that never ends.

The Storm symbol, is a good place to start.

  1. This distinction is being made as the semantic content concerns our experiences and narratives of the storm. In contrast, the syntactic content is the electrochemical activity, that could be measured objectively, without any subjective experience. ↩︎
  2. Whatever the underlying basis of our human experience is, I suggest that if it contains any semantic content, that would not be something humans can interpret or make sense of directly. We can be confident that even if it did have anything similar to “meaning”, it would be so utterly removed from the meaning humans evolved to intuit, that it would be beyond our comprehension. Relative to our human experience, it would be utterly meaningless, yet it could still be profound. It might be like static on an old television set, that came from the cosmic microwave background. A jumble of of nonsense to us, but a postcard from the Big Bang, in reality. ↩︎
  3. On a technical note, the apparent “wobbling” of the Storm spiral, can be thought of as plotting a graph that is shifting between an Archimedean spiral, and a logarithmic spiral. That is not the reason for the look of the Storm symbol, but it was something I noticed when researching different types of spirals. It just turns out that the combination of those 2 spiral types, seems to approximate what the Storm spiral looks like. ↩︎