pata. physics. search


Pataphysics is the science of imaginary solutions.
Pataphysics is the science of the particular.
Pataphysics is the science of the laws governing exceptions and contradictions.
Pataphysics is to metaphysics as metaphysics is to physics.
Pataphysics describes a universe supplementary to this one.
Pataphysics is a science with an aesthetic sensibility. (Brotchie)
Pataphysics sets the parameters for the contemporary relationship between science and poetry. (Bök)
Pataphysics is a huge and elaborately constructed hoax. (Ionesco)
Pataphysics is the knowledge of the specific and irreducible, the opposite of physics. (Daumal)
Pataphysics is a systematic, reasoned displacement of perception and logic. (David)

(Mis-)Understanding Pataphysics

Pataphysics is perhaps best (mis)understood by looking at some of its recurring themes, such as exceptions, syzygies, anomalies, clinamen, antinomies, contradictions, equivalents and imaginaries.


The term clinamen was first coined by Lucretius when he needed to name the aleatory swerve of atoms in their descent described by Epicurus. Approximately two millennia later, Alfred Jarry resurrected this obscured concept as a key principle of pataphysics. Its influences can be found in the Situationists’ détournement, the Dadaists’ ready-mades and Oulipo’s verbal games, and so on. Lucretius had already linked the indeterministic property of the clinamen to free will and the Oulipo interprets it as a chance to escape certain restrictions given that any initial constraint are still followed (just as the atoms don’t randomly start to ascend but they swerve). Experimental poet Christian Bök has called the clinamen the smallest possible aberration that can make the greatest possible difference.

One good example of a clinamen in action is Jarry’s merdre (the very first word in his Ubu play). He squeezed an extra ‘r’ into the French word ‘merde’ (meaning shit) and translates into something like ‘pshit’. By rendering a useful (if rude) word useless in this way, he introduced a pataphysical sense of creativity that persists: the word still exerts a fascination today.


A syzygy both surprises and confuses. The concept originally comes from the field of astronomy where it denotes the alignment of three celestial bodies. In a pataphysical context it usually describes a conjunction of things, something unexpected and surprising. Unlike serendipity, a simple chance encounter, the syzygy has a more scientific purpose. A typical instance is the pun, which Jarry called the syzygy of words. Next to being intentionally funny, puns demonstrate a clever use (or abuse) of grammar, syntax, pronunciation and/or semantics, often taken to a quite scientific level, such that without understanding of what is said and what the intended meaning is, the humour of the pun might be lost.


The antinomy, in a pataphysical sense, is the mutually incompatible or paradox. Mutually contradictory opposites can and do co-exist in the pataphysical universe.

Alfred Jarry

Alfred Jarry (1873-1907) is without doubt the prime exponent of pataphysics. The word pataphysics was invented by him and some of his schoolmates in France in the 1880s and Jarry elaborated on that initial idea, both in his celebrated Ubu plays and in his novels and speculative writings. He has been described as a poet, dramatist, novelist, journalist, artist, eccentric, alcoholic and sometimes even a lunatic.

Technical details

In short, the tool reads in a library of plaintext files, and creates an index (a dictionary type data structure storing the vocabulary of the whole corpus together with a list that contains all documents and positions of the term within the document in the vocabulary). There are two collections of texts to choose from, either the Faustroll corpus or the Shakespeare corpus at this point.

Index: {word1: [[fileA, posa], [fileB, posb], ...], word2: [[fileC, posc], [fileK, posk], ...], ... }

All texts in the corpus are read into memory and processed, for example any stopwords of the source language are removed.

Once a user submits a query, various important functions are triggered. First, the three patalgorithms are run to populate a list of results to be rendered.

Results: [(title, (pre, word, post), algorithm), ...]

Each algorithm pataphysicalises the original query term in its own way and looks for matches in the index.

Results are presented in one of three ways. The default is the poetry view. It displays 14 lines of text, each of which can be changed to another iff more results are available. This is heavily inspried by Raymond Queneau's 'Cent mille milliards de poèmes' (see also Basheau Poems). The other two options show the results either sorted by their source or by the algorithm by which they were generated.

List of dependencies

Python, Virtualenv, Pip, Flask, Jinja, NLTK, WordNet, FlickrAPI, GData, MicrosoftTranslator, and all relevant sub-dependencies.

Source Code

The code is available on Github (as it comes).


The Faustroll corpus is inspired by the library of 'equivalent books' from Alfred Jarry's book Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, 'Pataphysician.

  1. Alfred Jarry: Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, 'Pataphysician
  2. Edgar Allen Poe: Collected Works
  3. Cyrano de Bergerac: A Voyage to the Moon
  4. Saint Luke: The Gospel
  5. Leon Bloy: Le Desespere (French)
  6. Samuel Taylor Coleridge: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
  7. Georges Darien: Le Voleur (French)
  8. Marceline Desbordes-Valmore: Le Livre des Meres et des Enfants (French)
  9. Max Elskamp: Enluminures (French)
  10. Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian: Les Deux Billets (French)
  11. One Thousand and One Nights
  12. Christian Dietrich Grabbe: Scherz, Satire, Ironie und tiefere Bedeutung (German)
  13. Gustave Kahn: Le Conte de l'Or et Du Silence (French)
  14. Le Comte de Lautreamont: Les Chants de Maldoror (French)
  15. Maurice Maeterlinck: Aglavaine and Selysette
  16. Stephane Mallarme: Verse and Prose (French)
  17. Mendes: The Mirror and la Divina Aventure (English and Spanish)
  18. Homer: The Odyssey
  19. Josephin Peladan: Babylon
  20. Francois Rabelais: Gargantua and Pantagruel
  21. Jean de Chilra: L'Heure Sexuelle
  22. Henri de Regnier: La Canne de Jaspe
  23. Arthur Rimbaud: Poesies Completes (French)
  24. Marcel Schwob: Der Kinderkreuzzug (German)
  25. Alfred Jarry: Ubu Roi (French)
  26. Paul Verlaine: Poems
  27. Emile Verhaeren: Poems
  28. Jules Verne: A Journey to the Centre of the Earth

The Shakespeare corpus contains (*surprise surprise*) works by William Shakespeare.

  1. The Sonnets
  2. Alls Well That Ends Well
  3. The Tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra
  4. As You Like It
  5. The Comedy of Errors
  6. The Tragedy of Coriolanus
  7. Cymbeline
  8. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
  9. The First Part of King Henry the Fourth
  10. The Second Part of King Henry the Fourth
  11. The Life of Kind Henry the Fifth
  12. The First Part of Henry the Sixth
  13. The Second Part of Henry the Sixth
  14. The Third Part of Henry the Sixth
  15. King Henry the Eigth
  16. King John
  17. The Tragedy of Julius Caesar
  18. The Tragedy of King Lear
  19. Love's Labour's Lost
  20. The Tragedy of Macbeth
  21. Measure for Measure
  22. The Merchant of Venice
  23. The Merry Wives of Windsor
  24. A Midsummer Night's Dream
  25. Much Ado About Nothing
  26. The Tragedy of Othello, Moor of Venice
  27. King Richard the Second
  28. Kind Richard III
  29. The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet
  30. The Taming of the Shrew
  31. The Tempest
  32. The Life of Timon of Athens
  33. The Tragedy of Titus Andronicus
  34. The History of Troilus and Cressida
  35. Twelfth Night or What You Will
  36. The Two Gentlemen of Verona
  37. The Winter's Tale
  38. A Lover's Complaint

Confused still?

To understand this project is to not understand this project.

Why oh why...?

The system described and shown on this site was part of my PhD project:
‘Algorithmic Meta-Creativity’.
The doctoral thesis can be found on

My research involves studying human and computer creativity and how they are evaluated, the absurd pseudo philosophy pataphysics and its applications, and the development of creative exploratory search algorithms inspired by pataphysical concepts.

Part of this research has been described in a paper for the International Symposium on Creative Computing 2016 in Oxford, an article for the Digital Creativity journal in 2013, and I presented a paper at the Creativity & Cognition conference 2013 in Sydney.

There is a talk about 'The Pataphysics of the Future' given at the TDC at DMU in 2013 on Youtube and a more recent talk about the poetry aspect of the project at the Phoenix in Leicester as part of a Computer Arts Society talk from 2015.

A previous version of this prototype was used in the creation of an online opera entitled 'The Imaginary Voyage' and created in collaboration with The Opera Group, an award-winning, nationally and internationally renowned opera company. In particular, it was used to create the libretto for one of the virtual islands whose navigation provides the central storyline for the opera. This nicely demonstrates the paradox of uselessness as a concept, since the present purposely useless search tool has been quite useful here.

About me & Contact

My personal website is You can email me here.

This project is supervised by Prof. Hongji Yang, Prof. Andrew Hugill, Prof. Sophie Smith and Prof. Jim Hendler.