Your Very Own Meditator (Nov, 1970)

Escape from the pressures of modern life … Relax in contemplation after building

Your Very Own Meditator

By KEN ISAACS – PS Design Consultant

“I vant to be alone.” When Greta Garbo made her often-quoted remark, years ago, it may have had a deeper meaning than escape from pursuing newsmen. Everybody occasionally wants to be alone. We all need privacy to renew ourselves for the fast pace of modern living. As old as mankind, this inner need is today more urgent than ever before.

Mohandas Gandhi was perhaps this century’s outstanding exponent of aloneness—of personal meditation. Gandhi’s inspiration came in part from our own Henry David Thoreau, who fled to the natural solitude of Walden Pond. And Thoreau was a real soul brother of our western man of the mountains, naturalist John Muir.

But perhaps the best expression of this inner need—the one that moved me to design the Popular Science Meditator—comes from the cultural historian and critic, Lewis Mumford. In his book, The Conduct of Life, Mumford speculates that, ideally, each of us has two lives: our public life of daily activity—earning a living, raising a family—plus a private life created within our thoughts as we examine and evaluate our actions.

It is Mumford’s contention that if each of us fully realized that every minute of our lives that “escapes reflection” is gone forever, we’d make provision for that “second life”—provision that would encourage us to slow down and follow up our day-today pursuits with regular meditation.

Mumford actually anticipated my Meditator design when he called for a form that would give this second life shape: a specific time and place for contemplative withdrawal—preferably even a special structure devoted to the purpose. Inspired by this idea, I designed my Meditator.

This project was conceived to make it easier for all of us to satisfy our need for occasional moments of private contemplation. Enter the Meditator and surround yourself with the graphics which cover its walls, and something begins to happen to you almost at once.

It’s difficult to predict, but you may find the sensation akin to that mystical communion with nature that you experience when alone in a forest—or the sense of peace you feel in an empty cathedral. Or you may develop sudden insights as you study the picture-fragments of your world—and be swept by the conviction that you’re “getting it all together” at last.

Far back into history. For the design of the Meditator, I’ve gone to the ancient Greeks and borrowed one of the polyhedrons they first visualized— the 12-sided dodecahedron, each face of which is a perfect pentagon. The Pythagoreans called it the “atomic building block of the Universe.”

Although the structure is simple to build, the secret of its effectiveness lies in the preparation of those graphics inside. You create them from pictures cut from popular magazines-pictures of any subjects you wish, but pictures to which you have a strong response. The random assemblage of such pictures is a technique I developed some years ago and which Look magazine christened “pholage”—a word coined from “photo” and “collage” (an art work pasted up from scraps).

The point of a pholage is to confront the viewer with immediate access to a far greater variety of visual “information” than he could obtain by leafing through a magazine, page by page. Many experiments have proven my theory that such a confrontation expands the consciousness. The viewer begins to see unique relationships between seemingly isolated incidents.

The experience can be eye-opening; no two people respond the same way to an identical pholage—and no two people will assemble duplicate collages from identical materials.

The fun, then, in making your personal Meditator, is double: First you create 11 pholages (only the access panel is left bare), then discover the unexpected cross-referencing when you wrap yourself in the assembled panels. Beyond that, you’ll be able to compare responses with your friends. And when you feel you’ve exhausted the potential of a given assembly, it’s easy to paste new pictures over the old.

I think you’ll be surprised by the new perspectives you’ll get toward the world about you, and your own part in it. I’ll soon be taking the Meditator with me (knocked down, it fits into a station wagon or sedan) on a college lecture tour as part of my demonstration of design technique. Teachers who have had an advance look at the – Meditator feel that—with changeable panels—it could be utilized in schools as a teaching environment. [Editor's note: College groups interested in booking Isaacs to speak should write him in care of Popular Science. ] A breeze to build. When you go to the lumber yard for the 3/8″ plywood, see if they’ll saw the 4-by-8 panels in half for you. Four-foot squares are easier to handle.

After you’ve cut all the pentagons as illustrated, clamp them into two groups of six and lay out the 1/4″ holes along the edges. To bore these holes accurately, it’s best to use an accessory stand with your portable drill. The distance from the edge should match the holes in the corner angles you buy. Spread one of the angles to an accurate 117 degrees, checking with a protractor, then use it as a template for the other 89.

Give all wood parts a coat of enamel undercoat. When this is dry and smoothed with fine sandpaper, apply a good semigloss enamel finish to the outside faces and all edges. For a decorative effect, paint adjacent panels contrasting colors and paint the feet to match or contrast.

Applying the pholage. Once you’ve gathered your magazine photos, you may want to experiment with one of the spray adhesives now on the market—although they’re expensive. My own method is simple, and results in a nice flat adhesion to the undercoated plywood.

Mix nonstaining cellulose wallpaper paste slightly heavier than recommended. Put clean water in a flat pan and pull each picture through it before applying paste liberally to the back with a soft brush and a light touch. Use the same brush to put paste on the panel where the picture will be located. The panel should be leaning against the wall in a nearly vertical position when you take the picture by the two top corners and place it.

Occasionally ink will run and a clipping must be discarded, but if you keep that light touch I mentioned, this won’t be frequent. You’ll find that the two paste-coated surfaces attract each other so a picture almost places itself. Avoid major wrinkles, but don’t try to shift clippings much once they adhere.

You may be dismayed at the puckered look of just-applied pictures, but they’ll flatten overnight. The purpose of the wetting is to allow the paper to shrink to the panel. Experiment on a scrap of plywood to gain confidence and proficiency before tackling the big pentagons.

Assemble with the hardware (all wingnuts go outside) and you’re ready to crawl in for meditation. You’ll quickly understand what Garbo meant and why Mumford championed the second life of contemplation.

17 comments
  1. Michael Patrick says: April 22, 20088:26 am

    Sweet Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi!! …. the 70′s were messed-up!

  2. Myles says: April 22, 20088:29 am

    “Time to quit playing fort, honey, dinners ready.”

  3. Jim A. says: April 22, 200811:50 am

    Personally I prefer Microhome Ken came up with a few year later (also documented in Popular Science) An 8′ almost-cube on tetrahedral Lunar module like legs.

  4. Doctor Bedlam says: April 22, 200812:35 pm

    Wow. Every Dungeons and Dragons player’s dream — your own giant twelve-sider to play fort in…

  5. popedale says: April 22, 20081:11 pm

    I believe I’d be meditating on what an intense waste of time making this uncomfortable seatless d12 has been. And why the man of the house didn’t fill it with pr0n

  6. rsterling78 says: April 22, 20087:50 pm

    In the initial picture, the man’s left hand appears to be missing. I guess he should have left the saw work for the dodecahedron to someone more experienced.

  7. Thundercat says: April 22, 20088:54 pm

    Nowhere in the directions does it say anything about lighting. I’m thinking its gonna be way too dark in there to see your pholages!

    …and “can be quickly disassembled”. Ummm, I think we have different ideas of quickly.

  8. jayessell says: April 23, 20086:50 am

    If I was to do that today:
    La-Z-Boy
    42″ HDTV
    17″ WiFi Laptop
    Beverage cooler.

  9. Neil Russell says: April 23, 20087:10 am

    I held on to this article for years after it came out, I was sure I was going to build one of these things, but I was going to line it with space pictures.
    Of course I was 9 when I got the magazine and the concept fascinated me until I was about 14

  10. Chris Leonard says: April 24, 200812:42 pm

    Say what you want about how kooky this might be, but the man did design a number of projects that were bare-bones practical and simple enough for any sap with hand tools to build. Does anyone know if Mr. Isaacs is still alive?

  11. merpymerp says: April 28, 20086:51 pm

    My entire room looks like that meditation thing. Just staple things to the walls. That’s what I do =D

  12. A.Alaalas says: April 28, 200810:32 pm

    I need this, but with soundproofing so I can scream my head off without the neighbors complaining. They have been.

  13. rob says: May 1, 200810:57 pm

    That dude is dogging his lady. She’s all, “Honey come to bed with me now. I want to give you some sweet lovin…” And he’s all, “Dolores, I just haven’t been right since I wasn’t able to satisfy you properly the other night. I need some alone time to pout.”

  14. swift_gun says: June 10, 20082:01 pm

    yeah it would be more appealing with more floorspace, but if you were just using it as an isolation like chamber for whatever, it would be great just as it is, maybe a few shelves and speakers. I’m sure the design allows for a bigger ratio if you wanna get away from the drunk houseguests in the other room and hoard the good stuff. I like this thing.

  15. Lou says: November 13, 200810:54 am

    What a perfect 1970-era home project! An inner-space capsule for navigating the terra incognita of one’s navel. Other possible uses: 1.) A private home telephone booth for your AT&T Videophone. 2.) Evocative of H.G. Wells’ cavorite sphere from his classic sci-fi novel, “The First Men in the Moon” (1901). I’d add Victorian-era style instrumentation, clock, Ruhmkorff coil lamps, rope ladder, diving suit and helmet, elephant gun, Union Jack, and porthole with a cool view of the approaching Moon!

  16. jayessell says: November 13, 200810:31 pm

    Lou…
    Victorian style Sci-Fi is currently referred to as”SteamPunk”.

    May I recommend
    http://www.girlgeniuson…

    Mad Scientist style goggles available at the giftshop.
    http://studiofoglio.com…

  17. Lou says: November 18, 20084:02 pm

    Steampunk? How awful. I don’t like the term so I choose not to use it.

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