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Pataphysics; what the fuck?

License Python version Purpose Qualification

a unique imaginary solution to the absence of problems

Description is a poetic search engine, no more, no less.

Academic Background

The system described and shown on this site is part of a PhD project entitled Algorithmic Meta-Creativity by Fania Raczinski. The doctoral thesis describing this project can be found at

This 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.

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.

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.


  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.

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


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

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. The other two options show the results either sorted by their source or by the algorithm by which they were generated.


I highly recommend experiencing the project on rather than installing from the source.

Quarantine 2020 Updates

Python 3.8 update --- March 2020

  • assumes you have python 3.8 installed
  • create virtualenv with python -m venv NAME see venv doc
  • get newest versions of reqs pip install -r requirements.txt


Virtualenv is recommended but not required. If you don't want to use it, skip steps 1, 2 and 3.

  1. install Virtualenv
  2. create a virtual environment python -m venv venv
  3. activate virtual environment venv\scripts\activate
  4. install Python 2.7
  5. install dependencies pip install -r requirements.txt

Steps to run and stop

  1. activate virtual environment venv\scripts\activate
  2. start project server python
  3. open browser on
  4. enjoy the site
  5. stop project server Ctrl + c
  6. deactivate virtual env deactivate

You can also start a Waitress production server with python, which starts the site on


The site is split into 3 parts: text, image and video search. Results are displayed in various formats, one of which is the Queneau style poetry (see gif below).

Queneau poem

Text search requires 1 keyword to produce results, whereas image and video search can handle multiple search terms.


Fania Raczinski can be found at Enquiries about this project can be sent to



This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, PO Box 1866, Mountain View, CA 94042, USA.


This work was completed at De Montfort University in Leicester, UK under the supervision of Prof. Hongji Yang, Prof. Andrew Hugill, Prof. Sophie Smith and Prof. Jim Hendler.