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{Monday, June 23, 2003}

lives of (th)robbing myth

Inca may have used knot computer code - Steve Connor - The Independent - 23 June 2003
Gary Urton, professor of anthropology at Harvard University, has re-analysed the complicated knotted strings of the Inca - decorative objects called khipu - and found they contain a seven-bit binary code capable of conveying more than 1,500 separate units of information.
... If Professor Urton is right, it means the Inca not only invented a form of binary code ... but they used it as part of the only three-dimensional written language. "They could have used it to represent a lot of information," he says. "Each element could have been a name, an identity or an activity as part of telling a story or a myth. It had considerable flexibility. I think a skilled khipu-keeper would have recognised the language. They would have looked and felt and used their store of knowledge in much the way we do when reading words."

The Quipu, an Incan Data Structure
"A quipu is an assemblage of colored knotted cotton cords... The colors of the cords, the way the cords are connected together, the relative placement of the cords, the spaces between the cords, the types of knots on the individual cords, and the relative placement of the knots are all part of the logical-numerical recording."
Marcia Ascher

Mathematics Elsewhere - An Exploration of Ideas Across Cultures
Through engaging examples of how particular societies structure time, reach decisions about the future, make models and maps, systematize relationships, and create intriguing figures, Marcia Ascher demonstrates that traditional cultures have mathematical ideas that are far more substantial and sophisticated than is generally acknowledged. Malagasy divination rituals, for example, rely on complex algebraic algorithms. And some cultures use calendars far more abstract and elegant than our own. Ascher also shows that certain concepts assumed to be universal - that time is a single progression, for instance, or that equality is a static relationship - are not. The Basque notion of equivalence, for example, is a dynamic and temporal one not adequately captured by the familiar equal sign. Other ideas taken to be the exclusive province of professionally trained Western mathematicians are, in fact, shared by people in many societies.

Charles C. Mann - Science Magazine - Cracking the Khipu Code
Knotted string communication, however anomalous to Euro-American eyes, has deep roots in Andean culture. Khipu were but one aspect of what Heather Lechtman, an archaeologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Center for Materials Research in Archaeology and Ethnology, describes as "a technological environment in which people solved basic engineering problems through the manipulation of fibers."
... But this grander view of khipu as written narrative also has its critics.
... Conklin, for instance, agrees that the khipu were charged with meaning, but he worries that the analogy to computer language may not fit. "The Andean concept of duality is different than ours," he says. Whereas each 1 or 0 in a binary display is completely independent, the Andean dualities "are like the ebb and flow of a tide: opposing, interacting aspects of a single phenomenon." In his view, understanding khipu will require finding "a way other than our independent zero and one to express Andean dualism." Still, he says, Urton's work "is the first attempt to push khipu forward since Leland Locke."

Code of the Quipu - William R. Corliss reports
"A quipu appears to the uninitiated as a meaningless jumble of strings. To an Inca quipu reader, though, the positioning and colors of the secondary and tertiary strings appended to the primary cord all have meaning. The knots along each string also convey messages. Quipus incorporated, in a sense, three-dimensional notation, as opposed to the two-dimensional text on this page."

Understanding Moore's Law

Concomitant Information from The Dawn of Magic
"Despite his extremely prudent approach, Professor John Alden Mason, Curator Emeritus of the Museum of American Antiquities of the University of Pennsylvania, does open a door to the realms of fantastic reality when, in his book The Ancient Civilization of Peru, he speaks about the Quipu. The Quipu are cords tied into complicated knots, and are a feature of Inca and pre-Inca civilizations. They appear to be a form of writing, and may have been used to express abstract ideas. One of the best known specialists in the matter, Nordenskjold, thinks that the Quipu were used for mathematical calculations, horoscopes, and various methods of foretelling the future. The problem is a vital one: there may be other means of registering thought than writing.
Let us take the matter further: the knot, on which Quipu is based, is considered by modern mathematicians to be one of the greatest mysteries. It is only possible in an odd number of dimensions; impossible in dimensions of even numbers - 4, 6, 2 - and the topologists have only been able to study the simplest knots. It is therefore not improbable that the Quipu may conceal knowledge that we do not yet possess.
Take another example: modern thinking on the nature of knowledge and the structure of the mind might be enriched by a study of the language of the Hopi ...
The really 'modern man', in the sense that Paul Morand and we ourselves understand the term, discovers that intelligence is a unity manifested in different structures, just as man's need for shelter is universal, expressed in a thousand different architectural forms."
The Morning of the Magicians - Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier (Mayflower, 1971)
Originally published in Paris by Editions Gallimard in 1960

Simon Patterson
"Best known for his reworking of the London Underground map, The Great Bear (1992) Simon Patterson makes art which centres around the playful subversion of familiar classification systems. He draws unexpected and extraordinary connections between people, facts and ideas by fusing recognisable visual forms with incongruous conceptual associations. That these achieve their own kind of legitimacy shakes our faith in common logic, opening the door to a universe governed by curiosity and imagination. Simon Patterson was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1996."

Narrative Threads: Accounting and Recounting in Andean Khipu
Edited by Jeffrey Quilter and Gary Urton
Preface by Jeffrey Quilter includes the comments
"Knotted strings, perhaps too reminiscent of macram� wall hangings, do not appeal to Western artistic tastes as do the brush strokes of a Maya scribe or limestone blocks carved as if they were butter. This point could be a departure for discussion of the whole issue of the Western distinction between art and craft, but it is more worthwhile to emphasize that khipu express their own form of beauty once one is familiar with them and that such beauty is in their tactility - an aesthetic realm severely underappreciated in the visually oriented West, where "Do not touch" signs are all too prevalent."

Humility 101 - Stephen S. Hall (New York Times, Sunday 1 December, 2002)
The ''standard model'' of the history of science locates its birth around 600 B.C. in ancient Greece, where the dramatis personae typically include Pythagoras, Empedocles, Democritus, Aristotle and other sages, who laid the modern foundation for math and the sciences. It was this foundation, buried during the Middle Ages, that was rediscovered during the Renaissance. What were the peoples of India, Egypt, Mesopotamia, sub-Saharan Africa, China and the Americas doing all this time?

String theorist
Thomas Cummins, Dumbarton Oaks Professor of the History of Pre-Columbian and Colonial Art, calls Urton's research "provocative."
"His work on khipus is at the cutting edge of trying to understand how the New World's largest empire was able to run without the symbolic tools we associate with empirical control, that is, a system of writing or glyphs," says Cummins.

Slashdot - Incas Used Binary?
The data is not in the string but in the joins between strings.

A Slinky That Lights the Sky
"NASA's Polar satellite has revealed one of the power sources behind the gossamer glow of the aurora: Alfv�n waves, oscillations in Earth's magnetic field that resemble the quivering of a Slinky toy."

Can We Understand Non-Linear History?
"If a poet has any obligation toward society, it is to write well. Being in the minority, he has no other choice. Failing this duty, he sinks into oblivion. Society, on the other hand, has no obligation toward the poet. A majority by definition, society thinks of itself as having other options than reading verses, no matter how well written. Its failure to do so results in its sinking to that level of locution at which society falls easy prey to a demagogue or a tyrant. This is society's own equivalent of oblivion."
Joseph Brodsky

December 20, 2002, Science Friday - Hour Two: Ancient Roots of Modern Science
You've probably heard about the math and science of the ancient Greeks. Some ancient scientific thinkers, including Aristotle and Ptolemy, are well known. But what about people and ideas from the rest of the world?

Anthony Grafton - Science Across Cultures
"Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, medieval Islam and the Meso-American peoples devised astonishing mathematical techniques and created amazing technologies. But it's ridiculous to say that modern scholars and teachers have ignored these. For the last century at least, historians of science have been hard at work, recreating from cuneiform texts the mathematics and astronomy of ancient Mesopotamia and retrieving from the massive textual and archaeological record the science and technology of China."

Andrew Hagen - Roots of science, non-Western and Western
"Many cultures have achieved knowledge, but few have managed to place one foot in front of the other, and to continually build in steps upon already existing knowledge. Moreover, many cultures achieved some measure of knowledge, and then lost that knowledge for one reason or another. This is tragedy. When the Incan library and the Alexandria library burned, the contributions of generations went up in smoke."

What is a khipu?
"A khipu consists, minimally, of a main cord from which pendant cords hang. (Pendants of pendants are called subsidiaries.) Knots tied in the pendant cords and other modifications of the pendant are the commonest data-bearing or significant features. Inka functionaries used cord records for censuses, inventories, tribute records, and documents about transactions; Spanish courts also accepted them as documents of record in early colonial times."

Mystery of the Quipu
Quipu means knot in Quechua, the native language of the Andes.
Archeologists are now suggesting that authors used the quipu to compose and preserve their epic poems and legends.

Tuesday, November 5, 2002
"History is generally presented as an orderly progression, with, for instance, the Jews inventing monotheism and Christians inventing codified damnation and salvation. The history of Zoroastrianism and the content of the Dead Sea Scrolls suggest that things are not so simple. Similarly, we were taught in elementary school that everyone thought the Earth was flat when Columbus set sail in 1492. Yet Dante, writing nearly two-hundred years before that, very precisely and accurately described the Earth as a sphere. History is not an orderly accumulation of knowledge. We as a race have actually discarded things that we once knew."
Gnosis - Morgan N. Sandquist

On transcranial magnetic stimulation
"At the beginning of the 19th century, the splendidly named Gottfried Mind became famous all over Europe for the amazing pictures he drew of cats."

non-linear narrative meta-blog
heckler and coch

Could brain damage, in short, actually make you brilliant?
Set words and phrases are not the swords of liberation

Poetry, art and architecture
Poems on the Underground has been copied by public transport systems in New York, San Francisco, Dublin, Paris, Stuttgart, Stockholm, Oslo and most recently Helsinki.

Brooke Singer - Against Data Determinism in a Networked World
"They Rule" utilizes the vast resources of the web by linking its data bits to other, outside web sites that offer more information and the possibility for further research by viewers. The network of meaning is ever-expanding through the web. Also "They Rule" has utilized the viral quality of the web for broad dissemination.

Mr Beck's Underground Map - Ken Garland
The London Underground�s wayfinding system is an extraordinary example of directional signage.

Anna Oliver - A reading of Simon Patterson's piece The Great Bear
"The Great Bear brings together layers of information and obfuscation, working as a map in that it enables the viewer to locate themselves in relationship to other 'things', but in this case the relationship is not with underground stations but with cultural icons."

Sculpture - Andrew Senior
This quipu takes the form of a map of the New York City subway system ...

Going Underground - What tourists [in London] really need is a real proportional geographical tube map. Then you can see just how close Covent Garden and Leicester Square stations really are!

Mark Glaser's Guide to the Blogosphere

CBC Radio - Quirks & Quarks - April 26, 2003
In his book, Lost Discoveries - The Ancient Roots of Modern Science, Teresi gives many examples of how the history of science should be rewritten, to acknowledge the unheralded breakthroughs from the non-European world.

Lost Crops of the Incas:
Little-Known Plants of the Andes with Promise for Worldwide Cultivation

Cache of Seal Impressions discovered in Gilund, India
Clay, nature's soft and plentiful sealant, has been used by people for millennia to keep containers closed. Seals, on the other hand ...

Signs of the Inka Khipu
In an age when computers process immense amounts of information by the manipulation of sequences of 1s and 0s, it remains a frustrating mystery how prehistoric Inka recordkeepers encoded a tremendous variety and quantity of data using only knotted and dyed strings. Yet the comparison between computers and khipu may hold an important clue to deciphering the Inka records. In this book, Gary Urton sets forth a pathbreaking theory that the manipulation of fibers in the construction of khipu created physical features that constitute binary-coded sequences ...

Lao Tzu - Tao Te Ching - Chapter 80
"A small country has fewer people.
Though there are machines that can work ten to a hundred times faster than man, they are not needed.
The people take death seriously and do not travel far.
Though they have boats and carriages, no one uses them.
Though they have armor and weapons, no one displays them.
Men return to the knotting of rope in place of writing.
Their food is plain and good, their clothes fine but simple, their homes secure;
They are happy in their ways.
Though they live within sight of their neighbors,
And crowing cocks and barking dogs are heard across the way,
Yet they leave each other in peace while they grow old and die."

Craig Tepper writes ... In Philosophical Investigations [Wittgenstein] suggested that it helped to picture language as a rope woven of many strands *none of which* ran its entire length ...

'Earliest writing' found in China
Signs carved into 8,600-year-old tortoise shells found in China may be the earliest written words, say archaeologists.

Static-Material Cultural Memory Media - Andreas Goppold
The use of plant and animal fibers accounts for the oldest cultural implements of humanity, which are likely to have co-originated with stone tools. The problem with proving this hypothesis is that as organic material, fibers usually haven't survived the time spans that stone tools endure. There are no one-million year old ropes and braidworks to be found in the fossil strata [475]. Just because of their durability, stone tools are the leitfossils of the paleolithic ...

William James Sidis - The Tribes and the States
"The weaving of wampum belts ... was a sort of writing by means of belts of colored beads, in which the various designs of beads denoted different ideas according to a definitely accepted system, which could be read by anyone acquainted with wampum language, irrespective of what the spoken language was. Records and treaties were kept in this manner, and individuals could write letters to one another in this way."

Reconceptualizing Educational Psychology: A Pragmatic Approach to Developments in Cognitive Science
In thought as in fiber, "the strength of the thread does not reside in the fact that some one fiber runs through its whole length, but in the overlapping of many fibers."
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1973, page 67.) This is similar to the "rope" metaphor used in James's Pragmatism (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus, 1991, page 64.) This may not be mere coincidence as Monk, in his Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius (New York: Free Press, 1990, page 478), reports that James is one of the few philosophers that Wittgenstein read and approved of.

Alibis and consistent lies - Jonathon Delacour
James Agee ... a spy, traveling as a journalist
Walker Evans ... a counter-spy, traveling as a photographer

The Future of Personal Computing
Who's Transforming Whom?
Kirk Kirksey says - "I'm going to repeat myself for emphasis. Transforming technology only occurs when the Aesthetics of Technology and the User Illusion are aligned."

Comic strips and cubism - Jonathan Jones
Many books have been written about the intellectual origins of Picasso's Cubism. Ancient Iberian sculptures, African masks, the philosophy of Bergson and even - although they knew nothing at the time of each other's work - Einstein's theory of relativity all help to understand the revolutionary transformation of visual experience that Picasso initiated in Paris in the years before the first world war.
But as Stein relates in The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas, there was another visual influence on which Picasso fed voraciously when she first knew him in Paris in 1906, when he was pushing towards the most revolutionary artistic discovery since the Renaissance: a comic strip called The Katzenjammer Kids.

Jim Lowe - The Katzenjammer Kids
"In the days before radio, television, computers, theme parks, and video games, mass popular entertainment was a new concept."

Techne & Psyche - perspectives on technoscience and the cultural psyche
According to physicist Alan Lightman, "once we observe an object, we cannot disentangle ourselves from it. The observer and observed are tied together in an inseparable knot."
Dolores Brien

Alan Lightman

"Chinese, as a written language, was born not as a means of communication between men, but as a way of consulting the gods. 'Should I make war on the neighbouring state or not?' 'Will I win the battle or not?' A king wrote these questions on a flat bone which was then pierced with a red-hot needle. The divine answer appeared in the cracks caused by the heat - one had to know how to read them."
Tiziano Terzani - A Fortune Teller Told Me: Earthbound Travels in the Far East
(Flamingo, 1998, page 8)

William Gibson - Up the Line
"The story of film begins around a fire, in darkness. Gathered around this fire are primates of a certain species, our ancestors, an animal distinguished by a peculiar ability to recognize patterns.
There is movement in the fire: embers glow and crawl on charcoal. Fire looks like nothing else. It generates light in darkness. It moves. It is alive.
The surrounding forest is dark. Is it the same forest our ancestors know by day? They can't be sure. At night it is another place, perhaps no place at all. The abode of the dead, of gods and demons and that which walks without a face. It is the self turned inside out. Without form, it is that on which our ancestors project the patterns their interestingly mutated brains generate."

Opening a vein - Mark Bernstein
It's time for weblogs to grow up, to move beyond their obsession with authenticity and to get over the panic that accompanies any hint that a weblog writer might not be exactly what they say they are. Who is?

Redreaming the Plain: an e-journal about sustainability
As Footscray poet/artist, Le Van Tai, writes: "Most people have only one birth and one death: one birth-time in childhood, one time of death in old age when the body returns to the earth and the spirit goes far away on a new journey. Refugees' experiences of living and dying are different ..."

The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain - Maria Rosa Menocal
"It is no exaggeration to say that what we presumptuously call 'Western' culture is owed in large measure to the Andalusian enlightenment ..."
Christopher Hitchens - The Nation

Vortal Crossroads
Series on Knots and Everything
One purpose of this series is to continue the exploration of many of the themes indicated in Volume 1. These themes reach out beyond knot theory into physics, mathematics, logic, linguistics, philosophy, biology and practical experience. All of these outreaches have relations with knot theory when knot theory is regarded as a pivot or meeting place for apparently separate ideas. Knots act as such a pivotal place. We do not fully understand why this is so. The Series represents stages in the exploration of this nexus.

Billy Bragg Underground Map

I Manifold
"When Faust, in a line immortalized among schoolmasters and greeted with a shudder of astonishment by the Philistine, says 'Two souls, alas, dwell in my breast!' he has forgotten Mephisto, and a whole crowd of other souls that he has in his breast likewise. The Steppenwolf, too, believes that he bears two souls (wolf and man) in his breast and even so finds his breast disagreeably cramped because of them. The breast and the body are indeed one, but the souls that dwell in it are not two, nor five, but countless in number. Man is an onion made up of a hundred integuments, a texture made up of many threads. The ancient Asiatics knew this well enough, and in the Buddhist Yoga an exact technique was devised for unmasking the illusion of the personality. The human merry-go-round sees many changes: the illusion that cost India the efforts of thousands of years to unmask is the same illusion that the West has laboured just as hard to maintain and strengthen. "
Hermann Hesse - Steppenwolf (Penguin, 1972, page 72)

Rube Goldberg Gallery
The unnecessary can also be the mother of invention

Olmec cylinder seal
"While some archaeologists question whether the artifacts actually bear writing, not merely symbols, von Nagy said a bird depicted on the excavated cylinder seal has lines leading to two logographs coming out of its beak. Like the bubble leading from a cartoon character�s head, those lines followed by the logographs indicate words, he said."

Virtual Logic - The Calculus of Indications

"There is an unconscious appositeness in the use of the word person to designate the human individual, as is done in all European languages: for persona really means an actor's mask, and it is true that no one reveals himself as he is; we all wear a mask and play a role."

The Clouds Should Know Me By Now: Buddhist Poet-Monks of China
"Beyond a presentation of poems about the natural world, this collection offers possible examples of what in Chinese has been called shih-shu, "rock-and-bark poetry." In 1703 one of the poets translated here assumed this term for a nom de plume, and craftily hid his identity behind it. It is uncertain how widely the phrase circulated, but shih-shu were colloquially written, mildly irreverent poems, not simply skeptical of city-folk hustle or merely celebratory of reclusive hours spent in savage wilderness settings. Rather than being brushed on silk or paper, shih-shu were written on scraps of bamboo, scratched into bark, on rocks, or pecked into cliff faces. The notorious practitioner of this genre, and maybe the originator of shih-shu, is the poet Han-shan (possibly seventh century), who is known to American readers as Cold Mountain."
Andrew Schelling

Trusting Mind - Dharma Talk by Bonnie Myotai Treace, Sensei
The world is vast and wide. Why put on your robe at the sound of a bell?

That the self advances and confirms the
myriad things is called delusion.
That the myriad things advance and confirm
the self is enlightenment.
Dogen Zenji - Genjokoan


A special transmission outside the sutras,
not founded on words and letters,
directly pointing to the human mind,
seeing into nature and attaining Buddhahood.

These are the so-called Four Principles of the Zen sect, and are traditionally attributed to Bodhidharma, probably not correctly. The tenets do have ancient roots, however, and can be traced to a fifth or early sixth century commentary on the Nirvana Sutra, slightly before Bodhidharma's time.

The Course of Things

posted by Andrew 6/23/2003 04:31:00 PM