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{Friday, January 16, 2004}


BBC Radio 4: In Our Time - The Alphabet
At the start of the twentieth century, in the depths of an ancient Egyptian turquoise mine on the Sinai peninsular, an archaeologist called Sir Flinders Petrie made an exciting discovery. Scratched onto rocks, pots and portable items, he found scribblings of a very unexpected but strangely familiar nature. He had expected to see the complex pictorial hieroglyphic script the Egyptian establishment had used for over 1000 years, but it seemed that at this very early period, 1700 BC, the mine workers and Semitic slaves had started using a new informal system of graffiti, one which was brilliantly simple, endlessly adaptable and perfectly portable: the Alphabet. This was probably the earliest example of an alphabetic script and it bears an uncanny resemblance to our own.
Did the alphabet really spring into life almost fully formed? How did it manage to conquer three quarters of the globe? And despite its Cyrillic and Arabic variations and the myriad languages it has been used to write, why is there essentially only one alphabet anywhere in the world?

UB Professor Works to Unravel Mysteries of Khipu: Colored, Knotted Strings Used by the Ancient Incas
"Deciphering the mysteries of the khipu, which consists of a primary cord from which hang pendants of cords, depends upon researchers discovering a Rosetta Stone of sorts that would allow them to decode the meaning of the cords and knots."

Chimeras by Gerard de Nerval
Eh quoi! tout est sensible!

Alan Watts - Lecture On Zen [also here]
Once upon a time, there was a Zen student who quoted an old Buddhist poem to his teacher, which says:
The voices of torrents are from one great tongue, the lions of the hills are the pure body of Buddha.
'Isn't that right?' he said to the teacher. 'It is,' said the teacher, 'but it's a pity to say so.'

bemushroomed - european pagan heritage

"A twelfth-century Jewish scholar, Moses Maimonides, described the Kalam - the beliefs of Islamic theologians - with horror. He noted that instead of accepting Aristotle's proof of God, the Muslim scholars turned to the atomists, Aristotle's old rivals, whose doctrine, though out of favor, managed to survive the ravages of time. The atomists, remember, held that matter was composed of individual particles called atoms, and if these particles were able to move about, there had to be a vacuum between them, otherwise the atoms would be bumping into one another, unable to get out of one another's way.
The Muslims seized upon the atomists' ideas; after all, now that zero was around, the void was again a respectable idea. Aristotle hated the void; the atomists required it. The Bible told of the creation from the void, while the Greek doctrine rejected the possibility. The Christians, cowed by the power of Greek philosophy, chose Aristotle over their Bible. The Muslims, on the other hand, made the opposite choice."
Charles Seife - Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea
(Souvenir Press, 2003, page 73)

Alan Watts - The World As Emptiness
"Nirvana is the goal of Buddhism; it's the state of liberation corresponding to what the Hindus call _moksha_. The word means 'blow out,' and it comes from the root 'nir vritti.' Now some people think that what it means is blowing out the flame of desire. I don't believe this. I believe that it means 'breathe out,' rather than 'blow out,' because if you try to hold your breath ..."

hypertext poetry : muse log

"The Definition of a Net: Anything made with interstitial vacuities."
Dr. Samuel Johnson

Lux Lucre's Shavian Page

"It could be that the evolution of the belief in a single god was dependent on an ability to record that belief and make it accessible; and that both recording and accessibility were dependent on the invention of the alphabet. In this view, god was not just the god of Israel; he was the god of the Alphabet. A sceptic may conclude that the Christian and Jewish god was invented because the technology had emerged to define this belief and implant it in its culture. A believer may say that god in his wisdom allowed himself to be revealed through this new mode of communication. Whatever the cause, it seems that both new god and new script worked together to forge a new nation and disseminate an idea that would change the world."
John Man - Alpha Beta: How Our Alphabet Shaped the Western World
(Headline Book Publishing, 2001, page 129)

Andrew Lawler - Writing Gets a Rewrite - Science, vol. 292, no. 5526, June 2001
BAGHDAD -- "The inventor of writing, according to Mesopotamian legend, was a high priest from the great city of Uruk who one day began making marks on wet clay. Five thousand years later, German archaeologists triumphantly discovered the oldest examples of writing -- called cuneiform -- 200 kilometers south of here in a long-buried Uruk temple, providing what seemed to be scientific confirmation of the ancient myth.
But that heroic story is quietly being shelved by scholars as new finds in Egypt and Pakistan over the past decade, and a radical reinterpretation of clay objects found in Mesopotamia's heartland and its periphery -- today's Iraq, Syria, and Iran -- have necessitated a different account. Most researchers now agree that writing is less the invention of a single talented individual than the result of a complex evolutionary process stretching back thousands of years before the first hard evidence of writing surfaced in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Indus River valley about 3300 B.C. "The prehistoric communication revolution began some 9000 years ago," says Joan Oates, an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge, U.K., who spoke at a recent conference here. "In a sense, writing appears as the last step in the long line of evolution of communication systems."
The revised text on writing's history, however, is far from complete. Scholars say they are hampered by a lack of fresh data from Near Eastern sites, the reluctance of museum curators to allow potentially destructive testing of critical artifacts, and the limitations of radiocarbon dating. Moreover, the 1989 discovery in Egypt of an ancient and sophisticated writing system has fueled a new debate: Did Mesopotamia's literacy trigger that of Egypt, as is traditionally supposed, or was it the other way around -- or neither? More recent finds showing that the Indus script likely was evolving around 3300 B.C. -- at about the same time as its Near East counterparts began to coalesce -- have deepened the mystery. Some researchers, pondering the near-simultaneous appearance of seemingly separate protowriting systems in three distinct civilizations, suggest that they may have developed independently in response to similar circumstances."

Cuneiform Inscriptions of the University of Minnesota
How did these inscribed artifacts find their way to the University of Minnesota?
Edgar James Banks is the dealer who sold the University many, if not most, of its cuneiform tablets. He was very active in the first few decades of the twentieth century, and is responsible for most of the small cuneiform collections at universities, seminaries, and museums around the country. Banks led an interesting life, a summary of which can be found in the excellent article, "The Forgotten Indiana Jones," by Dr. Ewa Wasilewska in The World and I Magazine Online.

Alan Watts
"Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth."

Antéros + Weebl and Bob

Composer, writer, artist, mushroom expert and Italian TV quiz-show celebrity, John Cage

posted by Andrew 1/16/2004 03:03:00 PM