Sunday, December 11, 2005

Roots of Rites

Remember Fata Morgana? The “Great Lord of Soap” – a religion based on bathrooms?

We often think of the ancient people as Ape-men, dirty, hairy, uneducated, wildly jigging around a fire, inarticulately babbling, so only a few of us try to see sense in their actions. Therefore the cave paintings have to be superstition and the bathrooms should exist because of fear – of fear of the “Great Lord of Soap” who hates bad smelling people.

Every archaeologist has at least one bathroom in his/her house and i guess, none of them prays to the “Great Lord of Soap”, but the highly industrial nation of the Indus Valley should not have been able to appreciate the positive impact of personal hygiene on health? Why? Just because they lived in earlier times?

Slowly, but surely scientists rethink the bias against the ancient cultures. Part of the driving force was the speleologist Marie E.P. König, a prominent advocate of the rationality of the ancient people. She realized the overwhelming mass of geometric pictures and couldn’t believe that this should have been done just for the sake of “wildly jigging around fires”. Seeing beyond the surface she detected the pattern of numbers: 3 and 4. Since “three” was often found together with moon symbols, she concluded that “three” was an abbrevation for time.

Shortly and precisely describing the neverending course of time by the everchanging phases of the moon, they could use just three simple lines, easily to cut in wood or bone to store the idea of “time” – it’s not magic, it’s only writing.

Suddenly the flying antelope surrounded by three lines on top and bottom makes sense, because to “explain” time, what’s more descriptive than one of the fastest animals on Earth? Found on the so called “Bâton de commandement” of Gourdan, there is even more fascinating to observe here: placed above the antelope you see the head of a horse, symbol of souls, later on becoming symbol of the gods – what does that tell you? Temporal existence has to end, death is the inevitable way of life.

That’s the 3: symbol of time.

Now think of information: a coin with two sides, time and space – and yes, the 4 symbolizes space by the four ends of a cross, North and South, East and West, Before and After, Left and Right.

And now, sit down and admire the ancient people, because how would you describe “space”? Space with nothing inside, just pure space?

TheBâton de commandement” of Gourdan used the 4 lines – and then just...

nothing, but subtle shades of lines to describe a base, a stage, on which objects can be located letting things happen.

The power of these symbols, the first proofs for writing, impressed people much and that’s not that un-understandable, i guess. However, because they didn’t understand it fully, they forgot the symbol and start to adore the surface, the picture, the number itself. That’s where numerology cames from, exactly as astrology derives from astronomy, which was needed for agriculture and navigation.

In fact, behind every weird tradition you can find a reasonable use creating the rite.

How the vanishing of usefulness works?

Because they didn’t use mathematics to describe their ideas – it’s as simple as that: only a precise description of preconditions and workflow is able to protect the information represented by the formula. If the ancient scientists had been able to tell us that the 3 is a substitute for a clear physical idea (like a Hamilton-Operator), a symbol for time as the sequential change of states with states as elements of space and space as the set of time-independent different realizations of a system (symbolized by the 4) and that time-independence can be measured and stored, numerology wouldn’t have had a chance to steal the importance of the symbols. The superficial surface wouldn’t have been able to “rewrite” the basic rules.

To show the inevitability of that U-Turn from physical driven usefulness to a mere rite without any sense left (under the condition of using formulas not as precise as mathematics) i’ll tell you the story of the “professor”.

The “professor” was a young, very clever chimp, observed in a behavioral experiment, i watched some years ago on TV. As usual, he lived in a community which was offered an apple – outside the fence. The clever young chimp managed to catch the apple using a tool: a stick. And he managed it all the time the apple was offered, for he knew what to do and when to do it.

After a while other members of the group noticed the doings of the “professor” and tried to copy him, the common way to learn, btw. But despite the fact, that the young chimp repeated his success on and on, many of the observing apes were not able to match him. They tried and tried, they used the stick, they tirelessly poked around the apple – alas, as hard as they tried, most of them failed.

The amazing result of the experiment?

The group developed a “rite” – the apes of the group poked with sticks outside the fence forever. They even did it without apple, after the human observer had stopped the experiment. Unimpressed, they moved on poking on and on.

If you don’t know anything about the human observer and the apple, you might be tempted to think they adore a “Great Lord of Sticks”, but no, they just wanted an apple to eat. And don’t laugh about the “stupid” apes, because the whole story of copying success-stories and therefore developing rites makes sense. Why? Remember how often they got apples? In a natural environment – without behavioral experiments – the apples would have been a proof for an apple-tree. That means, that sometimes there would be apples and sometimes there would be none. So fulfilling the rite the whole year through would be awarded in the next sommer and autumn, when the next apples would fall, even when you’re doing nonsense during the rest of the time.

Learning works because of the repeatability of information.

And learning works by mapping the time-independent states into a regular sequence – the more precise you map the states and the sequence (the mathematical way of describing information), the more uniquely the result will be, the better your formula works.

The less precise you describe, the more different results your formula delivers, the harder the repeatable rules (the information) behind the process can be seen, the more people tend to catch the superficial details without understanding the reasons.

The rite is born...

but the information lost.


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