Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The Prehistory of Repetition

Michael Balter, blogging for Science, reports that engraved eggs suggest early symbolism. He asks:


What do Homo sapiens have that our hominid ancestors did not? Many researchers think that the capacity for symbolic behaviors—such as art and language—is the hallmark of our species. A team working in South Africa has now discovered what it thinks is some of the best early evidence for such symbolism: a cache of ostrich eggshells dated to about 60,000 years ago and etched with intricate geometric patterns.



The team writes:


The standardized production of repetitive patterns, including a hatched band motif, suggests a system of symbolic representation in which collective identities and individual expressions are clearly communicated, suggesting social, cultural, and cognitive underpinnings that overlap with those of modern people.



Beyond the dichotomy of "naked" repetition and "clothed" repetition repetition manifests as a variety of nakedness, the human paradox of being able to be naked because we have clothing and vice versa—we never get beyond the dichotomy but the idea of the dichotomy must be for thought to get beyond it, if thought is the right concept here.


Can we, in thinking, retrace the origins of repetition? We think beyond our endowment only to discover our endowment, our earthly bestowal. What would we have discovered had we striven to think within our bestowals, within the chemistry of the naked and the clothed?


Repetition. I use it (see above and passim) but I don't understand it, not in the way of having an understanding I can hold on to, a practical grasp that I can agree with. In one true sense, the sense that corresponds with the category and the production of the same, i.e. sameness, repetition appears to be impractical, but that can never be the whole truth, and being of the categorical it's the sort of truth that asks for wholeness. (Indeed I envision other kinds of truth, other constancies, even as I recognize that constancy creates problems for the intellect, if that's what we're talking about here, specifically a problem of the other.)


Could wild repetition possibly be repetition for the sake of repetition? Wild, naked, raw, empty handed. Is mere decoration not characteristically human? Ornate repetitions, repetitions that don't yet exist as examples of repetition, fluid, lived, merely enacted repetitions: can these be accessible to thought?


p.s. Jonathan Amos of the BBC has done some reporting on the paper by Texier et al. Amos quotes Texier talking about the cross-hatching motif: "The lines are crossed at right angles or oblique angles by hatching. By the repetition of this motif, early humans were trying to communicate something." We need in fact to question the relation between communication and repetition, the semiosis of the decorative. What prejudice do we introduce to our archaeologies by identifying a pattern as a "motif" (implying repetition) as opposed to, for instance a "design"? Are we prisoners of pattern recognition? Or doubt? Surely the cross-hatch design on these egg shells deserves to be called "motif," but what is the communicated of the motif?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 8:09 PM.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Can we, in thinking, retrace the origins of repetition? We think beyond our endowment only to discover our endowment, our earthly bestowal. What would we have discovered had we striven to think within our bestowals, within the chemistry of the naked and the clothed?"

I wonder to what extent we are endowed (or stuck with) with the dichotomous way of thinking. I don't think we can retrace the origins of repetition per se, though we might find the origin of this or that repetition. "Difference is not diversity. Diversity is given, but difference is that by which the given is given,..."

-Yusef

March 05, 2010 8:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Could wild repetition possibly be repetition for the sake of repetition? Wild, naked, raw, empty handed. Is mere decoration not characteristically human? Ornate repetitions, repetitions that don't yet exist as examples of repetition, fluid, lived, merely enacted repetitions: can these be accessible to thought?"

The archeological record--the evidence of repetition offered here-- and what they are falsely claiming as evidence of "symbolic" thinking (I don't think they are aware of the jump they are making)-- is heavily biased in favor of the visual. That has left an artefact. What interests me is the musical behavior which may have preceded the artefact--didn't leave an artefact and rarely does but the existence of which would have enormous bearing on your questions. Music and life in relationship to what's accessible to what we have thought of as thought--the terrible problem is what we have thought of as thought for 2500 years does do its best to rigorously exclude music and life from thought. But maybe music is the necessary precondition for philosophy.

--Yusef

March 06, 2010 9:03 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Is zero the least non-negative integer, or is it still a problem as the ancients thought? In allowing zero to be a number have we multiplied negativity (by the same token that we allow negativity to be enumerated and so forth, allow it to be worked, if that's what numbers do)? Since algebra we have both the negation and the cancelation, the zeroing out. What kind of number would zero be if not merely the least non-negative number? A finite number? Does it really have ordinality? Is zero an attempt to break out of the dichotomous? If so, does it succeed?

Jankélévitch writes, "One must also accuse the visualism of all those who talk about inversions, not to mention musical rhymes, because to do so is to forget that music is made to be heard and to be read, not at all, and to forget that symmetry, as a product of visual intuition, is not recognizable to the ear. Because, in effect, a trajectory in space can be traced by two senses, one applies the idea of a cycle or a round trip to music, as if musical movement were reversible. There may be a memory of something repeated, but there are no symmetries, nor is there a 'center' of an irreversible Becoming, oriented in one direction, where even the recapitulation takes over, and where the seconda volta—even if indistinguishable from the first—differes from it imperceptibly by the mere fact of its secondary position, that is, by the simple chronological priority of the first time. The arrival of the future, without excluding memory, prevents the circle from ever being closed" (Music and the Ineffable, p.92).

March 06, 2010 9:41 AM  
OpenID kvond said...

"Are we prisoners of pattern recognition?"

I wonder, is my dog a prisoner of pattern recognition? A curious use of "prison".

April 16, 2010 12:48 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

Your dog less so than a macaque or a human I should think.

April 16, 2010 2:51 PM  
OpenID kvond said...

But why is this is "prison" per se. Modern persons have become imprisoned by their cars, their telephones, their ipods. I always found this a half-hearted recognition. If one truly feels that patterns imprison, the key to de-imprisioning oneself is to recognize that patterns connect, liberate, express. There always seems so much bemoaning about half of the equation. White noise imprisions, chaos imprisons, static imprisons, confusion imprisons, failure to recognize a pattern imprisons too, don't you think?

Recognizing a pattern allows the dichotomy between noise and signature don't you think?

April 17, 2010 12:27 PM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

"failure to recognize a pattern imprisons too, don't you think?" Sounds pretty debilitating.

Imagine you knew your thinking could be liberated through pattern recognition because you had a thinking apparatus implanted in your brain that allowed you to recognize a pattern and then biochemically convert that recognition into a certain exhiliration, a feeling not unlike being free. What would be the relation between that knowledge and freedom?

Let's say you had seen blueprints. The mechanism of the conversion had been explained to you. It made sense. You saw the pattern. There was no reason not to doubt that pattern recognition lead directly to a certain liberation, something as good as liberation.

But.... Could this knowledge be freely questioned? Once the apparatus has been implanted can you ever be free to question it? Yet how could you not be? Unless freedom were illusory, or you somehow lacked the means of distinguishing freedom from chemical substitutes for freedom. Let's not go there.

No, let's say thought can freely question even the nature of this can.

What is this ability, this ability to freely question what we've been given to think with?

Perhaps it is like science. Being empirically inclined I'll study science for a few years and report back.

In the meantime perhaps we can approach it from another vantage. What is our responsibility for the patterns we recognize? The responsibility that goes with any (re)cognition? There's maybe a logical argument to be made here. If we are to be ethically capable of assuming responsibility for patterns that we recognize we ought then have the ability not to recognize any pattern whatsoever. Otherwise how could fully claim responsibility for recognizing a pattern? It must have been able to have been otherwise (and, perhaps what also must be for there to be an ethics of pattern recognition, we must have been able to imagine it otherwise, we must have the freedom of the otherwise that we call imagination).

But is this practical? An ethics of pattern recognition built on an impractical what? An impractical what? How can we take responsibility for this not knowing what it is and, what's worse, having it outside our ethical practice?

Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps it can be made practical. And yet I fear any attempt to make it practical would destroy it, if we're talking about something like imagination or something in the field of the dream, the oneiric aspect in thought.

"Recognizing a pattern allows the dichotomy between noise and signature don't you think?" The thought occurs that pattern recognition is the signature of the primate. This is not so earth-shattering?

(I hope it goes without saying that I am grossly simplifying for the sake of argument.)

April 17, 2010 5:44 PM  
OpenID kvond said...

FtY: "Imagine you knew your thinking could be liberated through pattern recognition because you had a thinking apparatus implanted in your brain that allowed you to recognize a pattern and then biochemically convert that recognition into a certain exhiliration, a feeling not unlike being free. What would be the relation between that knowledge and freedom?"

Kvond: I really wouldn't think that this is a difficult question at all. In fact you don't need a fancy implant. Drug use that releases endorphines does pretty much the same thing. In some circles where certain pattern-following produces poor results despite the sense of pleasure and freedom they produce in individuals is called...addiction.

I'm not a freedom of the will fellow, as you might guess by my Spinozism. But this is the thing about pattern recognition. If it produces pleasure, this pleasure and its pattern so recognized connects up to other pleasures and other patterns. The proof of the pleasure, the freedom, is in how it plays out over time.

I don't understand your thoughts on responsibility.

April 17, 2010 7:48 PM  

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