Intelligibility of Pattern

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: & / Teaching / Society / Survival / Social Semiotics /

Who knows what cosmic screen saver pattern we’re making: from the right distance?

People at the game do a wave. No one administers it, it happens, spontaneously. Once upon a time crowds never stood and sat in waves: at least not that we know about. Someday perhaps waves will disappear from our sporting events.

Supervised, a section at the football game suddenly stands, each member of the section holds a placard, or wears identical jerseys. They turn the placard over. Suddenly the section becomes the US flag, or spells the team totem: Bears! Tigers! Lions! Everyone in that section knows that they’ve been assigned a particular placard and a particular seat. If everyone hasn’t complied, the effect will blur, turn fuzzy, diminish … or be lost.

The poet writes a sonnet. If you read down the right side of the lines, you see the rhyme note scheme. It’s fourteen lines, divided eight, then six. The eight form two subgroups of four each. The six may weave three and three or form four and two: a quatrain and a couplet. Petrarch, Shakespeare … used different rhyme patterns: still the variants aren’t many. Let’s say the rhyme scheme goes abab, cdcd, efef, gg: that’s Shakespearean. Petrarch wove; Shakespeare alternated. Either way, there’s a pattern, a pattern the poet PUT there. The reader, the hearer, may or may not notice it. (I know one poem where reading just the first letter of the first word of each line top to bottom spells FUCK YOU: a seven line joke-poem.)

In Blish’s Quincunx of Time earth gets a signal from a far away star system, a signal deciphered as intelligible. Earth gets another signal, completely unintelligible: one huge noise, a screeching BEEP. Finally, some one notices, probably after it’s too late to do any good: the alien civilization had coded all of their wisdom into the BEEP. It was up to us to get it, or miss it.

On the early side of my Shakespeare studies I read an article about the zillions of articles written by people purporting to have found hidden messages in Shakespeare: patterns other than rhyme or meter. This pursuit has passed out of fashion (like a wave?) but once, not that long ago, it was all the rage. People convinced that Queen Elizabeth actually wrote Shakespeare found, or at least sought, hidden patterns that would support that view. Others found messages purportedly from Francis Bacon everywhere. The author I was reading claimed to have found, by some crazy method of counting, following letters in prime numbers or in a Fibonacci series …, the clear statement, “Hey Francis Bacon, I wrote those plays! William Shakespeare.”

Different tack, cruising the same set of things: Hamlet dramatizes ambiguity to Polonius by looking at a cloud. Is it a camel? Perhaps it’s like a weasel: or a whale. In all cases it’s a cloud: and partakes of the decentralized, emergent universe; not the centralized, hierarchical, top-down, deliberate, intentional authority of kleptocratic man in civilization. A Philip Wylie novel though changes things: he has clouds start to form letters, then spell dirty words. Eventually, stars join the trick: a new constellation forms, clearly spelling an “F.” Uh oh.

Some scientists get in on such games. Carl Sagen, Doctor Carl, wanted messages from the stars that coded π, or E Where are the flying saucers that will land on the DC Mall and in perfect English say, “Take me to your leader”? Or, if we were smart enough, if we gave a shit, would we find that spelled in the cosmic background microwave radiation?

I don’t know. I’m not holding my breath. Neither am I denying that it, or some other message, might be there.

In War and Peace Tolstoy’s Pierre labors mightily, absurdly, to get the biblical Beast of the Apocalypse to translate as “Napoleon Bonaparte.” Like the non-Shakespeareans, the anti-Shakespeareans, he was starting with the message he wanted to find, not just looking … to see what he found.

I say that the universe already does spell π: and E: and every other possible number, and every possible thing; but not in any of our languages. Man though does have specific languages, may continue to prove to be unique in their complexity. What messages are we spelling out? Well, some we know about: radio broadcasts, CDs rocketed into space with samples of human literature, human song, human shapes: like spelling Bears! at the football game. Then, in contrast, there’s the wave. In the stadium, we know we’re doing it, once more than a few join in. But what other waves might we also be making? Waves we are not conscious of?

Shoot! I just lost a few good paragraphs, narrating what triggered this module today. Briefly, in a novel, the girl, a prisoner, gets a Life program, done as a game for one or more players, teams, competition possible. She loads a game already in memory. It goes through amazing generations, then stabilizes into a message:

Help! — I’m a prisoner!
In a Chinese fortune cookie factory.

2006 01 29 I want to come at some of the same issue but on a different course: also see Pattern, Meta-Pattern below.


Shakespeare, in Sonnet 17, or at least Thomas Thorpe, the pirate publisher of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, spells rhyme “rime.” Sensible. Why don’t we follow suit? Because it would make sense, save time, save ink …

How many civilized humans would be caught dead making sense, being simple?

Pattern Meta-Pattern

A cleaver coder may hide his real message behind a false message, the false message already difficult to decipher: the code breakers solve the false message, celebrate their triumph, cooperate in their own deception.
Advertising artists layer their hidden messages. In advertising the public is supposed to get all the messages but only realize that they’re getting the false message, not detecting that it’s false. The ad will have layers of obscenity built in. The stupidest member of the public will decade the top layer, congratulate himself on his cleverness, spit that hook out, and never see the dozen other hooks imbedded in his flesh, in his mind.
Trouble is: in any infinity the foolish may believe they’re near the end, that they’ve solved it. Humans want the last word, a final answer: in a universe without end, finish, or answers.
No matter how much code you’ve broken, where the code is natural, you still can’t know that you’ve broken the code. Newton talked of himself as picking up a few pebbles on a beach with no end in sight, no end implied. His descendants talk of final solutions, Theory of Everything … Then they find another thing.
(I do too, but I don’t think I take myself as seriously as say twentieth-century physicists.)
I awoke today to find that I had sleep written a nice opening to this module: and a whole other statement. At the Mac I noted the second first, by which time the first had evaporated: the prose, not the idea, not totally. I pause here, waiting for the sleep-written part to return to me. If it doesn’t, I’ll go on without it — I’ve got the gist.

Sentience & Semiotics

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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