[NetBehaviour] random notes

Max Herman maxnmherman at hotmail.com
Fri Feb 11 18:37:08 CET 2022

Hi all,

After some more checking I have no new information about the origin of the Latin word nota (meaning "note," as in musical tone, written character, etc.).  It's still odd to me that such a basic word would have unknown origin.  Does this mean that sometimes words appear out of nowhere for no reason we can detect?  Or does it suggest that our methods of detection are somehow incomplete?

In any case, it seems plausible that the origin is a weird or non-standard morphism of "knot," which is nodum or nodus in Latin, or a shared precursor related to Sanskrit nahyati "to bind" and Latin nectere "to weave or bind."  (The Sanskrit for knot, granthi, is the root of granthin, which means "someone who has read a lot," and the Latin textus means both "text" and "something woven," so there does seem to be crossover between the vocabularies of script and string.  Speculative comparisons can be found in plait/plot/plan, or verse/warp/wreathe, around root concepts of folding, turning, binding, etc.)

Knot theory was the topic of a new podcast this week about how the 11-crossover Conway knot dilemma was solved by unconventional interdisciplinary means in 2020, and how knot theory applies in medical research because of how DNA knots and un-knots itself to perform transcription.  I had never thought of DNA that way before, as a twisting-untwisting-copying-retwisting process based on knot dynamics.  Searching for a bit more about knots just today, I found there is current research in quantum computing on how it relates to the ancient Mesoamerican practice of storing data with knots tied into strings.  (This mechanism is also the origin of "log" as in log-book or log-in and "knot" as nautical speed in that ships gauged their motion by unrolling a knotted line from a log floating in the water.)

Twisting, threading, and tangling phenomena are interesting in that they apply very deeply to flows occurring in time, including those of water and air.  Biological processes reflect this at the cellular, molecular, and structural levels, as do many levels of non-biological phenomena in nature such as geology and climate.  Why wouldn't we expect flows of information and data, including those of human language, to also follow similar topologies?  Perhaps the removal of time as a background fabric, because it makes literally everything a moving target, in early science caused a myopia of the snapshot or still-life as it were.  We expect information to be visible like a diagram or photograph -- a still -- which applies perpetually through linear time.  Yet how deceptive such means of imaging and image-processing can be, how massively incomplete!

I mention all of this because I believe it relates to the work and ideas of Leonardo, specifically as they are assembled in the Mona Lisa as just one example but also throughout his notebooks and other paintings.  He seems to have understood twisting, threads, and fabrics in a manner quite consonant with contemporary science yet from an admittedly intuitive, observational, and experiential perspective.  His observational approach spanned many disciplines, spheres of knowledge, and cultural sources just as we see innovative work undertaking to resume today after centuries of technical specialization predominating.  A correct and realistic parsing of Leonardo's work may require a recognition of such a context in his production, and may also find parallels to pre-Socratic and even indigenous knowledge-forms with contemporary implications.

Such understanding and re-recognition of the interwoven state of culture and technology with natural phenomena could be of great value to environmental humanism, for just one example, a field which has been very active in revisiting the works of Leonardo.  There are also potential similarities or areas in common with information technology and network disciplines, cultures, and practices.

An interesting image Leonardo describes in the Codex Leicester, owned today by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, is that of a river crossing itself:

"[T]he repercussions which the water makes in the banks of the torturous river, which bounces to the opposite concavity, crossing the river, so that the course of the river so much increases as there are more crossings and bendings of the water from one bank to the other"  (5r).

"[R]epercussione che l'acqua fa nell'argine del fiume torturoso, la qual risal[t?]a alla oposita concavita, atraversando il fiume, onde tanto piu cresce il corso del fiume quanto sono piu li atraversamenti e piegamenti dell'acqua nel fiume dall'una argine all'altra."

The Codex Leceister was written and drawn circa 1504-1508, the same time as the painting of the Mona Lisa.  Many of the scientific and natural phenomena depicted in the Codex, including bridge design and construction, also appear in the painting.

Also quite interestingly, the words "write" and "river" have a common origin, in Proto-Indo-European *rei- meaning "scratch, tear, cut," as in riparian, riven, rift, and the like.  🙂

All best,


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