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Glyphs & Graphs is a writing experiment by Naveen Srivatsav - an attempt at hypertext wordplay, intentionally amorphous thought experiments non-committal to any specific genre or topic. Enjoy, and feel free to reach out via social media.

Inventing a language

The regenerative mother-universe of the pantheist.

Consider the notion of telepathy. What would that entail exactly? To communicate with another without the senses, a purely mental approach to communication. Suppose there are 2 hypothetical individuals in possession of mental modems capable of communicating with each other sans sensory means. Would they still use language — that is to say, would they use words and phrases, sentences and figures of speech?

If they did, isn’t that just a different method to achieve otherwise typical communication… what would be the advantage of doing that telepathically? The biggest disadvantage in language as I see it is the immense variability in interpretation. Based on Wittgenstein's observations, language is very good at communicating tangible things - things you can put in a (big enough) bucket - like apples and solar systems. However, language is not as good at communicating ineffable reifications like love, justice or freedom with the same degree of precision. These abstract notions, as important as they are to higher-order thinking, mean different things to different people, a function of their previous experiences and their worldview. And therein lies the difficulty in discussing anything from feelings to philosophy with words; there is no guarantee that everyone is on the same page at all times.

Thus I posit that successful telepathy would only distinct from common modes of communication if it can transmit experiences, not ideas. You see, ideas can be debated but experiences can at best be reframed or re-interpreted, but cannot be be denied as untrue. In other words, if you feel strongly about something, your thoughts, assumptions and subsequent actions can be debated, questioned or rationalised; but your original, raw feelings cannot be denied or rejected. You felt what you felt, and that is your truth.

 

On the other hand, it sounds silly that these two individuals could or would share an entire world-simulation down to the tiniest detail in order to empirically evoke the perceived experience. There would be an obvious bandwidth issue — how can one communicate the entirety of the universe as you perceive it to another person when one can’t even consciously process all of it on a second-to-second basis in their daily life? And since differences in individual perception are fundamentally influenced by the cumulative learned patterns, memories and experiences, and not to mention the selective attention to personally memorable details, it strikes me as implausible to be able to communicate the exact nuance, context and reception of an experience on top of the world-simulation of that experience.

Maybe there is hope for the notion of telepathy regardless. Look at a painting or listen to a piece of music, and chances are you will feel *something* close to what the artist intends. Perhaps the fuzziness in definition is also intentional — it is not so much a statement as it is a gestalt of multiple interrelated concepts, experiences represented by means of colours and metaphors, beats and motifs. The density of such communcation cannot be understated; a picture (let alone music) is indeed worth a thousand words.

So my fascination with the question of telepathy evolved into an exploration of systematic communication of abstract experience, the hallmarks being highly associative and contextual meaning, an information density that language is rarely capable of and the communication of a subjective experience rather than an objective meaning.

 

When I speed-read, there is an intuitive notion of not perceiving each and every letter individually, but the vague shape of entire words and phrases all at once. So, I wondered if a complex idea could similarly be turned into a meta-shape (say if it were written in a spiral) that communicated at a glance a gist of its meaning by virtue of its macroscopic uniqueness; but could still be deconstructed to its indivudal constituent characters if one was inclined to.

To test this, I came up with a complex idea: imagine a majestic waterfall at the break of dawn, its scale obscured by its own mist, giving rise to a resplendent rainbow, from which one drop gently floats to the ground, whose refraction hints at a bubble universe within.

For the sake of elegance, this was condensed into a haiku.

roaring waterfall
drop of rainbow greets sunrise
universe within

To experimentally test the success of this effort, a resulting meta-shape should be able to communicate this cognitively dense haiku in a visual manner.

 

In my experience, I have been impressed by the modern Korean language, which is almost mathematical in its precision and can assimilate almost any new word into its lexicon with simple syllabic reproduction and full semantic transfer. Moreover, the script is easily broken down into fundamental strokes and shapes, which could be instrumental in creating a standardised grid. Thanks to a friend’s contact, I managed to get the haiku translated into Korean, and then played around for a bit with the goal of constructing a meta-shape.

I tried multiple ways to get this script to align to a grid while remaining easily decomposable and readable as a sentence. This was harder than it looks.

No success there. Too bad!

 

Fortunately, when I was ruminating on this interesting line of thinking, I stumbled upon the practice of Sigil Magick. Perhaps popularized in recent memory by Aleister Crowley, Sigil Magick builds symbolically on the idea of affirmations. An affirmation, for anyone familiar with New Age fantasies, is the notion that if you consciously utter your desire for positive changes in your life, the Universe will conspire to make it happen. I am not that optimistic; I don’t believe the Universe owes me any favours. However, I still believe affirmations work in a secular rational way that doesn’t require leaps of faith. Follow my reasoning.

Ever had the experience every once in a while where you come across a new word, and in the following days that word in particular seems to pop up everywhere around you? This is a cognitive illusion, much like an optical illusion, called the Baader-Meinhof Complex. The mechanism is simple. When the brain notices a new word, that momentary attention records that “pattern”. The brain is, after all, pretty good at pattern-matching, trained that way by millions of years of evolution. Once the pattern is recorded, even though the new word occurs at the same frequency as before, the brain identifies the pattern more readily than before, giving the illusion of higher frequency.

How does this relate to affirmations? It should be obvious at this point — once you consciously and attentively identify an intention or desire, that “pattern” is recorded. In the following days, any opportunities that turn up that correspond in some way to that intention will be more readily noticed and capitalized on. Simple enough.

Sigil Magick goes an extra step beyond just stating an affirmation. Typical instructions are to write down the statement of affirmation, strike out the vowels and repeated letters, leaving a barely legible string of letters. Next this string of letters are superimposed into a visual shape that is personally appealing, however surreal. There are no rules, go crazy. Again, there seems to be a cognitive advantage to doing this beyond simple superstition. Sight is one of the most evolved of all our senses, and the fact that human language is fundamentally symbolic, both strongly indicate that we can process these sigils on an unconscious level. I’m no expert on the workings of the unconscious brain, but all evidence seems to support the notion that the unconscious mind is orders of magnitude more complex than the almost-superficial conscious mind. My point being, Sigil Magick might not be a load of crock after all.

So I came across this methodology of Sigil Magick and ran with it. It could be the first step of translating words and sentences into meta-shapes. My initial attempts, as advised by the resources I referred to, were pretty runic in appearance.

One of the earliest sigils I made.

Also pretty messy.

 

As I got more familiar with the app (Paper for iPad, highly recommended), I started experimenting with calligraphic curves, which I felt were visually more elegant. At this point, my previous grievances of being bad at art gave me an added incentive to practise aesthetics in a way that felt natural and intuitive to me. Needless to say, the shapes only became more elaborate with distinct emphasis on elegance, flow and symmetry. I have since found that Arabic calligraphy occasionally utilizes the same concepts to incredible effect.

Real sigils have curves! Seriously though, my fascination with calligraphy played a small role.

After some time, it struck me that the sigils could be drawn and interpreted as one coherent image rather than a collection of disjointed/superimposed alphabets. This was the beginning of a transition from emergent shapes (built on alphabet units) to imagery (that happened to contain letter-like shapes).

My interpretation of "existentialism", the notion that existence precedes essence. The image of a foetus (existence) is immediately apparent, whose mind then creates meaning (essence).

 

And then it hit me that certain concepts, like the idea of the “self”, or “beauty” or “indulgence” were common recurring motifs. Not only did they necessitate symbols of their own, despite not being affirmations in and of themselves, they also added instant context when added to any sigil.

Some of the first "accents" were born. Here we see accents for "me/mine", "beauty", "time" and "mystery" among others.

For example, I settled on the shape of 2 feathers as a representation of the “self” and/or “protagonist”, and a spiral to represent “beauty”, “accident” and “coincidence” rather interchangeably.

As axiomatic and arbitrary as these basic shapes were, their obvious advantages were too good to pass up. In some sense, these were accents of a semantic sort as opposed to typical phonetic accents. Put another way, the collection and interpretation of these accents was a study in visual etymology.

More accents: "death", "altar/reverence" and "stranger" among others. These higher-order accents have distinctive backbones, which may be augmented with yet more accents.

Insofar as the original sigils were a transformation of letters into abstract shapes, the addition of accents in turn transformed abstract shapes into meaningful ones.

 

Relating all these developments to the initial distraction of inventing a language for telepathic communication, it is interesting to see how many of the characteristics identified as distinct for such communication have turned up in the sigils. They remain very subjective, with the shape of the constituent letters establishing the “backbone” of the sigil. And it is not surprising that if a sigil were to be repeated at a later time or by someone else, this backbone may be completely different. But thanks to the accents, the common motifs are preserved. They add to the information density, and the scales at which these accents work (which can sometimes be entire full-size sigils shrunk down), seem to lend themselves to a peculiar notion of fractal logic — meaning at different orders of magnitude.

The sigil as a whole communicates an artistic expression, but can be systematically deconstructed, if one were willing to spend the time, into the constituent letters (and therefore the original affirmation) or interpreted on the contextual basis of the constituent accents which would elaborate the nuance of my experience (provided you have my “dictionary” for the accents).

Sigil for "yugen", a Japanese word which means "a profound, mysterious sense of the beauty and magnificence of the universe".

 

Indeed, the whole enterprise, it seems to me, increasingly occupies the fine line between linguistic and artistic expression. Needless to say, I’m pretty proud of my invented language. Hope you enjoyed reading the story of its creation as much as I enjoyed creating it (and writing about it). If you want to see more sigils, head on over to my gallery here.

And before I end, let me leave you with the depiction of the original haiku in a meta-shape/sigil.

roaring waterfall
drop of rainbow greets sunrise
universe within

Mission accomplished!

Beauty in Science

The beauty of melancholy