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Notes on Communication

We may have spoken, to some degree, as long ago as one and a half million years and it has been pointed out that “language is ultimately at the service of human interaction, conversation is both the source and goal of language” (Everett, 2017). I note this here in highlighting how artificial taxonomies can be and how both spoken and written language are interfaces between human minds and not objective information processes.
Our lineage’s use of tools stretch back further than our ‘Homo sapiens’ species, going back some 3.3 million years (Balter, 2015) and only very slowly progressing to more sophisticated tools over that time. Our species became physically modern between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago and we started making marks on substrates some 75,000 years ago through engravings, though we had used adornments earlier, and not only us, Neanderthals too. 47,000 years ago our behaviour became more markedly modern and the oldest cave paintings are from around 35,00 years ago; depicting outlines of hands. This marks the invention of the image. Before this the world appeared in three dimensions and now we could usefully collapse it in to two dimensions.
In my search for visuals used for thinking I have not found any references to any editing, removing or erasing of cave art, supporting the notion that these were religious or spiritual markings, not the product of reasoned or intentional thought, but something else. In fact, the style, subject matter or colours barely changed over the millennia the caves were in active use and the painting was in harmony with the shapes of the cave walls, not artificially imposed on them (Curtis, 2008). This was the first time we recorded for the ages and what we recorded was the theatrical effect, we attempted to summon emotions, not record facts (there are only images of larger animals, thought to be important to them, not any smaller animals and only crude depictions of humans so this is not a record of the world). Looking at the San ‘bushmen’ of South Africa for reference, they refer to the paint they use for their cave art as being able to dissolve the rock and allow images from the other world to slip though (Lewis-Williams, 2009). Our interest in painting and our abilities to do so was the result of two important developments; the emergence of cognitive fluidity and the extension of the human mind beyond the brain into material culture (Mithen, 2009). This is a feature of our brains this project aims to build on and to augment, part of the uniquely human part of the human brain (Mithen, 1998) what Vannevar Bush pointed to when he wrote that “the process of tying two items together is the important thing” (Bush, 1945).
About 5,000 years ago writing was invented, first somewhere in the Middle East, with competing research pointing to upper Egypt or Sumeria but agreement that the first fully phonetic writing system came out of the mines of Egypt, where myriads of peoples came together and this writing system emerged. In the Sumerian epic “Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta” the origins of writing was explained as the king ‘putting words into clay’ to relive the memory of a messenger and this idea that the written word is simply a poorer cousin of the spoken word, since the tone and character of the speaker is missing, has held sway up til this day, with a recent example being a poll on debate.org where 71% state that the spoken word is more powerful. What is a profoundly important aspect of the written word is its multidimensionality, something which does not come across in such a basic description of writing. The spoken word exists in one line–the timeline of which it is spoken–and then as remembered by the listener as snippets, a general sensation or in full, but always in one linear sequence. The written word has always existed in a multidimensional space with some sort of a column layout from the very start (Charpin, 2010), where the position of the marks of text had grammatical and other meaning, such as heading. It is this ability for text to confer meaning beyond the grammatical sentence–and the process of changing or editing–which I am trying to usefully extend in this project, an attribute of text present from the start of writing and possible to truly unleash with digital text.
It would take until the modern era for us to start depicting comparative conceptual charts:
British engineer and political economist William Playfair (1759-1823) was inspired by Priestly’s work and further abstracted it to invent the first known bar chart in his Commercial and Political Atlas published 1786. This bar chart “…was the first quantitative graphical form that did not locate data either in space, as had coordinates and tables, or time, as had Priestley’s timelines” (Beniger & Robyn, 1978). Playfair would go on to also invent the line chart and pie chart and Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) would extended Playfair’s pie char into a polar area diagram.
Not much is known about the process of thought these pioneers went through in order to produce these innovations, we only have the final results to refer to.

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