Symbolic Correlations23 Aug 2004 16:10
The Chinese had a very elaborate system of these, as did Euro-Islamic astrology. Were there any others? (Yes, lots: see Farmer, Henderso and Witzel, below.) Was there a common root? How did people use them?
- Steve Farmer, John B. Henderson and Michael Witzel, "Neurobiology, Layered Texts, and Correlative Cosmologies: A Cross-Cultural Framework for Premodern History", Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities (Stockholm) 72 (2000): 48--90 [PDF available from Dr. Farmer or Prof. Witzel. Normally, titles like that send me running, but having corresponded extensively with Dr. Farmer, I think he's actually on to to something very real and important. (Though I remain skeptical about his detailed neurological conjectures, the cognitive mechanisms at play seem quite solid.) I'll quote their introduction/abstract, less footnotes. "This theoretical paper combines neurobiological and textual evidence to develop a cross-cultural model of the evolution of correlative systems. The paper argues that claims that correlative thought was in some way unique to China have seriously impeded comparative studies; known by other names, correlative tendencies were no less prominent (and were sometimes more extreme) in premodern India, the Middle East, the West, and Mesoamerica than in China. Below, we discuss some factors that have led to varying degrees of interest in correlative thought in differeent fields; arguments are given that parallel developments in correlative cosmologies provide a potent cross-cultural framework for premodern studies in general. Our model pictures the growth of 'high-correlative' systems --- multileveled reflecting cosmologies, nested hierarchies, abstract systems of correspondences, and similar developments --- as byproducts of exegetical processes operating in layered textual traditions over extended periods; the origins of primitive correlative thought and related animistic ideas seen at the earliest levels of those traditions, 'worked up' abstractly in later strata, are tied in our model to neurobiological data. The union of neurobiological and textual evidence reviewed in our paper allows the construction of evolutionary models of the growth of premodern religious and philosophical systems, most of which acquired elaborate correlative features over time; the model links fluctuations in these developments to shifts in literate technologies and other factors affecting premodern textual flows. Part of our paper describes novel methods for studying these developments in a broad class of computer simulations; to our knowledge, ours is the first theory of the evolution of religious and philosophical ideas capable of being implemented and partially tested in such simulations. The conclusion of our paper discusses a number of historical tests of our model; special emphasis is placed on challenges the model raises to popular claims that extensive manuscript traditions existed in the latter Shang and Western Zhou dynasties --- or, even earlier, in ancient India's oldest civilization, in the Indus Valley."]
- Jack Goody, The Domestication of the Savage Mind [Correlational systems as a consequence of writing, especially of tables. "The matrix abhors a vacuum", as he says.]
- Joseph Needham, Science and Civilisation in China, vol. II