Social order is the interpretation of the reasons behind the continued use of cultural behaviors. With a few generations removed from the initial codification, new explanations are needed to make sense of the patterns recognized by members of the group. And, because of the permutations in geography, the societies that share the same cultural seeds become distinct tribes with their own traditional reasons. Some of these issues may appear subtle to nonexistent to outsiders, but the differences are major to those on the inside (e.g. sunni/shia, catholic/orthodox, Anglicism, Buddhist traditions, etc.). This can include the sharing of a common language (Athens/Sparta, American English/British English), but the societies sharing such roots veer off on their own paths.
Isolation also helps these prototypical seeds grow into the niche that topography formed. Alone, and in small numbers, each group had to learn how to navigate the world. Navigation requires an awareness of one’s place in the grand scheme of life. To that end, the various groups had to develop an understanding of not just how nature worked, but how they did as well. Like nature, we follow routine. Our lives are governed by cycles, just like the environment. We are born, we grow, we age, we die. Spring, summer, fall, winter. New moon, first quarter, full moon, last quarter. Dawn, noon, dusk, night. What did it mean and what was humanity’s place?
We organized our lives by our environment and biology. Did that not mean that the world was ordered in a similar fashion? It was not until we had more than intermittent contact with our neighbors that ideas began to transform our species from isolated packets to expansive networks. Technology flowed along the burgeoning trade networks. Amongst the new skills were undoubtedly exchanges for rituals “when we spear a drawing of the antelope at first light, we will have success in the hunt.” Now, it would be idyllic to state that each tribe tried the techniques, but skepticism is one of our survival instincts. Two reasons spring to mind for why: the farther one gets from the source (another instance of the telephone game), the less the environment cooperates and resource competition amongst neighbors.
For those who did try, they used an evaluation process to see if the techniques worked, how well, and what adjustments the pattern needed to fit their needs. Mind that this is a process that can take generations to complete. A lot of this kind of trial-and-error is less directed than it is attempting to replicate another’s success. It is a form of group competition. Here is where trade and alliances can speed up the process.
Even as the secrets to agronomy were discovered and people began to settle, a nagging question remained and to this day remains in multiple forms: do patterns exist and govern so much? It also allows time to recognize the ways in which the community lives in relation to the group’s surroundings. Something wonderful is discovered hidden in plain sight: the cycles of activity mirror the world as the groups know it. Extrapolation leads to thoughts about how the group is a microcosm of a greater world. Suddenly, the world is a less scary place and “if X, then Y” echoes in a profound and resounding way for the group.
The group’s purpose is thus driven by the same forces that animate the world. The patterns begin to take on a deeper meaning and lead people to question where their place is in all of this. By now this may seem to go far afield of the subject, but this line of thought is germane to the discussion as all of these patterns are observed, meaning they are measured. Trying to put those observations into words is difficult and requires catachresis to attempt to describe the patterns of humanity’s relationship to them. But the analogue exists of a sufficient equivalent: the communal seeds. “If it is spring, then we plant. “If it is fall, we harvest.”
As the members of the group become better at their tasks, they begin to break the statements into smaller increments, refining and reinforcing their skills so that it becomes something akin to “when the first full moon after the thaw, we prepare the seeds to be cast,” which may be a step preceded by plowing the field. This is the basis of natural law. Social law codifies why the group works at its tasks and divisions of labor to maximize advantages when following natural law and applying technology to it. Why, though? The equivalency is summed up in the expression “as above, so below.”
The reason for such expressions are as numerous as all the social orders that have ever existed. That said, there is a sense of an equivalent in the earthly and cosmic realms. The underlying thought being some rationalization of there must be a grand architect. After all, are not magic circles nothing more than microcosms in which the representation of the world is but a pale simulacra of the world at large? And, without a written record or the original architects of the culture around, what do the latter generations have to rely upon beyond their own conjecture? Like anyone else left with oral traditions without verifiable proof, they have to supply their own reasoning for the state of things and procedures.
Stepping back for a bit, something needs to be discussed about pattern recognition. What are patterns? For all intents and purposes here, they are recurrences that repeat at intermittent intervals. This means they occur at frequencies which allow one to guess their next likely occurrence. “Likely” is key here as not all ratios used in nature follow a linear equation. Hence certain shapes and structures become prominent as one begins to explore the minutiae of the environment: the trefoil design of some leaves compared to the spear point appearance of others. Of all the patterns beyond those governing seasons and day/night, those which held special interest for some were the nonlinear patterns, which helped lay the groundwork for sacred geometry.
The spherical nature of our world and its elliptical orbit played a huge role in shaping some of these views. From the plane of the ecliptic to the precessional wobble to the magnetic field alignment, everything has informed the patterns both prominent and obscure. The Egyptians had a 360-day calendar with a five day resting period tacked on at the end. The Babylonians had a similar calendar, which gave us the number of degrees in a circle, our modern clock, and the twelve signs of the Zodiac. The Babylonians used a base-twelve system, which influenced their view of the world in many ways. It is very likely that they noticed that the first discernible square (e.g. 1, 4, 9, etc.) and triangular (e.g. 1, 3, 6, etc.) values (3 and 4) multiplied to twelve and shared a common sequential origin: the number one. The ziggurat (and pyramid) have three sides when viewed head on, but having depth need four sides to resemble a mountain, the greatest natural height a person can achieve on Earth (not to mention easier to carve in the Bronze Age).
No suggestion is being made here that this is accurate or scientific. While our ancestors were as sophisticated as we are, they were limited by how much knowledge they had accumulated up to that point, just like now. This limitation meant more emphasis was placed on patterns and their possible meanings, which is something that should be familiar when a person tries to incorporate new observations/experiences. The precision in Babylonian astronomic observations bears witness to how meticulous they were in their math and recordkeeping, proving that they were highly sophisticated thinkers. Writing allowed for more than just bookkeeping and records such as how much was paid in taxes and by whom. It allowed for generations spanning patterns to become apparent, as observed in astronomy.
Wandering stars could be tracked, but why did they wander and what did they foretell in their arrangements? A false extrapolation of “If X, then Y” emerged. If the position of the sun is related to the seasons and affect the weather, then surely the wandering stars do as well. “If the celestial realm affects the world, then the world must also affect the heavens.” Societies organized around this principle. Sacred geometry also inspired spirituality and a sense of mastery if one could learn to predict the movements of the heavens and then divine what was to come and perhaps master the skies in return.
Other cultures placed a different emphasis on these patterns. For the Greeks, it was the harmony of music, the Pythagorean theorem, and the Platonic solids – all of which use squares and triangles, except the dodecahedron (it used the pentagon, which was used with the pentagram to illustrate harmonic resonances – and it was seen as the universal element of ether corresponding to the twelve signs of the Zodiac they inherited from the Babylonians). The Greeks put a lot of emphasis on harmony in sacred geometry as evinced in their scales and modes. The fifth element was identified with space and the harmony that holds the other four elements in balance. And hidden in some of the shapes, like the dodecahedron, is the Golden Ratio.
Why should this matter? The Golden Ratio in nature is prolific. One of the unfortunate drawbacks to pattern recognition is that our species tries to apply it to everything that appears to fit the patterns (not to dissimilar to what I did when I conflated frequencies earlier). Thus, by noting similar behaviors in a group that is born during a certain time of year and then reinforcing the idea over successive generations, the idea of “if X, then Y” begins to take on cosmological properties. Order is easier to understand than chaos. The reasoning here is that if math can predict what happens in nature, then surely it can describe what happens in people. This concept establishes relationships between the species and its environment. You can further translate this to an individual’s place in society.
The general patterns of behaviors are used in both stories and astrology. This is not by accident. Again, this goes into humanity’s attempt to codify the chaos of nature into a predictable, orderly whole (e.g. the application of the Zodiac by the Greeks to their fifth element and the contents of the Golden Ratio in the dodecahedron whose shape symbolizes the cosmos and the proportionality of the ratio with the human face, ocean waves, nautaloid shells, etc.). The use of general patterns in story and astrology allows for roles to be better defined by the group’s needs (and interpretations of patterns) and gives enough room to tailor these personalities as needed. This form of encoding uses the math and measures of generations to build the rules the group members believe they needs to understand the laws of the universe and society to ensure their survival. It is an abuse of nature, but one devoid of outside a priori assumptions and the knowledge to discern otherwise. Societies do make of the “if X, then Y” pattern to create the a priori conditions to assure such questions as to the origins of the laws, life, and the universe.
How does this help humanity understand the world? It gives us the tools to create working models we can use to work through the questions and understand how and why we distort nature (just like this piece). Moving to the Romans and we can see how all of this relates. One needs to look no further than the Ludi Romani. This was a festival with sporting events and stage plays. The word “ludus” means “play, sport, game, training, school, and poetry” in addition to describing a form of criticism. The act of play – in all of its forms – lets people explore and experiment. Play also lets people know where they stand compared to others.
What happens when we enter ludus is that we accept the conditions of the magic circle. This social contract is enacted to make the participants comfortable while enacting the rules the play space establishes. Hence, in Roman society, the ludus magister transforms from servant to master for approximately six hours. The inversion of the social order was done with the supposition that the slave’s mastery of a subject would not be used to usurp the status quo. Rules have to be established that account for and allow transgressions of cultural norms to occur, otherwise experimentation cannot take place. The actors upon the stage become the personae because the contract the audience enters includes the suspension of disbelief. This in turn elicits a transfer of power to the performers for the duration of the play to evoke emotions in the spectators.
The magic circle acts as a controlled microcosm where relationships are built on the contract’s rules that we learn to understand implicitly through continued cultural conditioning and reinforcement. However, the subtleties are another story. Even if the contract is language-based, there remains the slippage in meanings attached to words. Given the fragile – and temporal nature – of magic circles, the rules can be so badly misinterpreted that it destroys the contract. Now, when one examines these linguistic-based magic circles, it becomes easier to see the symbolic representation of the universe embedded in the rules, symbols, and all parties invested in maintaining the magic circle. The instructor becomes the universe dispensing knowledge to the initiates learning how to navigate and master their world. The performers enact a story containing a universal theme with a timeless quality. In both instances, these are distillations of observations from a vast collection of minds stretching back to prerecorded times.
Imagine what happens when math is added to the magic circle’s set of rules. The magic circle’s construction is a form of catachresis as it distorts nature by encoding aspects of the known world in semiotic forms. In a board game, the token is understood to be you without being you as it symbolically represents your position/current location within the play space while you observe this from a distance. Then the rules describe how the “physics” of the game operate using what the designer hoped was the most expedient phrasing within the confines of the space left for the rules. In most games, the math is buried behind the words while variable results are kept to a minimum so there is no interaction between math and language despite all appearances. This is because even the math is abused. What universal truth is uncovered in the roll of dice to determine how many spaces your token moves in Monopoly? What about the shuffling of Community Chance cards?
The math still measures as it always does in everyday situations. The problem in the play space is that the math is pressed into service as a representation of some concept – real or theorized. As such, the catachresis spreads to the mathematics. Everything is distorted in order to make things work in the manner desired by the designer, but this leaves an unstable environment where participants are encouraged to explore what the various elements of the game space can do or accomplish without violating the rules. Everything becomes fused with the rest, which (to use the Latin) makes it confusus (mixed together).
All of this leaves us where our ancestors began: stumbling for answers while kept in awe of the seemingly limitless potential contained in each magic circle. Our only guide is what little we understand and our need to know where we stand in the world and this requires debate as our individual perspectives differ from our experiences and positions. We argue about the rules not just because the divide between math and language is so complete, but also to show where we stand in relation to one another. Like any science experiment we test and observe. When our realities align again, the catachresis disappears and leaves us one step closer in understanding who we are as individuals, as a community, and as a species. We argue because it drives us to bridge the gap, even if we do not see it in such terms. The catachrestic dichotomy, then is evolution in action wrestling with logic and emotion (math and language, respectively) so that the species can survive and adapt to an ever growing awareness of the world as it is, not as we believe it to be.