Wednesday, July 7, 2010

With any luck, we are Alethiometers

On Melissa's suggestion, I'm reading The Golden Compass. I just read an interesting passage that reminds me, visually of the Stargate, and conceptually of Synchromysticism.

Page 125:
"I never thought I'd ever set eyes on one of them again. That's a symbol reader. Did he tell you anything about it, child?"
"No. Only that I'd have to work out how to read it by myself. And he called it an alethiometer."
"What's that mean?" said John Faa, turning to his companion.
"That's a Greek word. I reckon it's from aletheia, which means truth. It's a truth measure. And have you worked out how to use it?" he said to her.
"No. Least, I can make three short hands point to different pictures, but I can't do anything with the long one. It goes all over. Except sometimes, right, sometimes when I'm sort of concentrating, I can make the long needle go this way or that just by thinking it."
"What's it do, Farder Coram?" said John Faa. "And how do you read it?"
"All these pictures round the rim," said Farder Coram, holding it delicately toward John Faa's blunt strong gaze, "they're symbols, and each one stands for a whole series of things. Take the anchor, there. The first meaning of that is hope, because hope holds you fast like an anchor so you don't give way. The second meaning is steadfastness. The third meaning is snag, or prevention. The fourth meaning is the sea. And so on, down to ten, twelve, maybe a never-ending series of meanings."
"And do you know them all?"
"I know some, but to read it fully I'd need the book. I seen the book and I know where it is, but I en't got it."
"We'll come back to that," said John Faa. "Go on with how you read it."
"You got three hands you can control," Farder Coram explained, "and you use them to ask a question. By pointing to three symbols you can ask any question you can imagine, because you've got so many levels of each one. Once you've got your question framed, the other needle swings round and points to more symbols that give you the answer."
"But how does it know what level you're a thinking of when you set the question?" said John Faa.
"Ah, by itself it don't. It only works if the questioner holds the levels in their mind. You got to know all the meanings, first, and there must be a thousand or more. Then you got to be able to hold 'em in your mind without fretting at it or pushing for an answer, and just watch while the needle wanders. When it's gone round its full range, you'll know what the answer is."

Sounds a lot like the work being done around these parts of the interwebs, don't it? With any luck, we are Alethiometers.

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