03 July 2009

Knowledge Representation in Antiquity

    I must admit that I’m fascinated by the techniques and tools used for Knowledge Representation, especially the ones used in the past, centuries and even thousands of years before. Somebody was saying that nothing is new under the sky, everything existed before, even if it was in a more archaic form of expression, the simplicity doesn’t diminish the importance.

    My fascination is somehow correlated to the fact that many of the representations that can be catalogued under Knowledge Representation are related to philosophical and religious believes, two of the domains that played an important role in the life of the spiritual man from antiquity. Oh, I forgot astronomy or, astrology if you want, the associations of stars in constellations, uniting the dots in a pattern that can be easier memorized and identified, can be considered maybe as a pseudo-technique for Knowledge Representation.

    In my dissertation paper, in a short historical overview of Knowledge Representation structures used over time, I mentioned the Tree of Life representations on stone, ceramic or clay artefacts preserved until now from different cultures, the “arbor porphyriana” or “Porphyrian tree”, genealogical trees dated from 11th century, KRS like representation of Joachim of Fiore [1] or Ramon Llul [2], the Sephirotic Tree central to Jewish tradition, quipas and square of oppositions. Actually, the list of such representation is much bigger; I tried to point only the oldest sources in order to highlight the existence of various such representation techniques. I think that I could have talked more about some representations and add many more examples, though I don’t think it was nor the place and neither the time to do it, for some of them needing to do more research, given their interpretational richness. In the past two weeks I tried to do some research in this direction, I advanced a little in the subject though there is still a long way to go. I realized that for the moment would be impossible to approach the subject in a more structured and professional form, on subjects like the Tree of Life or Sephirotic Tree has been written many books and advanced many theories. As I am interested in the Kabbalistic and Hermetic traditions, some of the mentioned representations were not new to me, their richness of meaning intriguing me, this being also one of the reasons for which I chosen a topic for my dissertation paper related to Knowledge Representation.

    The Sephirotic Tree is actually my first meaningful intersection with a KRS, giving it some thought over time, trying to understand the various interpretations, and believe me, there is a whole set of philosophies based on it. As Frater FP highlights, the Sephirotic Tree became a Meta-Map or Meta-Model for a Meta-System “capable of comprehending other systems within itself”, the Seven Rays and Chakra systems, the astrology itself and Tarot being examples of other meta-models [4]. It is actually interesting to study how such models were formed and evolved, unfortunately all we can is to launch in the blue other more or less fantastic theories. In many sources it is advanced the idea that the Jewish Sephirotic Tree derives from the Egyptian or Assyrian/Babylonian Tree of Life, theory proved by the antique artefacts found, though Trees of Life can be met also Indian or Nazca antic cultures, revealing the universality of such a symbol. These various tree representations could have in theory a unique source, though this supposes the existence of an older culture, why not the Atlanteans, though that’s maybe a little too much SF for this post, unlike you are open for such theories. If no such common source exists, then most probably exist something higher, a collective or archetypal consciousness, same as is possible that people arrived independently to the same truths, so there must be a correlation between the tree and the inner/outer world.

    Other religious representations are centred on trinity, the various types of crosses and shields of trinity being an example in this direction. The oldest shields of trinity I know of are the ones available in Cotton Faustina and Summa Vitiorum manuscripts from 13th century. A second type of representations was transmitted through the intermediary of seals and even coins, their means being lost in the past.

Zodiac [5] Macrobian cosmic diagram [6] Chinese chart [7]

    As I previously mentioned, an important amount of knowledge was transmitted in relation to the stars, zodiacs like the ones present in a 6th century synagogue at Beit Alpha, Israel, cosmic diagrams like the Macrobian diagram from 9th century and sky charts like the Chinese one dated to 7th century seems to be common along the time. Such testimonies of the past are again present on all continents in various forms and styles. Now that we are approaching with rapid steps the year 2012, the end of the world or beginning of a new era after some interpreters of Mayan calendar, a hoax for others, based on moon’s natural cycle, the Mayan calendar spans over a range of 5125 years, between 3113 BC and 2012 AD; jumping over interpretations, it remains the beauty and abstractness of Mayan calendar representations.

Maya Calendars

    It doesn’t makes sense to talk about Knowledge Representation in antiquity without mentioning, at least roughly, a masterpieces of Chinese thought, I Ching, the Book of Changes. Based on 64 hexagrams rooted in yin and yang principles, it presents a beautiful complex Meta-Model, hard to grasp by most of the mortals, and I’m one of them, at least for now.

1. International Center for Joachimist Studies. (????). Joachim of Fiore. [Online] Available from: http://www.centrostudigioachimiti.it/Gioacchino/GF_Tavoleeng.asp (Accessed: 13 February 2009)
2. Cahill, M.J. 2005. Graphical Languages – History and Uses. Future Knowledge Group. [Online] Available from: http://www.futureknowledge.biz/Graphical%20Languages%20-%20History%20and%20Uses-1.1.pdf (Accessed: 8 January 2008)
3. S. Weigel. ????. Genealogy, On the iconography and rhetorics of an epistemological topos. Enciclopédia e Hipertexto. [Online] Available from: http://www.educ.fc.ul.pt/hyper/resources/sweigel/ (Accessed: 3 July 2009)
4. Frater FP. 2005. The Magician’s Kabbalah. [Online] Available from: http://www.scribd.com/doc/16605805/The-Magicians-Kabbalah (Accessed: 3 July 2009)
5. TutorGig. 2009. Astrology [Online] Available from: http://www.tutorgig.com/ed/Astrology (Accessed: 3 July 2009)
6. Wikipedia. 2009. Flat Earth. [Online] Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flat_Earth (Accessed: 3 July 2009)
7. KIDIPEDE. 2009. Chinese Astronomy. [Online] Available from: http://www.historyforkids.org/learn/china/science/pictures/starmap.jpg (Accessed: 3 July 2009)


  1. Hi Adrian,

    I'm very interested in your research. You mentioned your dissertation paper, how can I have access to it?



  2. Hi Manuel,
    sorry for my late answer, only today I observed your comment. You can find it by checking the following post: http://the-web-of-knowledge.blogspot.com/2009/06/utilizing-mind-maps-as-structure-for.html. From there you can find the link to Scribd.

    Best regards,


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