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Linearity is the main characteristic of the alphanumeric code which has shaped the emergence and development of occidental culture. Linearity means in the first place one-dimensionality: the symbols of the code, the alphanumeric signs, constitute a sequence in which each symbol follows another and is followed by a third one. Branching is not allowed and it is always possible to say which symbol comes first and which second. This is the second feature of linearity: direction. Words, sentences, or books only have a meaning when the letters are read in a specific direction. Thus, linearity corresponds to historical thinking, in which events follow one another irreversibly and in this process acquire meaning.

In the millennia during which writing developed, linearity became increasingly rened. First came pictograms and hieroglyphs, symbols that still contained within themselves a pictorial structure and thus in some way contrasted with the otherwise strictly linear order. An increasing linearization of writing came with the alphabet and was continued with the digital code, in which the visual dimension of the symbols is devoid of any meaning. In a binary coded message the zeros and ones can be replaced by any two other symbols without prejudicing communication, as long as they are distinguishable. One might think that perfect linearity is achieved when all symbols are identical and only mean something due to their order, like the points on a curve whose mathematically defined sequence can be interpreted as representing the motion of mass. However, the introduction of mathematics brought about the crisis of linearity, because mathematics works with a different code than writing.

Original article by Arianna Borrelli

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linearity.txt · Last modified: 2021/11/05 17:47 by