Tuesday, 28 July 2009

The Last Remorse of Ramon Lull (1232-1315)

Ramon, Raimundo or Raymond, Raimundus or Raymundus Lull, Lully or Lullus or Lulio is forever melancholic in his present timeless existence. He is aware that his name is referred in eternity among those of great alchemists, philosophers and the pioneers of combinatorial science but, principally, among those that paved the way towards the dream of artificial intelligence.
Nevertheless, he is not forgiving himself for an act of negligence committed once by himself.

References to his name can be found in the writings of renowned people.

Arthur Schopenhauer (1), in his World as Will and Representation describes vividly the vision of death that was the reason of his religious conversion to the Franciscan order.
Louis Borges (2) gives a description of the rotating wheels Lull’s «thinking machine» in an essay. A detailed description of the structure and the function of the device can be found there, as well as the well known doubts raised by Louis Borges: Is it possible for the combinations and the permutations to generate something that is not a mere repetition of the meaning, i.e. a tautology? Can one proceed further that the statements «Goodness is lasting» or «duration is good»? It is almost certain that Jonathan Swift is in fact describing Lull’s device in Gulliver’s travels in the detailed description of a machine that produces words in a random way. Frances Yates (3) in her Art of Memory incorporates Lull’s famous Table, Ars Magna in the idea of «moving memory» or «versatile memory» and considers that assigning symbols – letters to the attributes of God is very close to Cicero’s «imagines agentes». A detailed description of the «thinking machine» is given in Dionysios Romas novel «Rebellion of the popolari» (4) . The noble Sior Bartolo attempts for «the billionth time to use the subtle technique of Ramon Lull’s Ars Magna as a divination tool».

According to P. McCorduck (5), Ramon Lull is one of the pioneers of the perfect copy, the machine that is able to think by herself, despite the expressed order given to Moses on Mount Sinai:

« Thou shalt
not make unto thee any graven image or
any likeness of any
thing that is in
heaven above or that is in the earth
beneath, or that
is in the water under the
earth. »

Lull has expressed his determination not only to preach the word of the Lord but to create a machine, that, with its unquestionable power, would be able to go beyond a mere proof of the existence of God: Since Muslims and Jews already believed in Him, he wanted to prove to them, beyond any refutation the superiority of His Triadic Form, i.e. to make them accept the superiority of the God of Christianity. For this reason he has thoroughly and patiently studied the Arab texts, the books of Arab philosophers, Mathematicians and Astrologers, in order to find their deeper foundations and that way, to formulate their perfect refutation. In fact these texts have had a profound effect on him: In his readings, he encountered with zairja, the Arabic Astrologic Table with the circle and the triangular interconnections between the ruler planets and zodiac signs.
So, he conceived the idea of the application of this concept of combinations to a combination of the attributes of God. He was certain that the Arabs would feel the affinity if he used their own invention and they would consent to the consideration of his arguments – the arguments of an «objective» automaton, a thinking idol, a machine.
In a similar way he has resorted to the Cabbala, the secret science of the power of symbols and numbers of the Jews, and he assigned letters – symbols to the attributes of God. He has indulged in Cabbala’s wisdom and came up with a scientific loan: the idea of the sacred tree of Sephiroth was the prototype of his own Arbor scientiae. However Lull, in his timeless existence, is not preoccupied with the failure of his machine to persuade the Arabs. Having himself borrowed their ideas, perhaps he is not so sure about the infallibility of his attempt. Allah of Islam, Jahve of the Jews and Our Father are perhaps the three aspects of the Trinity. These ideas, together with the alleged discovery of the Ether and his opposition to preaching God’s Word with the help of weapons in the Crusades, have worried the Pope Gregory XI who has banned some of his writings and has condemned him for heresy.
The condemnation was renewed by Pope Paul IV, and it was only Pius IX on 1958 that confirmed his beatification by the Church, He has not been canonized as a Saint but as Doctor Illuminatus, although not one of the Doctors of the Church, like Saint Ambrose and Saint Augustine.
Ramon Lull has been a trovadour in his youth.

He was the tutor of James II of Aragon and despite his appointment as the seneschal to the royal household, he was given to the composition of love songs. He was seducing women and was «doing other licentious things» according to his autobiography, Vita coaetanea. He did not stop his love affairs even after his marriage with Bianca Piccany, even after his two children Domingo and Magdalena were born. He never stopped admiring beautiful women and falling in love.

Ramon Lull, from his present timeless existence contemplates his life melancholically. He recalls his conversion after a vision with a levitating Jesus Christ that appeared to him while he was singing in erotic ecstasy, and made him abandon his secular life and become a monk: A Franciscan monk. What happened to his wife and children? He misses them, although he does not regret for his choice, for the books he has written, for his missions in North Africa, his stoning by the angry Muslim crowd at the age of 82 and his death. He does not regret for his studies in Alchemy, Botany, the «thinking machine» and the Tree of Science. He is committing a sin by doubting Almighty’s Providence. Did the Angel of God was sent to his household to replace him in his care for his family, as it always happens with families that have offered their members to join the ranks of monastic life? Perhaps he should have taken care himself…He should have applied his Arts for the last time, sending home a copy of himself, his «thinking» idol, his double that should remain faithful to Bianca for the rest of their life…

(1)Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation (1819), Vol. I, § 68, as translated by E.F.J.Payne (The Falcon's Wing Press 1958, reprint by Dover, New York, 1966) at 394-395.
(2)Borges J. L. (1999) 'Ramon Lull’s thinking Machine'
In, The total library: non-fiction 1922-1986 (Ed.)
Weinberger, E., trans. Allen, E. Levine, S. J., and
Weinberger, E. London, Penguin: 155-160.
(3) Frances Yates, The Art of Memory, Pimlico 1966
(4) «The rebellion of popolari» , by Dionysios Romas (in Greek). A saga of a family of Zante from 1589 till 1628 where a middle class revolution took place in that island, during the Venician domination.
(5) P. Mc Corduck, History of Artificial Intelligence στο http://dli.iiit.ac.in/ijcai/IJCAI-77-VOL2/PDF/083.pdf

Pictures from:

Posted by Poly Hatjimanolaki

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

...while Michael, who was very small, had a flamingo with lagoons flying over it...

I don't know whether you have ever seen a map of a person's mind. Doctors sometimes draw maps of other parts of you, and your own map can become intensely interesting, but catch them trying to draw a map of a child's mind, which is not only confused, but keeps going round all the time.

There are zigzag lines on it, just like your temperature on a card, and these are probably roads in the island,
for the Neverland is always more or less an island, with astonishing splashes of colour here and there, and coral reefs and rakish-looking craft in the offing, and savages and lonely lairs, and gnomes who are mostly tailors, and caves through which a river runs, and princes with six elder brothers, and a hut fast going to decay, and one very small old lady with a hooked nose.
It would be an easy map if that were all,

but there is also first day at school, religion, fathers, the round pond, needle-work, murders, hangings, verbs that take the dative, chocolate pudding day, getting into braces, say ninety-nine, three-pence for pulling out your tooth yourself….

Of course the Neverlands vary a good deal. John's, for instance, had a lagoon with flamingoes flying over it at which John was shooting, while Michael, who was very small, had a flamingo with lagoons flying over it. John lived in a boat turned upside down on the sands, Michael in a wigwam, Wendy in a house of leaves deftly sewn together.

John had no friends, Michael had friends at night, Wendy had a pet wolf forsaken by its parents,

but on the whole the Neverlands have a family resemblance,
and if they stood still in a row you could say of them that they have
each other's nose, and so forth.

Of all delectable islands the Neverland is the snuggest and most
compact, not large and sprawly, you know, with tedious distances between one adventure and another, but nicely crammed. When you play at it by day with the chairs and table-cloth, it is not in the least alarming, but in the two minutes before you go to sleep it becomes very real. That is why there are night-lights.

Occasionally in her travels through her children's minds Mrs. Darling found things she could not understand, and of these quite the most perplexing was the word Peter.

She knew of no Peter, and yet he was here and there in John and Michael's minds, while Wendy's began to be scrawled all over with him. The name stood out in bolder letters than any of the other words, and as Mrs. Darling gazed she felt that it had an oddly cocky appearance.

At first Mrs. Darling did not know, but after thinking back into her childhood she just remembered a Peter Pan who was said to live with the fairies. There were odd stories about him, as that when children died he went part of the way with them, so that they should not be frightened….

Excerpts from Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie







Posted by Poly Hatjimanolaki

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Little Omondi who wanted to be a pilot and Antoine de Saint- Exupéry

Antoine de Saint- Exupéry was flying his plane – several years ago – over Africa, when – again - the engine failed. This time, he has left Sahara desert behind him and navigated all the way to the South.

The downward currents gave him a sense of discomfort. Since the engine wasn't working, and despite his effort to steer the airplane upwards, to gainheight, Antoine felt that he was sinking. He turned to the left and then to the right, in order to avoid the slope that rose in front of him threatening to crush him. The plane was not able to go any higher.

The vibrations were very strong. He gripped his hands on his seat, plummeting – like a hat – from six thousand feet to three thousand feet, when he saw a dark even volume below him, allowing him to balance the plane.
It was lake Nakuru. He recognized it from the pink clouds of flamencos, which spent time on its shores.

From this height, he could not discern anything more than clouds and frost. He continued his trip South East, passing over lake Naivasha. He knew that soon he was going to meet Mount Longonot and the dormant volcano, that reached a height of two thousand eight hundred meters.

He was now within the Great Rift Valley, that was splits the African plate with a deep enfolding of the ground between three continents: from Syria in the South Western Asia to Mozambique in Africa.

He was running out of fuel. After trying for one more hour, he finally got to land the plane further South, on a grey soft heap…

According to the map, he was supposed to be in a residential area, but there was not a living soul in sight

The water was sufficient just for eight days. He thought – with relief – that after all, it was not the Sahara desert and that he could manage to renew his supplies. He slipped under the shaft looking for shelter, covered himself with the mail-bags and fell asleep. He dreamed that he was shipwrecked with a rescue board in the middle of the ocean, and that somebody was asking him to draw a sheep.

He opened his eyes and looked for the little person with the unusual uniform that was supposed to show him the drawing with the elephant inside the boa and that he was supposed agree with him: “this is not a hat”.

He saw two black eyes instead, staring at him with curiosity.

A twelve year old boy wearing a track suit was standing next to a goat. The goat was digging up the trash. The boy told him:
“I want to be a pilot” .

Antoine de Saint Exupéry was not any more expecting that the boy would ask him questions like “Did you fall from the sky? ” or “What is that thing?”, meaning his airplane. The boy had already seen airplanes. After their first acquaintance, the pilot – writer had a vague feeling that his interlocutor was going to describe “his own planet that was not larger than a house”.

“My name is Omondi”,

The kid said,

“I woke up my mother
early in the morning.

I am twelve years old.
I live in Kibera
the biggest slum in East Africa.”

So, Omondi was not in the mood to talk about other planets, or for astronomers, or strange trees which occupy all the space of your planet when you leave them there, unattended. Also there was nothing to sweep, since the space was made of heaps of trash. He sneaked into the pile and collected some aluminium cans that he intended to sell later at the Recycling kiosk. The pilot wondered whether the child was hungry.

“My last meal was on Sunday
today is Wednesday

I want to be a pilot
to fly very high,
far away from the ghetto

to a place
where kids have parents
that don't die of HIV

to a place far away
where guardians of orphan kids
cannot abuse us

to a place far away
where goats eat
things other than trash
to a place far away
where I am treated
as well as white people are.”

The writer – pilot felt as if someone has punched him in his stomach. He looked around and realized that his plane had landed on a heap of trash in the Kibera slum. There was not a single tree, or a flower that he could water and which later on would make a scene of jealousy at him. There were only hovels with tin roofs, children playing among the heaps of rubbish, and the railroad splitting the slum in two parts, engraved in some depth, as in a riverbed. People were standing higher observing these piles from there… He had not seen so much poverty before. “Who is responsible for that poverty?”, he asked himself. “And this kid that wants to become a pilot”…

“Look at this rail track”, he told the kid. “People have learned to use winding paths. They use roads that bypass the waste land, rocks, sand and are directed where people feel their needs will be satisfied, that will lead them from a source to another source. They connect one village to another, they tumble in the desert and they rest in an oasis. Look at this rail track. In order to connect Mombasa, the port in East Africa with Lake Victoria inlands, people thought that they would beat gravity and started building a railroad inclined at 45 degrees. A railroad that would climb up high grounds and plateaus.”

The boy doubled over his knees in order to listen to him.

“The plane is what beats gravity. We take off and leave the roads that converge to the drinking troughs and stables, and slither winding like snakes from place to place. From our height, away from any human need, we discover the beauty of the desert, the charm of the rocks, of the mold, the sand, the salt. At this level people are invisible”

Without rising from his position, the boy answered:
“I want to be a pilot
to fly very high,

to a place far away
where there are lots of school books
so one day

I can fly
far away.

I want to be a pilot.
It must feel so good
to go places

where I can walk barefoot
on the green grass

where water is clean
with rivers and springs

where I can feel the sun
shining on me.”

“Now the time has come that he will abandon me”, Antoine de Saint – Exupéry thought and began to worry. He decided to take the boy with him on the back seat of his plane. He was certain that he would be able to repair it so that they would leave together. The boy looked as if he was getting ready to dispose of his “heavy” earthly body. “He will ask me to take him to “the” place where he will meet the snake”, thought Antoine de Saint – Exupéry. I want to write his story : The little black prince that wanted to be a pilot”

“My dream is to fly far away
to a place
where my suffering can end.

I want to be a pilot
to wear a uniform
to go places

where others are not afraid
to play with me
because I am HIV positive

where I can lead a simple life
where I can eat at least once a day
where there is a future.

I want to be a pilot
so I can fly
to a place far away
where my mum and dad are

so they can hug me
so they can kiss me
so they can love me

so I can hug them
so I can kiss them
so I can love them”


Antoine de Saint – Exupéry did not write the story of Omondi. His plane disappeared the night of 31st July 1944 after the take off from the air base in Corsica. However, he had always in mind the grown ups and the children that were hungry and suffered during the war. For this reason, he dedicated his Little Prince to his friend Leon, that “has been a child” who was in France, hungry and cold.


The story of Omondi was turned into a film – poem documentary by the Mexican film director Diego Quemada – Diez. Omondi is a twelve years old kid growing up in Kibera, the greatest slum in East Africa. His story, written by Diego Quemada – Diez, is made from the stories of all the children of the slum.


The journey of Saint – Exupéry to Africa and the failure of the airplane motor over lake Nakuru is inspired from his flight over the Andean mountains in Chile and the lake Laguna Diamante as described in chapter “Colleagues” of his book “The Land of Men ” ( translated into Greek)

In the same book (chapter airplane) lies the inspiration for the thoughts on terrestrial and aerial routes.

The “previous” air crash in the Sahara desert is of course told in The Little Prince, which also is inspired from a real story.

Images :
http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/imagerecords/19000/19637/kenya_ast_2008065_lrg.jpg http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1131/1152363350_5ce5c8e981.jpg?v=0

Posted by Poly Hatjimanolaki, Athens, Greece