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


  1. Το εννεάγραμο του Γκουρντζίεφ έχει πολλές αναλογίες με τον Αστρολογικό Αραβικό πίνακα.-
    καλό καλόκαίρι και καλό μεσημέρι.

  2. airgood,

    ευχαριστώ πολύ.

    Δεν ήξερα για τα εννεάγραμμα του Γκουρτζιέφ (και του Μουράβιεφ).

  3. Dear Poly, I've been away for a while and coming back I've happily discovered that in the meantime you also launched an English version of your wonderful blog. How great! So I can recommend it to my friends as well. First of all this post to my friend Wang Wei in the island of Llull.

  4. Dear Tamasz,

    Thank you for your visit.

    Waxtablets is a Lullian copy of Πινακίδες από κερί. Ι hope that Wang Wei will enjoy it.


  5. Fascinating!
    I thought the chief value of the zairja, or Lullian combinatorics, was to Mannerist poetry- i.e a Baroque type of poetry which 'exhausts its own possibilities'.
    Of course, in what may be termed a 'highly co-related world' such as that of the Hermetics for whom Herbology mirrored Astrology and Alchemy mirrored Esoteric Psychology, the zairja would have actually been thought an algorithmic method to crank out all possible Truth.
    There is another side to the Lullian story it seems to me- viz. the notion that far from experiencing a Damascene conversion (or rather, precisely because of his Pauline conversion) he fuses the mystical love theology of the troubadours with Christology.
    The paradox that (for example) Qais Majnoon must turn away from Leilah, indeed, must refuse to marry her and remain in the desert, is because this is the intenser love. He spins his zairja of memories of her hair and writes the eternal Book of Love upon the wind whipped sands of the Empty Quarter.

  6. Hello, there is an article on the Zairja in Variantology 4, which just appeared in print. All best, D

  7. A new twist on an old subject. Thanks. Also see my bibliography:

    Philosophical and Universal Languages, 1600-1800, and Related Themes: Selected Bibliography

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