Home > consciousness, cosmology, Mysticism, philosophy, physics, semiotics > Unintentional Symbolism: * and #

Unintentional Symbolism: * and #

October 28, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

asterisk pound

Part of my approach to making new sense of the universe involves indulging in meditations on unintentional symbolism. Any pattern that catches my attention is a potential subject for intuition voodoo. Usually it pays off eventually, even when it seems absurd at first.

In this case, I was thinking about the # and * symbols that were inserted into our visual culture obliquely, as extra buttons on the telephone which flanked the 0. Taking this as my cue to relate this to the multisense continuum, I compared the symbols graphically, etymologically, and semantically.

The pound sign (hash, hashtag, number sign) seems to me a dead ringer for the Western-mechanistic pole of the continuum, while the asterisk (star) fits quite nicely as the Oriental-animistic pole.

Here’s how it breaks down:

# – number sign, so quantitative and generic. The symbol is one of four lines crossing each other at right angles to yield nine implicit regions of space. The slant provides a suggestion of orientation – a forward lean that disambiguates spatial bias and implies, subliminally, an arrow of time.

In the age of Twitter and Instagram, the hashtag has become an important cultural influence. It is interesting with respect to mechanism in that it refers to accessing a machine’s sorting algorithms. It is a note to the network of how this term should be handled. We have appropriated this satirically so that we recapture it for our own entertainment, but also as a kind of show of affection for and familiarity with the technology.

In direct contrast, the * is am icon which is used to interrupt one level of attention to direct the reader to another level – a footnote. Instead of relating to numbers, the * is a wildcard that can be related to any string. It stands for “all that is preceded by or follows”. Contrary to the cellular modularity of #, the * is a mandala. It implies kaliedoscopic sensibility and fractal elaboration. It is a symbol of radiance, growth, life, unity, etc.

There’s some interesting threads that connect the * with mathematical terms such as Kleene closure (more commonly known as the free monoid construction). Just the words ‘free monoid construction’ ring in my ears as an echo of what I call solitrophy – the constructive progress of teleological unity…the creation and solution of problems.

Also the use of *asterisk* for heightened emphasis links it to the significance of euphoria or magnified feeling (and the euphoria that is associated with significance or magnified prestige/importance). Wikipedia mentions the use of # by editors to represent where space should be added on galley proofs. The use of * is, by contrast associated with repetition of a particular thing – a replication. This is a tenuous but deep connection to the origins of space and time in the difference between syntactic-public sense and semantic-private sense.

The name ‘pound sign’ seems to be fairly mysterious. It does not seem to be related conclusively to either the English currency or the Avoirdupois weight. Both references, however, have very tempting subliminal associations to the Western pole of empirical domination. On the other side, the name asterisk means ‘little star’, from Greek and Latin. I can read into that a reference to ‘as above, so below’, as the twinkling point of light reproduces in miniature that which is the grand solar source of life on Earth.

A follow up post on my blog

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