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960Re: [ANE-2] Parpola & the Assyrian Tree

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  • Ariel L. Szczupak
    Apr 1, 2006
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      At 00:17 01/04/2006, Trudy Kawami wrote:
      >[...] I had trouble with his first sentence: "A stylized tree with
      >obvious religious significance already occurs as an art motif in
      >fourth-millennium Mesopotamia..." No image is provided and no
      >explanation, however brief, of what is "obvious" -ly religious about
      >the image. [...] But Parpola is not interested in the specific trees
      >or cultures or their ideas about the tree images, but only the ideal
      >forms that can fit into his abstract system. [...] He does not care
      >about the individual works of art, the very basis of art historical
      >research. [...]

      Thank you.

      I had Parpola's tree in my "to check" list because I kept seeing it
      referenced in serious publications even though the claim seemed preposterous.

      In signal detection theory (important to the pattern recognition
      aspects of cognition) there are four possible outcomes - hit, miss
      (false negative), false alarm (false positive) and correct rejection.
      What you describe is not just bad "art historical research", it's
      symptomatic of false pattern recognition, which means that the
      reasoning used to support the falsely recognized pattern will be flawed.

      Myths will have similar symbols (trees, fishes, the sun and moon,
      genitalia, etc etc). It's something you can bet on, because of the
      similarities in the human experience. The tellers of the myths are
      the causal factor, the definers of patterns. And there will be
      similarities not only in the choice of symbols but also in the
      characteristics of what what they represent because each symbol has
      certain characteristics (e.g. the sun will be used to symbolize
      something cyclical, not a fish).

      But what you describe implies that Parpola defines his pattern by the
      symbols, not by the symbol creators, and that's a false alarm, unless
      he can support his claim by linking the creators of the symbols in some way.

      The basic reasoning for the necessity of binding patterns to the
      pattern creators and not to the creations is that the creations are
      not self-generating. The 6 ft and 1" trees didn't just appear, they
      were created by a volitional, cognitive processes.

      If Parpola can link the acts of creation of those symbols in some
      way, show that they're the result of similar cognitive processes,
      then he may have a viable theory, but otherwise what he's doing is
      fiction, not science - he's creating a pattern where there isn't one.

      Example of similar creations without an otherwise established link
      between the creators (false positive) - the Egyptian and American pyramids.

      Example of similar creations with an otherwise established link
      between the creators (hit) - the Greek and Phoenician alphabets. The
      link is not in us knowing that there were contacts between the Greeks
      and Phoenicians (though it helps), but in our knowledge of what the
      creators intended the symbols to represent, the similarity in the
      phonetic value of the symbols.

      So Parpola has to show that the creators of the Assyrian trees and
      the Kabbalah tree meant them to mean something very similar
      (something vaguely similar won't do because the inherent
      characteristics of trees already limit the possible symbolisms) or a
      step by step evolution from one to the other with every step
      supported with evidence of the intent of the symbol creators.


      >Parpola's theories clearly resonate in this New Age when even pop stars
      >study the Kabbalah. However, this tells us more about ourselves than the
      >ancient Assyrians.

      Parpola will stay in my "to check" list, but not as a scientific
      theory but as something that seems to affect and captivate people - a
      fictional creation (which, if good enough, could be art).


      [100% bona fide dilettante ... delecto ergo sum!]

      Ariel L. Szczupak
      AMIS-JLM (Ricercar Ltd.)
      POB 4707, Jerusalem, Israel 91401
      Phone: +972-2-5619660 Fax: +972-2-5634203
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