Trees were symbolically important for most ancient cultures, often worshipped and frequently present in art. Their association with immortality and their branching structure made them natural scaffolds for genealogies, showing, for example, the lineage of Christ and of royalty. They visually established pedigree and, equally crucial in medieval societies, helped to control inbreeding by showing how closely people were related to a potential spouse.
Yet, as Lima's book shows, the greatest impact of trees was in the realm of taxonomy, as visual representations of abstract religious and scientific concepts. Religion illuminated the way, with 13th-century scribes drawing trees to show relationships between scriptural texts, to aid memory and encourage exegesis – the practice of critical interpretation of texts common in monasteries. . . .
Lima convincingly singles out 13th-century Spanish philosopher Ramon Llull as a key figure, whose encyclopedic Arbor Scientiae (Tree of Science) presented a unified vision of knowledge. His 16 domains of science, from the moral to the celestial, are each represented by a branch, and all are supported by a single trunk fed by 18 roots [see image at top]. The roots are also labelled, with nine bearing divine attributes such as wisdom, and nine signifying logical principles, including contrariety.
Over the next five centuries, the roots were pruned, but the tree of knowledge flourished as a metaphor – think "branches" of science – and evolved as a visualisation model.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Trees of Knowledge
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