Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Bucky Fuller's Funny Words

Buckminster Fuller loved new words -- neologisms. He saw himself as living at the moment when human understanding made a lot of language obsolete. Using the old words, he thought, shaped our understanding incorrectly, in spite of what we could answer correctly on tests.

"Sunsight" and "Sunclipse" are two Fullerisms, because the Sun does not really rise or set, on our round, rotating, and orbiting planet.

"Epistemography" might be the key Fuller neologism. "Epistemology" is the study of knowledge, or an understanding of existence. Epistemography is a graphic representation of existence.

You didn't even know you had one, did you? The need for such a word would have only come to somebody who recognized that there was such a thing because he had come up with a different one.

Here's the epistemography that I can't help but use: a universe filled with invisible cubes that I can walk right through and never notice. Perspective drawing is based on those invisible cubes.

In Euclidean geometry we learn that a point is dimensionless. String a bunch of dimensionless points together, and you get a one-dimensional string called a line. Make a raft out of one-dimensional lines, and call it a two-dimensional plane. Stack a bunch of two-dimensional planes to get a three-dimensional  world. The polite word is "tautology." Fuller said "Baloney."

Here's Fuller's: Make a triangle out of toothpicks stuck into peas. Now make a three-sided pyramid by sticking three toothpicks into the three peas, and joining them with another pea at the top. That's a tetrahedron. Make four new tetrahedrons, one based on each side of the original tetrahedron. Keep putting new tetrahedrons wherever you make a triangle, until you fill the universe.

Make toothpick triangles, and they're pretty sturdy. squares feel wobbly. Tetrahedrons: sturdy. Cubes: wobbly. Carpenters brace framed walls with plywood. there are triangles in the plywood, keeping the lumber square. Fuller said that nature would choose the most economical structures, and triangles are more economical than squares.

He thought our uneconomical cubic way of building was part of the way that we're trying to kill ourselves, and he thought he's discovered "nature's coordinate system."

What if he was right?

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