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
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 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kleene_star> (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
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
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.
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