How do you step outside your own worldview? One way is to learn about others’ worldviews, and compare them with your own. I love the “a-ha” feeling that comes from encountering an idea that rings true but never occurred to me before.
The deciphering of the Inka khipu creates this kind of moment. Have you considered that information about people and families could be transmitted in a 3-dimensional binary system? In Appendix B of the book “1491,” there’s a discussion about the amount of data needed to record language. In the khipu, there are enough discrete items that could be used to hold data– binary items, like whether a knot is tied overhand or underhand, or whether a cord is woven with a “z” or “s” ply; non-binary items, like use of certain colors, groupings of colors, spaces between groupings, type of material the cord is made of– that it is statistically possible for the khipu to hold narrative language. In other words, it’s possible that khipu could be thought of as especially tactile books, ones that engage the reader’s brain on several levels.
It can take cross-subject training to discover hidden relationships. While humans love to identify separate groups in order to understand the world better, the world itself doesn’t behave like that– it’s like a sunset sky that blends from one color to the next without a specific boundary line between “red” and “orange.” The lungfish doesn’t care that its placement under cladistic or Linnean systems is hard for normal people to stomach. There is no dividing line between art, chemistry, math, physics, music, biology, sociology, and poetry, and this is a wonderful thing, because it means every person’s life is richer in every area for understanding more in any area.
It took a polymath to see a way into the meaning of the khipu. Because of what he discovered, we have new insights not just into the khipu techniques, but also into the social structure of the Inka civilization. Thank you, Manuel Medrano!