Jan 01, 2016
Adinkra Symbols and Higher-order Symmetry
In an interview published in Garage Magazine in February 2012 Anna Craycroft talks with cyberneticist Ron Eglash about the infinite unity of
thinking and doing, and he said:
Using an image to try to sum it up is a great idea. Let me offer one that reminds me of what you say above but is a little more visually nuanced. Adinkra symbols are used in a stamped cloth tradition in Ghana; each symbol is associated with some aphorism. The adinkra symbol boa me na me mmoa wo ("Help me and let me help you") makes use of a geometric combination of symmetry and asymmetry: both are triangles, but one contains a white square and the other a white circle. This conveys the concept that social reciprocity contains both—you gave me a more expensive gift (asymmetry) but we treat them as if they were of equal value (symmetry). I need your help more than you need mine, but if it is a relation based on friendship, we treat the exchange of help as if the needs were equal. You can take that to a deeper level looking at the black outer circle and square—the arrow with the white square has a black circle at the end, and vice-versa for the other. So the asymmetry is created in a symmetrical fashion, a kind of higher-order symmetry. Art and science are not equally empowered in our society. We are familiar with the phrase “starving artist,” but “starving scientist” sounds like an oxymoron. We think of artists as people who are drunk on life, scientists as wet blankets and wallflowers. If we are really going to fashion new braids from elements on both sides of the divide, they will have to be with an understanding similar to boa me na me mmoa wo.