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# How many ways can you store knowledge?November 14, 2006 6:07 PM   Subscribe

How many ways can you store information?

I've always been fascinated with knowledge and how it affects us. However, I know there are many ways to store information that I'm not aware of. Things like the Incan knot tying system. What am I missing?
posted by clockworkjoe to media & arts (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

DNA
posted by Science! at 6:21 PM on November 14, 2006

Oh and its slightly older cousin RNA
posted by Science! at 6:23 PM on November 14, 2006

I know. I'm more interested in more obscure methods of storing information, like the Quipu.
posted by clockworkjoe at 6:40 PM on November 14, 2006

How about the ancient "stick maps" from the Marshall Islands?
posted by sculpin at 6:48 PM on November 14, 2006

Are you looking for citations of methods known to have been used for information storage, or for notions in the abstract?
posted by cortex at 6:48 PM on November 14, 2006

My comment is deleted, but dancing angels on a pin isn't? (Or the whole question, really..)

Fine, here's one of the infinite answers to this problem:

Convert your knowledge to ASCII text, where each letter is assigned a number. String these numbers together, then search the digits of pi for this string. Write down how many digits in to pi you found the string, and how long the string is.
posted by odinsdream at 6:50 PM on November 14, 2006

(Oh, fine, now I realize that they're usually called stick charts.)

You might also be interested in Lukasa memory boards and some totem poles.
posted by sculpin at 6:58 PM on November 14, 2006

Yeah, I'm thinking of systems actually used by people, not abstractions. I wish I could edit my question. Thanks for the link to the stick
posted by clockworkjoe at 7:05 PM on November 14, 2006

How many ways can you store information?

As mentioned above, close to infinite.

What am I missing?

What am I missing?
Message sticks may be one.
posted by pompomtom at 7:07 PM on November 14, 2006

I've always liked the idea of taking a stick and placing one notch on it. The ratio between the lengths of the two pieces the stick is thereby divided into is expressed as a decimal number and this is then decoded according to some key.

You run up into the Planck radius surprisingly soon, but it's quite feasible to transmit a couple thousand bits this way with manageable-sized sticks.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:53 PM on November 14, 2006

The little old man notebook. Fits right in your pocket.
posted by I Am Not a Lobster at 8:43 PM on November 14, 2006

Do you mean other than writing or picture based systems? Because there's plenty of them.

If so, is it reasonable to clarify your question as:

"tell me about ways actively used around the world, now or in the past, to store and transmit knowledge, other than in written form?"
posted by MetaMonkey at 11:07 PM on November 14, 2006

For further clarification, are you also excluding systems like oral transmission of folk knowledge through stories, verse or song? How about martial arts knowledge disguised in dance like Capoeira?
posted by MetaMonkey at 11:16 PM on November 14, 2006

If you haven't encountered this yet, you might be interested in Stigmergy. I haven't read much on it, but I think it was first used to describe how termites left trails that affected later behavior by other termites. An entire mound is built up just by termites being drawn to previously gathered mud balls.

Another thing you might be interested in is numbering systems. Most societies use 10, but some count with other body parts beyond just their fingers, and thus their number system can be 12-based, 14-based, etc.

You may be interested in which explores the idea of encoded information in Hebrew and other ancient texts

One thing you may find is that knowledge in its stored form is much less meaningful than knowledge in it active (or shared) form. There, delving into psychology might be more helpful -- especially facial expressions. If you don't think facial expressions along can hold knowledge, you might want to read Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, which describes the amazing capability of this one scientist (whose name I can't remember) who was able to accurately describe the tendencies and behaviors of a tribe in Equatorial New Guinea merely by looking at short clips showing their faces. He was able to correctly identify a tribe as being cruel, cannibalistic, with homosexual (or, more properly, pedophilic) tendencies while also correctly identifying the other tribe as peaceful and gentle. So, there's that.
posted by Deathalicious at 12:11 AM on November 15, 2006

Ouch. Linkage killed me. Should have read: You may be interested in Gematria which explores the idea of encoded information in Hebrew and other ancient texts
posted by Deathalicious at 12:13 AM on November 15, 2006

Drums, smoke signals, semaphore...
posted by Pollomacho at 12:14 AM on November 15, 2006

Memories. Books, parchments, scrolls, etc. Paintings, murals. Engravings. Tattoos, branding. The Tarot deck has been proposed to be a coded form of the Book of the Dead (a discredited notion, but it's still a cool idea.)

You can probably group most of the methods into phonemes, ideograms and pictograms.
posted by RobotHero at 8:50 AM on November 15, 2006

The Hobo system of chalk-drawing ideograms?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 5:09 PM on November 15, 2006

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