New Civilization News: Glass Bead Games    
 Glass Bead Games15 comments
picture 25 Jun 2004 @ 12:06, by Flemming Funch

In a comment thread, Sellitman mentioned this article by Charles Cameron about Hermann Hesse's Glass Bead Game. Now, I had no idea what that was, as I hadn't even heard of his book "Magister Ludi: The Glass Bead Game". And, well, there's a lengthy academic treatise about how one might possibly construct a game that is described rather vaguely in the book. But it somehow stimulated my interest, and it seems to point to something important, albeit a bit beyond the horizon of comprehension.

Herman Hesse about a simple version of the game, which was apparently some activity he would engage in while raking leaves in the yard:
"I hear music and see men of the past and future. I see wise men and poets and scholars and artists harmoniously building the hundred-gated cathedral of Mind."
That sounds great of course. Now hear what Timothy Leary had to say:
In the avant garde, cyber-hip frontiers of the computer culture, around Mass. Ave. in Cambridge, around Palo Alto, in the Carnegie Mellon AI labs, in the backrooms of the computer graphics labs in Southern California, even in the Austin labs of MCC, a Hesse comeback seems to be happening. However. This revival is not connected with Hermann's mystical, eastern writings. It's based on his last, and least understood, work, Magister Ludi: The Glass Bead Game. This book, which earned Hesse the Expense-Paid Brain Ride to Stockholm, is positioned a few decades in the future when human intelligence is enhanced and human culture elevated by a device for thought-processing called The Glass Bead Game. Up here in the Electronic '80s we can appreciate what Hesse did, back down there (1931-1942).
Hm, intriguing, but still didn't tell us what it is. Anyway, the author of the treatise inches closer with various examples and snippets of clues.
The figure of Pierre Sogol (ie *logos*) in Rene Daumal's novel *Mount Analog* is clearly a Game Player. Sogol lives in an attic studio in Paris, and a pebbled path leads through shrubs and bushes and cactus plants around this studio:
Along the path, glued to the windowpanes or hung on the bushes or dangling from the ceiling, so that all free space was put to maximum use, hundreds of little placards were displayed. Each one carried a drawing, a photograph, or an inscription, and the whole constituted a veritable encyclopedia of what we call 'human knowledge.' A diagram of a plant cell, Mendeleieff's periodic table of the elements, a key to Chinese writing, a cross-section of the human heart, Lorentz's transformation formulae, each planet and its characteristics, fossil remains of the horse species in series, Mayan hieroglyphics, economic and demographic statistics, musical phrases, samples of the principal plant and animal families, crystal specimens, the ground plan of the Great Pyramid, brain diagrams, logistic equations, phonetic charts of the sounds employed in all languages, maps, genealogies -- everything in short which would fill the brain of a twentieth-century Pico della Mirandola...
Ah, the concept is beginning to form. It is a way of weaving together patterns, snippets of knowledge, symbols, music, art - everything
"I suddenly realized that in the language, or at any rate in the spirit of the Glass Bead Game, everything actually was all-meaningful, that every symbol and combination of symbols led not hither and yon, not to single examples, experiments, and proofs, but into the center, the mystery and innermost heart of the world, into primal knowledge. Every transition from major to minor in a sonata, every transformation of a myth or a religious cult, every classical or artistic formulation was, I realized in that flashing moment, if seen with a truly meditative mind, nothing but a direct route into the interior of the cosmic mystery, where in the alternation between inhaling and exhaling, between heaven and earth, between Yin and Yang, holiness is forever being created."
Cool. A meditative mind directly accessing the cosmic mystery. Quanta of lucid comprehension and primal creation wowen together into universal wholeness. A system, a language for expressing and examing all of it. Playing complex patterns, no matter the media. Linking expressions of life in many dimensions, many senses. Synestesia. A passage from Hesse's book:
Highest culture: the bead game in many categories, embraces music, history, space, *mathematics*. X is now the highest of bead game players, plays the world symphony, varies it according to Plato, to Bach, to Mozart, expresses the most complicated of things in 10 lines of beads, is completely understood by three or four, half-understood by 1000s.
So, is it a language? Maybe. Bertrand Russell has this to say about creating ideal languages:
The first requisite of an ideal language would be that there should be one name for every simple, and never the same name for two different simples. A name is a simple symbol in the sense that it has no parts which are themselves symbols. In a logically perfect language nothing that is not simple will have a simple symbol.
Breaking everything down into its most simple components, in such a way that they easily can be re-combined or communicated or played.

Computers. The web. Everything is broken down into ones and zeros. Whether it is music, words, ideas, math, paintings, video, conversation, genetics. All come down to ones and zeros. And back again. And the possibilities for re-combination are endless. So does the web provide a substrate for this game? From the author:
The Web allows the direct, digitized display of textual, musical, numerical and pictorial content, and thus provides the Game designer with a medium in which -- to take an example from one of my own Games -- TS Eliot's lyric "The dove descending" can be directly juxtaposed with Vaughan William's lovely piece, "The lark ascending". The counterpoint I am after is not simply between the two forms of words, although that is present, but also between the poem as it may be read aloud and the music as it may be played -- and beyond that, to the descent of the Paraclete on the disciples' heads in the form of flame and the rain of incindiary bombs on London during the Blitz, and to the English meadow lark and its prior celebration by Shakespeare and others.

I tend to think, then, of the Web as a kind of "board" on which the Glass Bead Game or its variants can be played, not simply in natural language but by the direct juxtaposition of ideas -- verbal, musical, numerical, pictorial -- in their own nature.

But in fact this is not what is going on. My presentation of Vaughan Williams' "The lark ascending" on the web is no more the piece itself as played than the Vaughan Williams piece is the lark itself as it ascends. On the web, a performance of the Vaughan Williams and a reading of the Eliot poem can be juxtaposed by rendering them into a common *digital* language... And it is this digital language which I suggest is in practice the appropriate analytic language for the design of Glass Bead Games.
I don't know what he really did with those pieces of text or the music, but I get the idea, of how pieces can be brought together, juxtaposed, re-mixed, transferred between media, played in new ways. As he says, using the "web as an organ whose manuals and pedals can indeed range over the entire intellectual cosmos".

Too quick an answer to just let binary code be the magical symbolic language that can represent everything. Ones and zeros don't in themselves represent very much at all. Yeah, we can also split everything into sub-atomic particles, but that doesn't provide all the wisdom of how things combine and play in the universe at large. As a metaphor for having access to everything, it will work, I guess. But it would be a worthwhile venture to pursue the more full-featured abstract languages or pattern languages that might span a bigger and deeper range of life in one movement.
It is this approach which my colleague Terence MacNamee is currently pursuing, searching in his own field of specialty, linguistics, for "a more formal kind of game where there really are structural isomorphisms that are purely intellectual and have nothing to do with events" by converting his old Master's thesis -- which is about the foundations of historical linguistics in the 19th century -- into formal structures for use in games.

I can see that the analysis of syntagms in language could establish isomorphisms between phenomena that are not otherwise related, such as:

(1) Ablaut in Germanic ("speak" vs. "spoke") (2) vowel harmony in languages like Turkish (a word must have all front vowels or all back vowels in it) (3) Semitic roots ("kitab - katab - ktab" - "writes - wrote - book").

The ramifications of this make me dizzy.

I intend, then, to work on these formal correspondences, both paradigmatic and syntagmatic, in the context of linguistics from Grimm to Saussure. The result will be a scholarly monograph which I hope to publish, and a series of games derived therefrom.
Makes me dizzy too. Anyway, isomorphisms, yeah, that's good. Finding how things express certain deeper patterns, even if they might be manifested in very different media, and even though the superficial content might be different. A content and context and media independent language, facilitating the expression of infinite play. A poem from Hesse:
The pattern sings like crystal constellations, And when we tell our beads, we serve the whole, And cannot be dislodged or misdirected, Held in the orbit of the Cosmic Soul.
We've been drowning in information. We're on sensory and mental overload most of the time. The web plugs us into an ocean of information, pictures, sounds and bits in a number of media. So, now, the thought is there that we might deal with it all in different ways. There might be more wholistic ways of surfing. Seeing the waves and the ocean as a whole in motion, rather than as a whole lot of drops. Ways of comprehending large chunks at the same time, because we know the keys that tie them together. Seeing forests we didn't before know existed, because we couldn't fathom their trees or their leaves. Suddenly hearing the music of the spheres, once we know there are spheres. Tasting the soup when it dawns on us that it is a soup. If it is a game, I wanna play.

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25 Jun 2004 @ 21:27 by ov : Hesse and Colin Wilson
Hesse was quite the glass bead in his own right and more connections within that brain than in your average human. Hesse also influenced a lot of creative minds and he made big ripples in a big pond. After my first girlfriend brushed me off I won her back by buying her a copy of Damien which setup a date for the next weekend which was when I lost my viriginity and it was like way cool, we screwed the sun down and watched it come up again.

About six months or so ago I started exploring the Outsider series of books by Colin Wilson, there are six books in the series and it explores different aspects of the development of the existentialist issues and Hesse is included in one of the later stages of that process. I've scanned "The Strength To Dream" which is the book on imagination, just to see the checkmarked parts and there are a few points about how all of Hesse's works are like spiritual road trips to self discovery. I remember reading quite a bit about the glass bead game but I think it was in the first "Outsider" which I currently have loaned out. A couple of months ago I went down to the super cheap bin at my favorite used book store and the find of the day was Magister Ludi for 25 cents, so it has been sitting on my to read pile. Another one of those great coincidences.

Thanks to the internet a quick search turned up this {|e-book} with the following description:

"Fascinating insights into Hesse's personal search for truth. A concise, compelling analysis of Hesse's life and work.

Wilson provides an important assessment of classic novels such as The Glass Bead Game - for which Hesse won the Nobel Prize - as well as all-time favorites, Siddhartha and Steppenwolf.

Wilson's first book, The Outsider, effectively put Hesse back on the map, resulting in the Hesse revival of the 1960s.

This eBook edition contains the complete 48 page text of the original paperback edition.

Wilson eBooks are available for personal, non-commercial use only, and are not for resale."

As far as anticipating the Web there are lots of contendors. Vannevar Bush, science advisor to Truman back in 1945 has the memmex machine, and Ted Nelson with Xanadu had an electronic vision since then, and before any of these there were the enclycopedists such as Hegel with his nine level deep outline of the thesis antithesis synthesis triade, and before that there was Leibniz with the underlying code for the universal languages, so there have been some people that have been waiting a long time for the Web to actually materialize.

I'll have to check out David Abram's book, it sounds interesting.  

26 Jun 2004 @ 04:15 by jazzolog : Books About The Book
I had a professor in college (Philosophy of Science) who claimed to have played the game with fellow grad students at Harvard. He so beamed Truth when he talked about it that many of us headed for Hesse at once...and read not only Magister Ludi---but everything! You know how that goes. It's a book that begs for rereadings through one's life---which I have not done and sounds like a good project for this very day. At any rate, I suggest that folks find a copy---in whatever language you are comfortable (Hesse's if possible)---and get started. THEN look up the commentaries.  

26 Jun 2004 @ 04:21 by shawa : Reading it again... new synapses appear in the brain, and we understand - grok - what it´s all about, - making the Glassperlen connections...
:-) The Spiel sounds a lot like a dream about the Internet, true.  

26 Jun 2004 @ 08:40 by ming : Glassperlen
I'm glad some of you smart folks have read it. I've ordered it now. Anyway, interestingly, I actually prefer to approach a book like that. Hear it mentioned, look up some commentaries, hear what people say about it when I mention it. See what it triggers. And then go and read it.

I've once or twice clashed with somebody who insisted I go read some particular book before we could have a meaningful conversation. Usually it was their own. You know, "I can't waste time talking with you, if you haven't studied the literature first", or, "I've already laid out all my views very well in my book, so there's no point in repeating them". Maybe not, if you see it that way. But what I find exciting are the connections that can be triggered here and now. Truth shines through, even if we haven't all read the same stuff or done the same things. And when the bells go off, it indicates that there's something deeper to pursue.

Which actually is on topic here, I think. There's a primal language, or a game, which one might recognize, even in its multitude of forms or disguises.  

26 Jun 2004 @ 09:15 by jazzolog : Confession
In my younger days---when I actually might turn up at an early morning class a bit hung over---some of the best teaching I ever did arose from the fact I hadn't read the assigned chapter myself. When I asked those students for information, I REALLY wanted to know.  

26 Jun 2004 @ 09:25 by ming : GBG Games
John Fenderson says:

"I keep a page full of Discordian games ({link:|}), and have three GBG-based games listed there:"


Flemming says: Wow, cool! Those guys are not kidding around. I'm reading the Waldzell thing right now.  

28 Jun 2004 @ 16:32 by Quirkeboy @ : Whanna huh wuh??
Speaking of lack of education.. (from other blog).. I have never read Hesse.. but Im having a hard time decoding the Glass Bead Game from that Waldzell link:
I assume its a game wherein you attempt to connect something to the systems they are part of and categorize them in a hierarchy.. but why all the simantics? If its just categorizing.. then it has all the appeal (to me) as creating a card catelogue.. what am I missing? (besides a few brain cells!!) The instructions for the game are just as confusing as the game itself.  

28 Jun 2004 @ 17:15 by ming : GBG
I can't really see much sense in his examples of games either. But the way I seem to read it, it is about creating structures, ontologies, with which one then connects up analogies from diverse fields. Like, creating a certain set of abstract patterns that one can find in maybe music, architecture and quantum physics. Seems meaningless if we only use arbitary symbols. But very useful, maybe, if we find, for example, the pattern of rhythm in several fields. And find how the notation of music can be mapped on to the field of car repair, or something. But, I must admit, I don't quite get it yet either. But there seems to be something there. Maybe the infinite game of finding meta-patterns that apply to as many diverse fields as possible, and that actually are useful for them.  

28 Jun 2004 @ 17:52 by ov : Reading Hesse now
Richard suggested reading the Glass Bead Game before reading about it and I'm about a third of the way through it and would like to thank him for that advice. A great book so far and I'm surprised I haven't read it before. I think this book would be a great candidate for a wiki such as the {|Stephenson's Baroque Cycle} and I'm spotting lots of great connections.

I heard an interesting comment yesterday on the {|CBC Tapestry} program by rabbi Kushner when he said that poetry was that which is lost in translation. I think that playing a glass bead game online with a poetry rather than a musical foundation would uncover some very interesting channels that would allow a person to travel forward and backward through cultural time. This could simply be because I've found a poetry connection within myself whereas musical talent eludes me. Or perhaps it is because if poetry rather than music was used as the foundation Hesse would have been obligated to provide examples since he was working in a text medium but with music he could avoid the issue without it becoming an issue. There are a lot of structures in poetry and poetry is not JUST about feelings.  

4 Jul 2004 @ 21:12 by ov : Music and GBG
This next piece of information that I just heard on the radio relates to Polymaths, Glass Bead Games, Open Source, Music and Humanities. The word is rubato and it is a musical term that was described as the push and pull of tempo (which I thought was quite OrgasmoVolution)and the robbing from one note to give to another (heh that's my name and what I do) So I googled it, and found that it had it's own website {|} and found out that it was an open source project (because the original run out of funds) for the analysis of music. The following quote is from the top link.

"This concept is not only a corollary of information technology. It resides on the approach of mental experiments with the subjects of humanities. In fact, human nature distributes over a vast spiritual topography requiring reciprocal exploration. This latter cannot ordain models ex officio but has to test them under the standards of exact science. However, it is only with information technology that experiments in mental models have become possible: The computers are the particle accelerators of the humanities."

The work is being done at the multi-media lab in Zurich (city that first published the Glass Bead Game in German; you didn't think Hitler would have allowed something like that do you). It has collaborators in the fields of statistics, musicology and semiotics. I have a strong strong feeling that there are others.

Rubato -- Definitely Glass Bead Material.  

5 Jul 2004 @ 16:24 by ming : GBG
Great. I've gotta make a wiki for organizing stuff like that. Anyway, coming up.  

9 Jul 2004 @ 14:08 by ov : GBG
Perhaps that wiki might work well as a repository for a lot of this Mayan material that has fallen into my lap in the last 24 hours. Went to a three hour lecture last night on recent discoveries of the Mayan calendars, mainly the Tun which is the divine or prophetic calender, and it's interrelation to the Tzolkin which is the personal and astrological calendar. Previous Mayan calendar dating dealt with the Haab or Earth Calendar but this had a limited use, mainly just for when to collect taxes as a result of the crop harvests. The Tzolkin and Tun calendars were the cultural center for the civilization. This is a system for the timetable for creation from 16 billion years ago, and now at the steep part of the exponential curve we can see in hindsight that we are right on schedule. Check out the website at {|}.

So I took a quick look at the Waldzell site and I saw that they were using the Mayan Glyphs as part of the bead lanuguage, and so does the Tun and Tzolkin. I also noticed that the sacred language of the Mayans was rediscovered a few months ago which is also a project of the Waldzell but more recent than what they are working on. But it does seem to be totally aligned, imho.

{|'Lost' sacred language of the Maya is rediscovered}

By David Keys Archaeology Correspondent
07 December 2003

Linguists have discovered a still-surviving version of the sacred religious language of the ancient Maya - the great pyramid-building civilisation that once dominated Central America.

For years some Maya hieroglyphic texts have defied interpretation - but now archaeologists and linguists have identified a little-known native Indian language as the descendant of the elite tongue spoken by rulers and religious leaders of the ancient Maya.

The language, Ch'orti - spoken today by just a few thousand Guatemalan Indians - will become a living "Rosetta Stone", a key to unravelling those aspects of Maya hieroglyphic writings which have so far not been properly understood. Over the next few years dozens of linguists and anthropologists are expected to start "mining" Ch'orti language and culture for words and expressions relating to everything from blood-letting to fasting.

------- there's more -------

You want to talk about meta and games, well it just doesn't get anymore meta-game than this, the ontological cosmological by design(telelogical) three classic arguements for the proof of God, each of which is endorsed by the 'church' but now synthesized. heheheh this just keeps getting better all the time, I can hardly wait to see what happens next week.  

9 Jul 2004 @ 17:49 by ming : Mayan calendars
I also had in mind writing something about Arguelles' Earth Ascending, which certainly ties in here. Yeah, interesting stuff.  

9 Jul 2004 @ 18:09 by ov : GBG
At the talk last night Ian mentioned Arguelle's work. He had started with that and had some books printed up and even had them in the bookstores. Then he went to some kind of gathering in Arizona and there was a Mayan elder that came along, scoffed and pointed out that Arguelle had been working with the wrong calendar and was off by 54 days. So Ian immediately shut down his booth, and then later went and bought back all his books from the bookstores. After he had done this he recieved this whole new set of revelations about how all the stages of creation and the cosmic schedule was build up. He said he knew then that the first inspiration to convert Mayan dates to Gregorian was simply a test and it wasn't until he lost some of his money that he found out about the deeper mysteries. Ian didn't start out with this spiritual vision, he was simply a new age jewler that thought he could get in on the ground floor of the next trend and make some money. Then we he was working on sculpting the glyphs he had the first inspirations. These were nothing compared to what follows after he started using the different calenders. It still ends with the ascending, but there is a lot more, but the cosmic schedule also is confirmed with what we know from hindsight. Insights heaped on top of insights.

I'm thinking there might be a lot of the Celestine Prophecy people on this site that would be really interested in this.  

14 Aug 2016 @ 20:34 by Jules Ruis @ : Fractal Game

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