Language, Evolution and Architecture

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February 2, 2019

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  • Faramarz Parsi


I have always faced these questions: why a new idea is accepted and the other is rejected? Why a building is considered beautiful at a time and not beautiful at another time? What relationship is there between beauty of man’s body and a building or a work of art? What relationship is there between beauty of nature and beauty of a work of art? Why in historical architecture the changes are so small? Why in spite of the classifications such as Iranian, Roman, and Indian and so on, these architectures have so much in common and why with all their similarities, their discrepancies are so distinguishable that we can easily identify each of them.Why in the same cultural and even climatic domains such as the margins of Iranian central desert, architecture of Yazd is different from that of Isfahan and Kashan? What are the similarities between the differences in architecture and the differences in the accent of people in these cities? Is this relationship regarding differences and diversity in architecture and local accents also true with other aspects of people’s lives such as clothing, music,rituals and …? Is there any relationship between differences in people’s lives and the difference of look and size of their domestic animals? Do physical differences of the people themselves have anything to do with the differences of languages and cultures? Do all these questions have any relationship with the quality of human life? Is there any law or collection of laws which govern these concepts in addition to man’s existence and the state of its formation?All these questions and many more questions of the kind lead me, prior to anything else, to think of the concept of life. Since all these questions originates from and refers back to man and man himself is the outcome of an astonishing though comprehensible process of diversity of the living things. In other words I take the story back to the concept called life and search for the laws which govern the process of change and diversity of life and try to track these laws in the achievements of the most complicated form of evolution, that is, human beings. Then I will try to test the competence of the hypothesis that the achievements of the civilization are themselves the continuation of the evolution process and inevitably influenced by its laws. In this regard I will focus on the most important characteristic of modern man (Homo sapiens), namely,language; and discuss the language in its general concept, that is to say, semiology and view it from two angels: first, the competence of using language has been the most complicated achievement of the evolution and second, the language itself, throughout the history has developed its complexities in the framework of the evolution laws, I will even go further and generalize the language logic to all achievements of man’s mind among which I focus on architecture as the most important reflection of civilization from the aspect of language. And finally emphasizing on comprehensibility of the language of historical architectures, I will try to read and interpret the language of Iranian architecture. 
Before anything I feel obliged to issue a permit for myself. The permit for applying the laws of one epistemology to other fields of knowledge, in other words using biological laws, especially evolution, in domain of language and extending these laws from language to architecture. I should mention beforehand that following the disasters of WWII and Nazis’ weird interpretations of the concept of evolution and bizarre thoughts such as superior Arian race or elimination of defective genes and the like, and prior to that the Marxist theories about historical materialism and specially Engels’s emphasis on Darwin’s findings, many scientists have found it dangerous to extend evolution’s concepts and laws to the fields other than biology and even reject the results of such generalizations. Although I understand well this being concerned, today not only I but also approximately all the people who do research in a particular field of knowledge do not repudiate relationship between that specific field of knowledge and the adjacent fields.For instance astronomy is deeply influenced by fundamental particles in physics;furthermore today the border between chemistry and physics has practically disappeared and the behavior of materials is explained through theories such as Quantum Theory. Biology too has intertwined with chemistry and physics to the extent that without knowing physics of fundamental particles and molecular chemistry, concepts of genes and DNA are inexplicable.Although the inclination for uniting the cause of all phenomena under one single theory may originate from a metaphysical assumption known as pantheism,the history of science is the story of these unities as well; for example fusion of concept of electricity and magnet under the theory of electromagnetism and its unity with two concepts of weak and strong nuclear forces. Me too, in my amateur studies in different scientific fields forgetting a better understanding of architecture (because architecture is basically an interdisciplinary field) believe all these concepts are interrelated and I try to find some fundamental laws which extend their territory to encompass other laws.
Therefore it is not surprising if the fundamental theories of life can also explain many trends and ways of human mind’s struggles. We should keep in mind that the basic laws are usually very simple and the laws Darwin presented for justifying the diversity of life are as simple as they should be.
With this short introduction I venture to employ the evolution concept in order to make a relation with human mind’s achievements. For a simple explanation of evolution laws we should preliminarily pay close attention to the concept of life. Life is a concept applied to any process which makes reproduction possible and spends energy so that the outcome of reproduction can survive. Therefore the basis for understanding the evolution lies in these two concepts: reproduction and survival, each of which has the other one hidden inside.
Persian word for reproduction literally means “producing the identical” in which the emphasis on “identical” is important. If there is a goal for life at all, there is only one. The perfect repetition of an entity, making a copy one hundred percent the same as the original; so perfect that the produced is not distinguishable from the producer, however, interestingly life is unsuccessfulin fulfilling its only goal and this very unsuccessfulness is the cause of diversity in life forms. DNA molecule as basis of life guarantees its producing of a perfect copy in a way that only in rare occasions production of this perfect copy is violated and in these rare occasions the amount of change is very little. We know that this slight change which is called “mutation”, in a process known as “natural selection” causes diversity. In other words, the change which is capable of living in the environment survives and the one which is not,does not. Interestingly, since the environmental conditions are not constant,sometimes the one which has survived for years perishes and the one just produced by mutation survives.
However,this is not the whole story. Two basic elements are required for this process to fulfill, namely time and number; and referring back to our inclination for unity we can say number multiplied by time. The reasons behind the fact that man could not grasp the meaning of evolution until nineteenth century were two:first, because of limitations of life at the time and lack of communication between different places of the world, man had not known the astonishing diversity of life; second, they had no idea about age of the world and Earth.Otherwise, it was so obvious that evolution laws would definitely have been discovered centuries ago. Increasing the number is another form of survival.All leaving creatures are able to increase their population in favorable conditions. The higher number itself is a guarantee for survival. Whether in time or in moment we should keep in mind that life is not purposeful and does not mean to fulfill a specific goal, it only wants to survive and reproduce itself; in the meantime it does not like change, however there is change therefore we can say that the world is a result of contradiction. The world of living creatures is a result of a huge number of errors, the errors which were capable of surviving and could stand the changes in environment. And the last point,although the basis for change is only the change in DNA, the selection is not just the natural selection by environment, but there is also another kind of selection called sexual selection which is actually very necessary for answering the questions posed above. Because sexual selection is a selection is a selection made by living creature inside a species. As we make selections in many cases, a selection about ourselves and our species’ individuals.
One of the reproduction processes in creatures with distinct male and female sexes is competing for mating. This competition usually has led to a better breeding, because the stronger the creature, the greater its chance to transfer its genes. However this is not the case that one of the two sexes just waits passively for the other sex to win it in a bloody battle.
Attracting the opposite sex is also of a great importance. For example in a genetic mutation a difference occurs in appearance of the object of selection which is mainly the male in mammals and birds. The female has two options; to stay indifferent toward this change, meaning that this change loses the capability of transforming the generation and in best case is preserved in gene pool just in case there is a need for that in the future, or in the second option which is very important, based on the genetic behavioral characteristics,the selector prefers one of the two alternatives, namely the one with changes or the one without changes. In this case not only the selected one is granted the chance for transferring its altered gene, but also the not selected one loses the chance for reproduction and is deleted gradually.
The very important point takes place in next generations. In those generations not only the selected possesses the desirable gene, but also the selector of the next generation which is the offspring of the same selector, because it has inherited the genetic behavioral characteristics of the same generation and normally would make the same selections and if there are more changes in the direction of the first change, it will be selected in a more efficient way and this efficiency causes an intensification in the form of that feature, and this intensification is so progressive that may lead to the possibility of elimination of the selected. The example of this phenomenon is bird of paradise’s tail which grows as long as two meters for a bird smaller than 10 centimeters, or the peacock’s tail which grows so much that culminates in the male peacock’s being an easy prey. Beard and mustache in man, mane of the lions, tusk in elephants and many more examples are samples of sexual selections. Although this is also a kind of selection, since it is made by the species itself, it develops a different nature and possesses the intensification feature.
The important fact is that sexual selection cannot influence natural selection. It should adhere to natural selection’s laws and only may undergo changes in the frame of natural selection’s laws. Finally, the most important issue of the evolution which was correctly pointed out by Darwin even though he was not aware of the molecular genetics is that evolutionary changes should necessarily be small.Big changes culminate in extermination. The structure of DNA molecule with about three billion genetic codes in human beings guarantees these small changes. For example a genetic code makes a change of 3Î10percent. Although this little change can bring about extermination, in case of appropriateness it can survive. We should remember because of the smallness of these changes, time spans required for formation of new species or dominance of a new feature in the species in nature is about 20,000 to 50,000 years.
Considering the facts mentioned so far, perhaps we had better find a term other than “evolution” for the processes mentioned above, because evolution is a biased term. There is a value concept in the word “evolve” while, the process mentioned earlier has no direction. Although this process generally speaking moves toward more complication, in specific environmental condition, more complicated does not necessarily have a better chance of survival. Sometimes more simple creatures in particular circumstances live better and survive.
From here we make a leap in historical trend of evolution and go straight to man. Modern man or Homo sapiens was formed 200,000 years ago in Southern Africa and through a long journey conquered the world. What made a distinction between Homo sapiens with Homo erect us and Neanderthals was neither size of the brain (which was bigger in Neanderthals) nor hand’s form (pre-Neanderthal man’s hands were more or less similar to ours) or even discovering fire and using simple tools (these were already in practice by man prior to Homo sapiens) but using signs. What has been recorded on wall of the caves as paintings belongs exclusively to Homo sapiens. Homo sapiens have been able to grasp abstraction and as a result have been able to develop a semiotic system and language.Evolution of modern man is a genetic evolution directed to produce abstraction algorithm and as a result of that a semiotic algorithm. Language is an algorithm developed in man through a genetic transformation and evolved to its present form. 1. Language is not merely speech and all the semiotic systems use a similar algorithm. Abstraction is the basis of the language. By abstraction I mean extracting a common concept from different phenomena. There are thousands of different kinds of trees with different forms in different ages and different sizes, but they are all green, they all have roots, trunks and leaves. What is common among all the trees is abstracted from each tree and this process requires abstraction algorithm.
Now, ascribing a sign is the next step. Our brain again has gained this ability through an evolutionary transformation. This sign has preliminarily been employed in vocalic language and then by word but here it is necessary tore turn to the characteristics of language. 
Language is a system of signs.Voices find meaning when they are used to express or transfer thoughts,otherwise a voice is only a voice. In order for a voice to bear meaning, it should be a part of a conventional system. A sign has an arbitrary nature. That is, there is no natural and inevitable relationship between signifier and signified.For example, the word “dog” has no superiority or priority over the words such as “sog” or “dag” or any other word. This sign bears a meaning and a signified-signifier relationship forms only when it is accepted and confirmed by a language community. Of course, there are some exceptions: for instance, “woof woof”in English sounds like a dog’s bark, however these cases are rare. The very important point is the change in language and this is where we refer back to the laws of evolution.
If language was a collection of names used for independent concepts, there would never be any change in languages. But signifiers slowly change. This mechanism can only be explained through evolution. First, the words should remain as they are, there should be no change. If the words change then the principal of lingual community confirmation would be lost. Is it possible that a lingual community all of a sudden decide to pick another word? Naturally not.Therefore, while the possibility of change exists, extensive change is contrary to the logic of lingual acceptance and this is compatible with golden principle of evolution, that is, small and gradual changes.
If language was a collection of names used for independent concepts, there would never be any change in languages. But signifiers slowly change. This mechanism can only be explained through evolution. First, the words should remain as they are, there should be no change. If the words change then the principal of lingual community confirmation would be lost. Is it possible that a lingual community all of a sudden decide to pick another word? Naturally not.Therefore, while the possibility of change exists, extensive change is contrary to the logic of lingual acceptance and this is compatible with golden principle of evolution, that is, small and gradual changes.
As mentioned above the language here plays its role as every other phenomenon of the evolution. Any change should be selected and only small changes in language have a chance to survive. Most of these changes also have an error-like origin. The same change is true with the signified. In some cases a specific signifier gradually encompasses new signified, in this case we call it semantic range. The signifier-signified relationships in any language are sections of semantic continuums and this makes translation difficult to a large extent, because these sections do not fit together, even in regard with the concepts like colors. In other words, signifier-signified relationship is like differential relationship, that is to say, it emphasizes more on differences with the signified-s close to it. Therefore the relationship is not demonstrable and does not have a definite meaning. If the characteristics of DNA molecule permits it to transform under the influence of cosmic radiation or radioactive activities, the concept of being arbitrary side by side with the concept of being differential creates the signifier-signified relationship of the language transformations. But why do languages have common words? Why do languages with long distances between them have common words? Is it an indication of inherent relationship of signifier-signified?
The answer lies in paying close attention to the story of man’s journey and theory of man’s originating from Africa. To the theory that all the population of Earth originate from a small population which about 70,000 years ago left Africa and entered Asia through Bab el-Mandab. They had a kind of vocalic language which still is being spoken in some African tribes. The human communities were dispersed and as in natural speciation, lingual speciation took place. The longer the separation of two languages the more their differences; and the limited place-time separations caused the minor differences as different accents. The language transformation tree can be drawn the same way as for the evolution tree.
We should remember that development of accent itself is the beginning of language speciation. Because language is an in-species selection and is done by man, uses the intensification characteristic of in-species selection, therefore the speed of its changes is high. Time span for accent is about one hundred years and for development of a new language is one thousand or at most two thousand years. Modern Persian is 1200 years old and “Tehrani” accent is 200 years old. In the other hand we may consider the acceleration of evolution process, its being in-species and high population of man to justify the high speed of language transformation.
Another important characteristic of the language is its systemic concept.Any system has components which combine and form the upper levels of the system. For instance in a language system words in addition to transferring the thoughts make sentences by taking role in language grammar and language components. Some of these sentences themselves, like words, are used and selected by a language group, as in proverbs. A group of Sentences make a text.The relationship between the words in these sentences can separate prose and poetry and the speciation in poetry creates different kinds of poetry,therefore one of the characteristics of language is its hierarchy. This sign system along with systemic characteristics can also be found in music, painting and architecture. Iranian Dastgahi music is composed of sentences which in a higher level combine together to make Gushe’s. Gushe’s combine to make Naghme and Naghme’s combine to make Dastgah’s.
 In painting too, there have always been signs for man-tree-animal which has permitted different combinations and as a result creation of the painting. In Iranian miniatures the signs of man-tree-animal are more or less fixed and even the way they combine follows specific rules.
The lingual characteristics of the sign systems, that is accepting a signifier and signified relationship or sign relationship by a certain group makes transferring meaning and understanding any semiotic system possible. The possibility of communicating with Hafez’s poems or Dastgahi music by both low-educated and high-educate people lies in this characteristic of the language. Architecture too as a semiotic system, in addition to its functional role of making shelter has in an evolutionary process managed to transfer thought and meaning and thereby the signs in a certain community have slowly undertaken the relationship of conveying meaning and in the form of grammar have created compounds which have borne hierarchical role. Not only the sign shave slowly changed, but also the meaning attached to them has been moved. Maqsurah has transformed into Gonbadkhane (Dome house), has taken four platforms of a house, vast areas of the garden’s summerhouse and also the palaces and mausoleums.Here I try to explain the simple language of Iranian architecture and briefly review its grammar. Iranian architecture is composed of a number of words which are referred to as spatial patterns

Thesewords or patterns are:
  • Ternary or three-door division
  • Quintuple or five-door division
  • Dual or two-door division
  • Shekam darideh
  • Chalipa (cross)
  • Yekta or corridor division
  • Hashti (vestibule)

These patterns or words are placed by each other based on a specific grammar. Although this grammar is applicable to all Iranian architecture, like poetry and prose which have different genres and species, this grammar in form of house, mosque, caravanserai, timcheh, sarai, and … puts forth new expressions of this architecture language. In this language, structure and ornaments too possess lingual structure and join spatial architecture through a specific grammar. For example karbandi is composed of words which are called aalat; shaaparak (butterfly),sambuse (samosa), paabaarik (narrow-foot), araqchin (white knitted hat), susani(lily) or sinebaaz (open chest) are components of this language in karbandi and it is very interesting that all the karbandi’s with their unique diversity have been built by these five words. Or as another example muqarnases have been built by a number of specified and limited aalats such as takht (throne), taas(dice), T, mushpa (mouse leg) and … and there is no muqarnas with components other than these.
Here I return to the most important point of the discussion: why do we encounter obvious differences in architecture, while architecture language in cultural domain of Iranian plateau is the same and in cities like Yazd, Nayin and Kashan even the climate is the same? The differences which can be compared to the different accents of people of Yazd, Naein, Isfahan or Kashan.
Once more I point out the evolution concept and the sexual selection aspect which had caused bird of paradise’s tail to grow long and peacock to develop such tail and male human to have beard and mustache. Sexual selection as an in-species selection is one of the most important reasons for formation of aesthetics in cultural domains and sub domains. We should pay close attention to selective aspect of the language. There is no inevitable relationship between signifier and signified. In much of the concepts related to aesthetic, there is no absolute and certain relationship between concept of beauty and the signs employed to present it. Whatever the reason, a kind of change is selected and as mentioned before this selection tends to intensify itself until an out-of-species or natural cause stops it. However this very trend is a justification of all formal differences in the concept of beauty in all cultural domains and sub domains. Let us consider the high-heeled shoes. As soon as shoes with heels a little higher is welcomed by people, shoemakers in an obvious trend produce shoes with still higher heels and the same reason which had caused the selection of such heels, naturally approves the higher heels too;and the process of intensification continues to the extent that the heels become so high that walking on them is impossible, that is the selection is controlled by external factors. A stranger example is the form of Chinese women’s feet in the past. For any reason, the small foot compared to big foot was selected as a more beautiful concept. Regardless of the reason the intensification process went to such extreme that Chinese women’s feet lost the concept of being feet. The weird thing is that while looking at those feet could be disgusting to us, the Chinese men found them beautiful and probably sexy. Such process can also be found in aesthetics of American cars of 50’s and 60’s, specifically Chevrolet Nova.
I believe much of the architectural aesthetics follows the mentioned process. For instance in Yazd the stair-like style is selected for the main facade of Tekye’s, the style that we cannot see for example in Zavareh. First samples do not have a significant difference with Zavareh or Kashan’s Hosseiniyes, however as soon as this selection is made, intensification process of in-species selection form higher stair-like facades and higher minarets to the extent that we get to exaggerated Tekye Amir Chakhmaq and this is the structural limit of such selection and such conception of Tekye aesthetics in Yazd.
About single ivan mosques of east of Iran the same issue can be observed. The dimension of ivan grows so much compared to area of the mosque that has no counterpart in any other city in Iran. The reason for this phenomenon which creates these attractive forms is in-species selection and the process of intensification of the beauty. I emphasize that architecture language is the basis for all architectures of this cultural domain and the reason for integration and being distinctive of this architecture. And aesthetical elements in the process of in-species selection and intensification process are the cause of differences and the changes in tones and accents. This very process in bigger time spansh as been the cause of separation of Roman, Iranian, Indian … architecture languages. For this reason, that is, for the language with the same origin that in the aforementioned process lead to different languages through lingual speciation, understanding architectural similarities in these domains becomes possible and intensification factors in aesthetics causes separation and difference and the possibility of understanding architectural differences in these regions. This process is the cause of changes in accents of a language and if we accept that change of accents is an introduction to language speciation, we begin to acknowledge the importance of intensification process of the in-species selection in all aspects of life.

  • Image 1-intensification process in peacock’s tail which results in being selected by peahen.
  • Image 2-bird of paradise’s tail, transformed in the process of evolution and because of sexual selection.
  • Image 3-bird of paradise’s tail, transformed in the process of evolution and because of sexual selection.
  • Image 4-the process of man’s evolution and his different species and case comparison of Homo sapiens and Neanderthals.
  • Image 5-leaving Africa of man. The map of man’s migration and his paths in conquering new lands.
  • Image 6- a picture of a Chinese woman’s foot which has been deformed due to wearing special shoes.
  • Image 7-elongating women’s neck by applying metal circles in some civilizations,induced by men’s aesthetic traditions.
  • Image 9-Yazd’s Tekyes, specifically Amir Chakhmaq, have become higher and higher due to intensification process.
  • Image 10-high ivans of east of Iran, generally becoming higher and higher based on intensification process.
  • Image 11-high stems of the domes, northeast of Iran.
  • Origin of Man; Mikhail Nesturkh, Translated by Mohammad Toyuri Moshrefolmolk-e Dehkordi
  • The Blind Watchmaker; Richard Dawkins, Translated by Mahmud Behzad and Shahla Baqeri
  • Evolution of Man; Bernard Wood, Translated by Farhad Rezaee
  • Cours de Linguistique Générale, Ferdinand de Saussure, Translated by Kurosh Safavi
  • Methods of Design in Iranian Historical Architecture, Faramarz Parsi

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