Claudio Gnoli

Springs making thirsty

An intellectual hypertext

My major sources of wisdom are those persons which have made me thirsty for even more knowledge...

The first reference obviously were my parents and relatives. While critical sense and a need of freedom from silly conventions and fashions I have adopted from my father Franco Gnoli (1940-), my mother Francesca Vittoria Bruni (1941-) and her brothers have transmitted the sound concreteness of their native country milieu. In particular, uncles Giuseppe Bruni "Pippo" (1927-) and Claudia Teresa Bruni (1930-) have taught me to speak and think in terms of «we», referring to both familiar history and the surrounding region: our area was indeed full of meanings and could be covered and discovered, together with such nice hiking fellows as Adelmo Prati "Delmo" the wise man. Philosophical and existential sense must have filtered mostly through my grandfather and early playmate Giulio Gnoli (1909-1988). Great-uncle Gioacchino Malavasi, "lawyer of the poor", was another moral reference, and uncle by marriage Ferdinando Vogliotti (1927-2017) has shared many discussions on philosophy and history, as well as the pleasure of travelling.

The most influential among my school teachers seems to have been Maria Rinaldi from Siena, married to Mr. Camassa whose sons I later crossed in high school. She encouraged us to watch the meritorious Piero Angela's TV programs (Quark) popularizing science and scientific perspective, and first talked about Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection in a way that must have intrigued me. Indeed, I later took advantage of being the son of a librarian to get an easy access to books on evolution by Richard Dawkins, Stephen J. Gould, Jacques Monod, François Jacob and others, and opted for studying Natural Sciences at the University of Milan: my favourite class there was Marco Ferraguti's excellent one on evolutionism, which extended references to include Ernst Mayr and others (Giuseppe Orombelli's geomorphology class was also remarkable).

I also got interested in ethology and read the foundational books by Konrad Lorenz, Niko Tinbergen and W.H. Thorpe. A fascinating development was the application of ethological methods to humans, thanks to the work of Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt, whom I even listened in person at a lecture in Milan (like I did with Gould, Richard Lewontin, and John Barrow). In order to find a degree thesis with field work I moved to Pavia, where I could join the teams of zoologist Francesco Barbieri (1944-2001), wildlife manager Alberto Meriggi and ecologist Giuseppe Bogliani, all being excellent human beings too. My thesis on otters I tried to bend towards animal communication issues, being intrigued by Thomas Sebeok's zoosemiotics: this provided an occasion to interact with Gianni Pavan and his fun team and students at the CIBRA research group in bioacoustics. A later hero, also listened in Pavia, was Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza with his grand enquiry on people migrations through genetic, archaeological and linguistic data — a successful story of interdisciplinarity. Linguistics, especially phonology and syntax, has always attracted me: much of it I have learned from electronic mailing lists devoted to constructed languages (ConLang, then LangDev splitted from it), especially such posters as And Rosta, Rick Morneau, B. Philip Jonsson, or Rick Harrison.

While reading Behind the mirror by the stove with Charlotte on my knees, I realized Lorenz was not only a great zoologist but also a great epistemologist, as that book disclosed hypothetical realism. That line of thought agrees with the falsificationism of Karl Popper (who as a child had been a playmate of Lorenz in Vienna). Popper was the object of an early cultural initiative of which I am proud: in the days just after his death I put his works owned by the public library where I was working on the shelf of recommended books, and somebody borrowed one or two as a result :-) Among many deep ideas, Behind the mirror cited Nicolai Hartmann's theory of levels of reality, that I later considered in more detail thanks to teachings of and collaboration with ontologist Roberto Poli. So I also realized that the name of my preferred branch of philosophy — a quite unfashionable one in the analytical tradition — was ontology, and that the logic of evolution could be generalized to evolutionary emergentism as professed by Conwy Lloyd Morgan, Joseph Needham, James K. Feibleman and many others. Further elements of this worldview come from Baruch Spinoza's pantheist naturalism, Julian Huxley's notion of evolutionary grades, Ludwig von Bertalanffy's and Kenneth Boulding's general systems theory, various scholars of complexity and self-organization, and Paul Davies's popularization of cosmology and algorithmic information theory, including Charles Bennett's logical depth.

So I was moving from natural sciences towards philosophy of science and knowledge organization, like experienced by Lloyd Morgan himself:

A student was called on to take the chair at a dinner in connection with the Royal School of Mines. [... Professor Thomas Huxley asked:] "Which of the lines of science you have followed has chiefly engaged your interest?" Following the thread of my reply, he drew from me the confession that an interest in philosophy, and in the general scheme of things, lay deeper than my interest in the practical applications of science to what then purported to my bread-and-butter training. [Emergent evolution]

In the meantime I had earned a position as an academic librarian, and had been introduced to the ideas of S.R. Ranganathan concerning library services and classification by Ernesto Frigerio, my first master as a colleague in the library job, and by Eugenio Gatto, a hidden genius and a teacher of degrowth in computing. I met Eugenio at diners after library conferences together with semiotics enthusiast Gianni Colussi, cataloguing theorist Alberto Petrucciani, historian of culture Michele M. Santoro, moral philosopher Riccardo Ridi and other remarkable colleagues. Riccardo was decisive in persuading me to volunteer for developing the national library association website as an activity detached from routine job, a step that has made me a more self-reliant and happy person for many years after. My job also provides me with information literacy and awareness about the tricks of search strategies — although they should be known by every citizen —, thus enlarging the spectrum of my potential readings. The same is true of the fact of knowing two foreign languages, although my progress with a third key one, German, has been too little, and I will always lack the time for Russian.

Now, couldn't the theory of levels be applied to bibliographic classification? Actually this was exactly what members of the Classification Research Group like Douglas J. Foskett (1918-2004), Derek Austin (1921-2001) and Brian Vickery (1918-2009) had done! So there was my way to developing and testing... Although Austin and Foskett had died just before I realized they were so relevant, I had the opportunity to know Vickery in person, even getting a young friend of him. Recent heirs of this tradition are Vanda Broughton and, in Italy, Alberto Cheti, a kind and deep teacher in the application of linguistical principles to subject analysis. On a separate line, Ingetraut Dahlberg has also applied Hartmann to classification, and has done so much to set knowledge organization as a discipline. In the meantime I had dared to present at international KO conferences, where experienced people were friendly and encouraged me to join the KO community, unfortunately one of the very few Italians doing this. In turn, I think I have contributed to the involvement in library and KO activities of such skilled people as Emanuela Casson, Caterina Barazia, Hong Mei, Enzo Cesanelli, Irene Scaturro, Rodrigo de Santis, Laura Pusterla, Luca Giusti, Elisa Zilli, Marco Lardera and Marcin Trzmielewski.

Together with all this theory, human values have always been important to me. Compassion and humanity I like to be preached and practiced in the nonconformist and concrete ways that were already of Jesus Christ, and can be found in the songs of Fabrizio De André — somebody very close to me whom I could see at several concerts — and his master Georges Brassens, whom I discovered thanks to a Radio Tre program.

Se tu penserai, se giudicherai da buon borghese
li condannerai a cinquemila anni più le spese,
ma se cercherai, se li capirai fino in fondo
se non sono gigli son pur sempre figli, vittime di questo mondo.

Such actual compassion, my dear friend Elisabetta Struzzi proves to extend to animals as well. A humanist analysis of modern society was provided by Erich Fromm's books. Spiritual independence from mundane or formal authorities I could find in Epicurus's writings, in Sōtō Zen — derived from both Buddhism and Taoism and discovered thanks to a lecture by Shoten Minegishi — as well as in the Christian practice of Quakers, of which I especially appreciate the testimony of simplicity. In modern and economical terms, taking into account environmental issues, it can be translated into the recommendations of the degrowth movement, that I have met through Maurizio Pallante.

On August 16, 2000 I met the living musical tradition of the Quattro Province, which stroke me as a case of a beautiful ancient culture in the middle of the contemporary world: yes — they said to me that day — we can live here, dance an old alessandrina then move to our job place in half an hour. That «we» could be applied not just to landscape, but to the social life of my region! We the Westerners have such a big need of these things... Since then I have been participating in feasts and companies where I meet so many good people and friends, including major piffero players Roberto Ferrari "Ferry", Ettore Lòsini "Bani" and Stefano Valla. A wise way to observe these expressions I borrow from my friend Paolo Ferrari "Magà", who has introduced me to cultural anthropology through attending actual events. I have found a special interest in the symmetrical schemes of traditional dances, learned through teacher Ilaria Demori, and their origins as investigated by pioneer field researcher Jean-Michel Guilcher — who in his youth studied biological evolution... Many old people I have met or interviewed in the Apennine, unlike city dwellers, are capable of saying so much in few words: so they share not just ethnographic information but also the wisdom of mountain civilization, especially in the cases of Angelo Lerta from Pradaglia, Ettore Ratto from Dova Superiore, Attilio Rocca "Tilion" from Ozzola, Pino Toscanini from Suzzi...: "i saggi ignoranti di montagna | che sapevano Dante a memoria e improvvisavano di poesia" [cit.]. Recently I am exploring the traits of oral cultures, as opposed to written ones, through Walter Ong and his disregarded precursor Marcel Jousse.

My next synthesis seems to come by realizing that many different things that have always attracted me, such as behavioural sequences, phonologies, synthetic classifications, dance schemes or rally pace notes, are but cases of what I am getting to call informational systems, that is information units combined to produce network models of the world...


Springs making thirsty : an intellectual hypertext / Claudio Gnoli — Università di Pavia. Dipartimento di Matematica <> : 2015.01 - 2017.12 -