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Marshall McLuhan, Topologist

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Joined: 20 Mar 2006
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Location: Kent (East Hill), WA

PostPosted: Tue Oct 18, 2011 12:23 pm    Post subject: Marshall McLuhan, Topologist Reply with quote

Very often McLuhan is accused of not having a disciplined approach to his subject. And like P. Diddy, it is hard to characterize just what it is he does or did as this TV Funhouse episode explores:

But seriously folks, that's not why I'm here today. I think I have found the "job description" that best suits McLuhan.

Marshall McLuhan is a topologist.

What is a topologist, you ask? Well, one smart guy, Stephen Wolfram reports a topologist as:


The definition of topology leads to the following mathematical joke (Renteln and Dundes 2005):

Q: What is a topologist?

A: Someone who cannot distinguish between a doughnut and a coffee cup.

From the same article he gives a more somber definition,

Topology is the mathematical study of the properties that are preserved through deformations, twistings, and stretchings of objects. Tearing, however, is not allowed. A circle is topologically equivalent to an ellipse (into which it can be deformed by stretching) and a sphere is equivalent to an ellipsoid. Similarly, the set of all possible positions of the hour hand of a clock is topologically equivalent to a circle (i.e., a one-dimensional closed curve with no intersections that can be embedded in two-dimensional space), the set of all possible positions of the hour and minute hands taken together is topologically equivalent to the surface of a torus (i.e., a two-dimensional a surface that can be embedded in three-dimensional space), and the set of all possible positions of the hour, minute, and second hands taken together are topologically equivalent to a three-dimensional object.

McLuhan is a topologist because he sees the similarity of equivalences between things. He "maps" media, objects, concepts together and says, these things are just like each other. He twists and bends ideas, but he never tears.

Many people today try to do what McLuhan did, but he was the first, and in my opinion by far and away still the best and the most prolific.

Topologists, to me, are not really mathematicians even. Sometimes they are quite the opposite...doing what they do with high insight rather than formula....though they may put out a lot of formulas, you know, to get jobs and funding and stuff.
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