Recursion and Anthropology

Sun, 2 Oct 1994 13:16:13 +0000

Since Hugh's students are determinedly monitoring the list, I feel the need
to start a thread which may awaken discussion with hopefully a minimum of
acrimony. Hopefully, in their discussions of ANTHRO-L, they will give me
due credit for initiating said thread. ;-)

I am wondering if anyone would like to discuss how recursion and
reflexivity has entered into their work. I am not referring to the simple
pomo obsession of talking about yourself as a way of talking about another
culture. Instead, I am soliciting examples of ways in which recursion works
itself out through culture. If we take culture to be a system, then, like
all other complex cybernetic systems, it contains multiple models for/of

One example might be like the recent phenomenon in American Culture
(a postulated entity, to be sure, I know there are many who think there is
no such thing) of the growth of "talkshowocracy," namely the way in which
Americans have suddenly become obsessed in talking about themselves and the
problems they perceive with their culture.

Recursion in computer programs often leads to all kinds of
unexpected consequences, especially in "The Game of Life," where it
produces entirely unexpected behavior, e.g. "floaters," etc. Douglas
Hofstadter deals a great bit with the topic in his book _Metamagical
Themas_, noting the particular ways in which (for example) the reflexivity
of legal statutes and constitutions often leads to some terrible strange
unresolvable loops in the law. I expect that in cultural systems it plays
out similarly, because cultures are made up of units (people) that contain
models of themselves and the cultural systems they inhabit.

Has anyone encountered instances of recursion in their work? Dealt
with it as theoretically significant?


! Seeker1 [@Nervm.Nerdc.Ufl.Edu] (real info available on request) !
! CyberAnthropologist, TechnoCulturalist, Guerilla Ontologist, Chaotician !
! Discordian Society, Counter-Illuminati Operations Branch !
! "One measures a circle beginning anywhere." -- Charles Fort

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