Re: Recursion and Anthropology

Tue, 4 Oct 1994 01:23:27 +0000

>Dear Seeker,
>I have a passing acquaintance with recursion, having once spent some time
>learning to program in LISP. The relationship between a function that
>repeatedly calls itsef, "reflexivity" in a critical-theoretical sense and
>"talkshowocracy," as a social phenomenon are far from transparent to me.
>Would it be possible to spell out a little more clearly what you have in
>mind? I will hazard the rude speculation that of the the people tuned in
>to this list fewer than 10 will have any idea what you're talking about.

Ok, well, I've never programmed in LISP... but I have used recursive
subroutines in Pascal... talkshowocracy was a (typically facetious)
example. The point was, if you've read Douglas Hofstadter at all (like I
said, he's popular among the hacker crowd) you'll find that he sees the
same type of recursion in computer programs also in language, law, and
other areas of culture. For example, many pieces of legislation contain
clauses which modify other clauses under certain conditions; many English
sentences are recursive, such as "this sentence has a verb" and "But not
this one." (or even nastier, "This sentence is false."); and recursion
often appears in art, for example, the Escher print where the hands are
drawing themselves.
(Hofstadter also includes a very interesting recursive story in his
book, called"This Story has no Title.")
I suppose I was soliciting examples of where recursive
(self-modifying) structures in cultures have led to "strange loops" or
other unexpected consequences. Perhaps I'm still caught in this nasty
heuristic habit of looking at culture as a cybernetic-memetic-wetware
One example of a nasty recursive loop in academic discourse is, of
course, "actor network" theory. Academics use it to analyze networks of
actors in promoting various ideas and theories. Well, network analysis has
been done of actor network theory itself. And someone came along and did
network analysis of THAT analysis. A strange loop was in the works.


! 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

Version: 2.2