.... "If the brain was so simple that we could understand it, then we would be so simple that we couldn't." -- Emerson M. Pugh


Web mindshavings.blogspot.com

Saturday, August 9, 2008

This Is The Title of the Very 1st Blog Post

The opening header-quote from Emerson M. Pugh represents a form of recursion (as does the above post title). In this case a kind of inescapable paradoxical loop. The ability to think recursively is likely one of the things which most separates us cerebrally from other animals. We can use the human brain to study the human brain... we can think about thinking... In fact we can think about thinking about thinking... and so it goes.

Recursion occurs in mathematics, language, computer programming, and the physical world as well (the childhood fun of placing two mirrors face-to-face and observing the receding reflections back-and-forth is an example of recursion --- magazine covers have occasionally dabbled in recursive depictions of the covers themselves). Often recursion involves either iteration or self-reference.

In language the recursive element is what (theoretically) allows for infinitely long and infinitely many new sentences, by the embedding of phrases:

1. Jack ate the pie.
2. Jack, the clarinetist, ate the pie.
3. Jack, the clarinetist, who wore a beret, ate the pie.

4. Jack, the clarinetist, who wore a beret, that was made of Scottish wool, ate the pie.
5. Jack, the clarinetist, who wore a beret, that was made of Scottish wool, bought from a shepherd who raised several herds of sheep, that once belonged to Schlomo, who was the best juggler in town, and previously worked for the circus when he was a young and clever lad in the Slobovian hillside, ate the pie.

Here's another odd example of a sort of recursion in language (in which the meaning of the sentence suddenly changes just as we get to the very end):

"The shooting of the young and handsome doctor, mystified all his friends and colleagues, most of whom had always thought him to be an excellent marksman."

Yes, the human mind is a pretty incredible lil' instrument.

In real estate they say it's all about location, location, location; or in stock trading, it's timing, timing, timing. I'm not so sure but that in human cognition it isn't recursion, recursion, recursion.

Now, I have to go shampoo my hair --- which, if I was TOO anally recursive about it could take quite awhile:
1. lather, 2. rinse, 3. repeat ;-)

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