By Erik Dolson
Recursion may be the most unrecognized force in the universe.
Oh, it’s not a force, in that it can move objects or kill men. It’s a process, or a description of process, that we fail to appreciate. Possibly because it makes things impossibly complicated in short order.
It’s the same reason we talk about things, instead of waves. Things are an abstraction that makes it possible to communicate. Waves are so many things at the same time, depending on where speaker and listener stand. Change location of one or both, different moments are seen by each, we have to start over.
But recursion is very simple too, on first encounter, when reduced to a simple equation. But if the results of that are limited, they are also unpredictable, responsible for the patterns of trees, the billowing of clouds, the infinite length of the shore of this bay, the coherence of lasers and the arabesques of chaos.
Today I think of it as men having an impact on the environment that in turn affects their legacy. Applied to evolution, recursion explains the incredible speed by which the blossoming of intellect changed humans themselves as they changed their world. From camp fires to the persistence of hope, bigotry, and power.
Recursion captures the essence of why any system is incomplete or incoherent. Possibly why a quantum can’t quite be nailed down because, by the act of looking, we alter that which is in view, which alters us, which alters the viewed, which alters us.
There is no true escape from the fact of recursion. Any attempt is incorporated into the next iteration, alters our destination. Instead, as we have for millennia, for utility if not sanity, we set limits to the conversation, declare a start point and exclude that which changes too little or too late, even if those exclusions eventually change everything.
Even how we think about recursion. Ha!