The Technium

Recursive Generation

[Translations: Japanese]

In 1978 Douglas Hofstadter wrote an mind-boggling book about recursive forms, called “Godel, Escher, Bach” after his three favorite geniuses who reveled in recursiveness. The award-winning book explored the nature of systems which bend their output back into themselves to make something new. GEB conjured with these “strange loops” with such wit and appropriate playfulness that is hard to imagine another book on the subject ever topping it.

The Technium is shaped by these same recursive forces. As Hofstadter showed, computer programing is founded on the notion of strange loops and regression, the most extreme representation being the infamous circular “infinite regress” of bad programming. Technology, like biology, is governed by feedback circuits. Up and down its being, technology will find itself looping back to create some weird strange loop of influence, and in that strange circuit some new force is launched into the technium. Recursive loopiness is thus the prime engine for bootstrapping and self creation.

Progress, intelligence, and life itself are all fueled at the fundamental level by bootstrapping, self-creation, autopoeis, auto-genesis — all names for recursive organization. I found the following list of kinds of auto-structure in a 1986 paper by Peter Winiwarter, Autognosis (PDF) .

The forms of form.

The dimensions of dimension

The natural laws that govern natural laws.

The system of systems.

The control of control.

The hierarchical levels of hierarchies.

The strange loop of loops.

The consciousness of consciousness.

The organization of organization.

The evolution of evolution.

The structure of structure.

The provability of proofs.

The creation of creating.

At first glance these terms seem oxymoronic (self contradictory), or tautological (needless repetition). But on close inspection they are no more oxymoronic or tautological than say the network of networks, which is what we the internet is. In “Cosmic Jackpot: Why Our Universe Is Just Right for Life” Paul Davies recounts his investigation into the laws the govern the natural laws of the universe. Like all these meta forms, there is the problem of where their force lies. Is it in the loop, or outside of it? When the universe formed 14 billion years ago, were the meta laws in the universe, or outside of it? And if the laws shaping the natural laws were outside of the universe, what does that mean?

There must be a system of all systems, or a form which all forms adhere to, or some kind of control for controls, some kind of way to organize all organizations. The structure of proofs must be provable, types of categories must fall into some kind of categories.

Does everything have a meta?

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And there meta-metas? Just as William James reputedly said there must be turtles standing beneath turtles all the way down the Hindu tower of creation, perhaps there are metas standing upon metas all the way up. The laws that shape the laws that shape the laws. But the tower of turtles or metas is the wrong way to think of this stack because the laws that shape the shape the laws are in the end shaped by the lowest law. As Davies points out, human observation may in fact shape the laws of the universe. Seen from the right vantage point, the meta loop simply enlarges to include more meta levels, so that everything circles back upon itself in a  larger loop.

The way in which the spookiness in quantum physics seems to resonate at both the largest and smallest scales of the universe is one indication of a very large recursive loop.

What this means for the technium is that the more potential recursive looping, generative meta-levels, and autopoesis that is engineered into it, the more the technium will become animated with the same sparks we find in similar autopoetic systems such as life and intelligence.

Furthermore it is the very point when feedback gets squirrely and weird that something important can happen. We should be looking for the places where genes control genes, laws mandate laws, software writes software, and intelligence designs intelligence. In those strange loops the meta will jump.


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