Naming and Recursion

Table of Contents: Simple Wisdoms Overview

Once a problem can be seen; once a problem can be specified, then that problem can be addressed. A problem symbolized has a handle.

. . .realize that consciousness is a culturally learned event, balanced over the suppressed vestiges of an earlier mentality, then we can see that consciousness, in part, can be culturally unlearned or arrested.1 

The symbolism for dealing with consciousness has long been overlooked. Confucius did not have the symbolism to teach to his students simple ideas he could clearly grasp himself. He didn't have the understanding of the symbols for dealing with time; for dealing with tangled loops and teaching recursion.

Until now, little art or literature has been recognized to provide symbolism that makes teaching easier. Several of M. C. Escher's paintings symbolize – represent, or model so that we can more clearly see – the concepts of tangled loops that Hofstadter talks about. His drawing of hands drawing a second hand drawing the first hand. Tangled loops and recursion are among the particular traits of consciousness which can be described using computers as models or symbols.

Escher's Print Gallery 1956

Recursion is part of everyday life. Talking about talking about talking. Control of conversations is quickly lost without symbols to recognize recursion, label it, and pin it down. Rather than discuss a particular problem conversations quickly change levels and, without recognizing it, talk about talking about the problem, forgetting entirely about dealing with the problem itself.

Like changing programs on a computer, developing consciousness is a modification of process that can occur almost instantly, without having to install new wiring or components. As Robert Heilbronner said, as you master logic, it masters you.2  Supporting his thesis, he observed that when you learned that 2 plus 2 equals 4, your process of thoughtfulness was irrevocably changed. Once recognizing that 2 plus 2 did equal 4, no amount of denial – no amount of saying that it equaled 5 would change your mind: it will equal 4 for the rest of your days. The logic has mastered you. Your process has changed, but your hardware remains the same.

One statement at least I can make regarding all those who have written or will write, claiming knowledge of the subjects I pursue – regardless of how they claim to have acquired it. . . . These writers, in my opinion, can have no real acquaintance with the subject. I have composed no work about it, nor will I ever do so in the future; there is no way of expressing it in words like other studies. Knowledge of it must come after a long period of . . . instruction . . . when, suddenly, like a blaze ignited by a leaping spark, it is kindled in the soul, and immediately becomes self-sustaining.3 

To remember is to safeguard something entrusted to your memory, whereas to know, by contrast, is actually to make each item your own, and not to be dependent on some original and be constantly looking to see what the master said.4 

In his Golden Rule Confucius created a web of symbolism for those in need of ritual and a tool of understanding for those capable of using it. At the time he wrote, perhaps few could understand the basis for his concept. For those in need and unable to work dynamically, the Golden Rule and other precepts were woven into ritual with the mythical explanations of the unknown. Just as today sermons are preached in church, people were taught what they were supposed to do; how they were supposed to act, even though the why might not have been made clear. Unreceptive to symbolism and sense of time, the why – the justification for how we ought to live – was based on the flimsiest of logical justifications: the offer of heaven and the threat of hell.

There are good enough reasons for deciding to act a particular way without having to believe in a Hereafter. In fact, there are better reasons, because the concept of the Hereafter is often abused, encouraging people to forget to think; to forget to take responsibility for their own actions.

When teachers have command of concepts that simplify the problem statement, teaching becomes more than a hit or miss operation. Schools teach people things rather than encourage the development of a process of thoughtfulness. But how could it be different? What is not recognized cannot be taught. Without the symbols there is no recognition. Symbols are the handles by which ideas are manipulated. Teachers can't be expected to teach well if they don't really know what they are trying to teach. Nor can the teachers of tomorrow be expected to teach better if the teachers tomorrow come from the ranks of students insufficiently taught today. Tomorrow's teachers are themselves victims of the schools they will help perpetuate (and perpetrate). They have been encouraged to think by a haphazard system that hasn't the foggiest notion of what tools encourage thoughtfulness (or what the thoughtfulness is they are trying to encourage.)

Teachers must learn to teach those things which at first develop self-interest; those things which help bring people to the threshold where, as students, they themselves can develop skills that encourage greater thoughtfulness. Such things include a sense of time and one's place in it; a sense of the past and how it has contributed to the present; and a sense of the future and one's effect on it.

The people who have gone before were as real and alive as we who are sitting here now. The people who come tomorrow will be as real, alive, and vital as we are today. The things I do today have an effect on the way that the people in the future (or us in the future) must respond.

If you have ever come upon a campsite where someone has left enough wood for an evening campfire and a breakfast cookfire, you will understand the sense of appreciation felt when life is made warmer and easier by some small consideration by an unknown, but thoughtful, forward-looking person. Can this consideration, this sense of the similar humanity of others, be encouraged? I want to act in a decent way so that people in the future will look back on me and have the same warm feeling about me as I have when I look back on someone in the past who had the thoughtfulness to do something nice in anticipation of me.

Sight down a strip of motion picture film. What passes for now is one single frame in between many other single frames that have gone before and still others that will follow. Such an understanding of past and future and our place in between helps us decide what to do and why to do it.

Table of Contents: Simple Wisdoms Overview