Tuesday, 13 November 2007
I have just woken from a dream where recursion played a part in what happened. In my dream I was in my bedroom and on the phone to a friend, but with two other friends beside me. When one of the friends near me started to sing a Metallica song the other one started to do some of the drumming to the song and my friend on the phone heard this and joined in. It was quite a funny thing. Then I wake from that dream - but I am still asleep in reality, but do not know this - and I'm walking up a hill with one of the friends from my dream, explaining to him about this dream I have had and how funny it was that he could hear the craziness on the other end of the phone and had joined in.
A dream within a dream, a window to another conscious reality constructed by the brain, a dimension within a dimension - recursion. This is not the first time I have experienced a dream of this type but it is pretty unusual and provides an insight into how our minds may actually work.
I was reading recently in New Scientist that recursive awareness may be what separates man from beast. Recursion in thought explains our ability to put ourselves in the position of others (often known as empathy) and understand their point of view on another situation as well as our own. Often at the same time as our own point of view. In fact, we can simultaneously hold our own point of view and view it as others may do and this can affect how we behave. For example, we may not wish to say what we really think as others around us may be offended, even though our point of view is perfectly valid and logical. This, the argument goes, is a uniquely human proposition.
Recursion occurs in daily life too, through the use of grammar. For example, the idea that I'm looking at you, who is looking at me is a recursive statement. It could go further (indeed forever): I'm looking at you, who is looking at me, who is looking at you, who is looking at me... and yet the meaning is clear. Our brains can decipher such complex statements with ease. Another example of it occurring within language is "she said this about her mother who knows that your father is an alcoholic." We really have no problem understanding such a complex piece of information because of our ability to handle recursive concepts in our heads. Maybe it is the secret to intelligence in the brain; that if you can represent a piece of information through recursion you will have a very powerful information processing tool. I will think on this some more as it is entirely relevant to my day to day activities as a developer.
Food for thought. Food for recursive thought.