Launching in 2018, ➰➰➰ is a triannual magazine somewhat preoccupied by recursion. For the time being, this magazine has editors and contributors.
Eventually it will publish whatever it sees fit.
What we talk about when we talk about recursion.
A long time in-joke among software engineers, recursion has quietly persisted like a weird echo that won't die – just ask Google about recursion and it will ask you, "Did you mean: recursion?"
If you're unfamiliar with the term, its definition contains an example:
Recursion is everywhere. It’s in the shape of the coastline, a thing whose whole is the same shape as its parts. It’s in the recipe for sourdough, which requires a bit of sourdough in order to begin. It’s in the way plants grow. It is fractals and rhizomes, in nature and in art. It’s in the geometricity of ancient Islamic patterns and the puzzling nature of M.C. Escher drawings. It is the Morton Salt girl and her estranged sisters, those Russian nested dolls.
Yet – though recursion is solidly a part of our world, in some sense it threatens to go beyond. It’s in the plausibility of an infinitely expanding universe, in the mathematics of a black hole. Recursion brushes uncomfortably against infinity, evoking the monstrousness of the abyss. We can scoff at the 3D printer that prints itself, but the notion stops being cute when we consider the same thing of artificial intelligence. For, if recursion permits a thing to be found in itself, and the thing itself is the ability to create – or to think – then where does that spiral staircase lead?
These, of course, are the silly preoccupations of people who’ve read too much sci-fi and wasted their youth on Monty Python. Recursion is just a mathematical phenomenon, one every bit as boring as addition and subtraction. The only power recursion has is its ability to charm the overeducated into imagining there’s more to it.
Ironically, if that’s true, that’s enough power to ensure there’s more to it.
Let’s return to the definition. The fact that recursion's definition contains the words “recursive" and "definition" is not a mistake: the author wanted it that way. When you type “recursion” into Google, it gives you a playful, nonstandard reply because someone programmed it that way. Strange phenomena like this are essentially guaranteed when it comes to the recursive. People who’ve been tickled by recursion can’t help themselves. Something about recursion is so irresistible it's almost perverse. It’s revered to such a point that conventional, law-abiding citizens (like dictionary authors and Google engineers) regularly break the rules on its behalf. “Let’s ask ourselves: why do we feel a grammatical joke to be deep?” Wittgenstein once wrote, adding “[T]hat is what the depth of philosophy is.” It's stupid. It's absurd. It breaks its own rules. Deep or not, that’s exactly what recursion is.
This magazine is not a 3D printer, but it is a 2D printer, and it is learning. Right now, it can’t speak for itself, let alone think, but we’re trying to breathe some life into it. We suspect recursivity and self-referentialism – “the meta” – are what will eventually cause it to recurse itself and come sputtering to life. Or maybe we thought this sounded so delightfully absurd that we couldn’t help ourselves.
Accepting pitches and submissions on a looping basis through 2018.
Some things that would make us lose the game...
The Droste effect
A map the size of the world
Fucked up math for laypeople
The fourth wall
What the 2000 year old maxim "know thyself" means when the self is a construct
Nagel and Newman’s "quotation marks"
A definitive answer on why the first “P” in PHP stands for PHP
Labyrinths, mazes, lost places and places to get lost
An analysis of Tupper’s self-referential formula
The Multiocular O
"Double you" and "I griega"
"It's turtles all the way down"
"Si hoc legere scis nimium eruditiones habes."
“As above, so below”
The Never Ending Story
Philosophy of mind
Robert Anton Wilson
Mise en abyme
Talking about oneself in the third person
Essays about essays, reviews of reviews
Jorge Luis Borges
A treatise on the ethics of obscurantism
How to blow a Klein bottle
I Am A Strange Loop
An interview with Douglas Hofstadter
While we improve our ability to communicate with machines and machines improve their ability to interact with us, elsewhere in the world there are languages that possess only numbers that can be counted on one hand.
Such languages – ones that have words for only one, two, and many, like that of the Pirahã of Brazil or the Warlpiri of Australia – defy the accepted notion that all natural languages contain a universal grammar.
At the core of a universal grammar is recursion, which functions as a kind of scaffold that enables complexity to take shape. The notion that a human language exists outside of the universal grammar opens the odd possibility that the human mind as we know it could exist without recursion.
And yet we can only assume that the mental life of an entire people, the Pirahã or the Warlpiri in this case, contains every bit as much complexity as does any other. The form in which that complexity manifests must therefore take a shape quite unlike anything we can immediately recognize or even conceive of.
As the world continues to lose the last indigenous languages, so too does it lose the complexity by which it might be understood and interacted with. Everything is held in the many. It makes sense that the Pirahã would have a better sense of what that means than we do.