Friday, September 4, 2009

Thus Spoke Zarathustra (again)

CP recently commented that conversations with your humble blogger induce a feeling of vertigo. I believe this to have been a compliment, of sorts, but regardless of the intention, the anecdote is useful as a point of departure. Because lately I have been noticing that one of my most cherished analytic tricks is to take a thought, somehow figure out a way to reflect it back on itself so as to induce a feedback loop, and then move quickly to a safe distance to see if anything interesting happens. The feedback loop as intuition pump. Not, now that I think of it, dissimilar to Kevin Kelly's anecdote in Out of Control about asking scientists what color they thought a chameleon would be when looking in the mirror (a pretty good book so far, by the way -- the guy is not just on the bus, he's spent some time driving it)

I used to think that feedback loops were kind of silly, and I was aggressively uninterested in the whole meta-meta postmodern hall of mirrors. I still am. The problem with the way those ideas were presented was that the feedback was never thought of as creative. It was always just the same structure over and over again -- base, meta-level, base meta-level, again and again, with some counter that incremented every time you went around the loop. That's not feedback, that's tedious repetition. The secret of real feedback is that it's creative and unpredictable. It's unlimited, even though it doesn't necessarily move off uniformly in one direction. Interesting feedback doesn't repeat because there's no beginning or end to the circle. Or at least, if it repeats, it is the act of repeating that is primary, and not the thing repeated; the form that is repeated doesn't pre-exist the repetition, and in fact, the only reason you know that it is the "same" form is because you can get it to repeat again (and again ad infinitum).

Once you understand how creative feedback can be, infinity and self-reflection (the reflection that makes a self) become much more interesting ideas. Vertigo may even have been up there with sex as the first drug. And all of this means that Nietzsche's idea of the Eternal Return comes back with a vengeance.

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