Recursive Self-Image

Recursive self-image creates a problem for how I understand consciousness.
Computers have this thing called the halting problem, where basically they don’t know whether a program will terminate or run forever, unless they actually run that program. But this means that they could be running an infinite loop without ever knowing it because sometimes it’s undecidable whether or not a program is just taking a VERY long time, or is literally taking forever.

So when it comes to consciousness, we all have an internal view of the world. It’s our reality. But what happens when we include ourselves in our own reality?

We are all self-aware, but in a limited way. Because the brain can’t be aware of it’s own thought process. It has to simulate the entire world after all. Now add the problem of it trying simulate itself. This would have to include it simulating itself simulating the world. And so on.

Ask yourself, do you think it’s a coincidence that the concept of infinity is so hard to grasp (or grok)? Or is it a product of physical constraints on how brains and computers work?

So what happens next? Simplification. Both of the world and ourselves. To make both more manageable and abstract. Self-image and worldview are necessarily reductionist perspectives. Because the alternative is physically impossible.

And this perspective is the source of so many conflicts and disagreements. If we disagree with each other in our simplifications of the world, and both events are mutually exclusive, one or both parties are wrong to some degree. There’s no escaping it. Reality has to zero out. 2 + 2 has to equal 4. There’s no way around that.

It’s no wonder that fear comes when we don’t understand something. It could be dangerous and we may not even know how. And defaulting to caution is a prudent metric but if everyone subscribed to it, there would be no adventurers. Life involves some amount of risk-taking no matter what.
But even the idea of true understanding is difficult to convey. Because the concept of understanding requires prior knowledge how to ‘understand’ something first. This in turn requires a concept of understanding to exist before it can manifest itself. It’s circular.

Understanding is an idea after all, related to agreeing upon a certain perspective or observations. It implies an underlying truth and placing faith in that truth.

It’s about reality checking.

The recursive nature of reality means that what we’re doing over time is incrementally improving the accuracy of our model of reality and ourselves. It’s an optimization problem. It’s why adults don’t stress out over things that kids think are the end of the world. And the sad thing is that sometimes wisdom we have as kids is lost because will inevitably optimize in the wrong direction.

Not sure if I really had a point with this post, but I’ve been thinking a lot about how computers and humans work at a fundamental level lately. There are a lot of parallels. And I think understanding how both psychology these learning algorithms work is a useful tool in daily life. It brings awareness to the iterative process of growing and to some of the limitations of our minds and their ability to manipulate reality.