Fractal, Recursion, Circle


B: Deleuze: “Identity is secondary to difference. Something only has an identity in contrast to something else.”

C: Let’s understand freedom through difference, then. We are less free under capitalist realism than Fordism. The difference defines our current un-freedom.

A: We can’t compare the past to the present, because in the present there is also the past, but in the past there is not yet the future, and therefore no difference with which to establish identity. Instead, freedom is purely subjective: the feeling of bodily autonomy. Absolute freedom lies beyond our subjective experience, it cannot be captured by language. We can only describe things as ‘more free’ or ‘less free’ than others, and can only compare within the present.

B: We should move away from the subjective-objective and instead use abstract-concrete. Instead of being free or not free, we should focus on becoming free. (Deleuze’s being/becoming).

A: How much of philosophy depends on the subjective-objective? Bataille’s discontinuity is the subjective experience. Lacan’s subject must be responsible for the subjective experience, right? If not, what else would provide it?

B: Memory, the structure of the signifying chain. The Lacanian subject is fundamentally impermanent.

A: But some larger permanence must provide the cohesion of the signifying chain, keeping signifiers bound together. Something must be running in the background, determining when to switch on our conscious experience.

B: The brain.

A: Ah, materialism providing the permanence. Is Lacan necessarily a materialist, then? He doesn’t mention the brain much.

B: Instead of trying to get to materialism from consciousness, we might try to approach consciousness from the material. Deleuze: “We do not yet know what the body is capable of.”

A: Is this not a switch from deductive to inductive? Does this not expose ourselves to the problem of induction? The Black Swan?

B: It is not inductive, but simply the scientific method. No theory is produced. Instead, we apply models. If the model works for the problem at hand, use it; if not, find a new model.

A: Then explain heuristics: what makes you reach for that first model? You must have some abstract meaning placed on the model that makes you favor it independently of the problem at hand.

B: But the problem at hand is required to evaluate the model! One cannot say a priori which model they need.

A: Are there discrete models? Or do we just have one meta-model? If they are discrete, then we can analyze models in the abstract, breaking them down into constituent models, ad infinitum. If we have one meta-model, where is the agency required for heuristics?

B: Let us imagine thought as a fractal. What appears discrete is broken down over and over, approaching infinity. There is no final model, no final analysis. The more we think and refine, the more specific the fractal is. This is akin to turning a knob to bring the fractal into higher and higher resolution, or iterating through the fractal.

A: Fractals converge on a pattern, though. What provides the pattern? For a fractal, there are two components: iterations and formula. Each fractal possesses a unique formula. Do our thoughts unfold in a single fractal, or are there many fractals we may find ourselves in throughout our lives? If there is but a single fractal, where is our agency? The course of the fractal is controlled only by time; its expression is pre-determined by the formula, not human agency. If there are many fractals, what lets us choose between them? What would provide the basis for heuristics to take place?

B: Hm, a fractal is not a good metaphor. I would like to convey simply the infinitely repeating component, not the structural one.

A: Then could we describe thought as a recursion? We may pass through many forms, and it never ends, but it repeats back on itself as time goes on. Unlike a fractal, a recursion does not converge on anything.

C: Well, recursions have boundary conditions. Is this not a form of structure?

A: Yes, so then we could still distinguish between different forms of recursion. Do our thoughts unfold in a single recursion, or are there multiple recursions? If multiple, again how do we make a choice between them? We must have a meaning for each one that lets us prioritize them, selecting the right one for the problem at hand. If instead we have but a single, eternal recurrence where is our agency? If we cannot answer this question, how can we have a metaphysics at all?

B: The problem is that there is no problem. We are examining in the pure abstract, without anything to ground us. In the words of my lazy father, “You can’t have a solution if you ain’t got a problem!”

A: But for meaning in the concrete to exist, then meaning in the abstract must exist as well. Constructing meaning from the concrete is inductive, and leads to the problem of induction. How would we know that the meaning we produce has any claim to being objective?

B: We can’t, and that is what Deleuze means by thinking is a roll of the die, one which we play without security, or the claim to objectivity. Why must meaning be consistent, anyway? The only constant in life is change. Deleuze: “We will not ask what something means, only how it works and what it does.”

A: Then why write a book? Why practice philosophy unless you believe that meaning exists in the abstract?

B: Deleuze did not believe he was producing meaning, but rather concepts.

A: Yes, but why produce concepts unless you place meaning on them? Why communicate concepts unless you believe their meaning will be understood? Concepts cannot be formed without meaning. Can we not ask what meaning means?

B: Correct.

A: What makes you so sure?

B: I cannot be sure, but I am placing a bet. I am rolling the die.

A: But placing a bet requires agency. If we are passively watching our thoughts unfold without any constant meaning, there is no basis on which to choose, and thus no agency. But heuristics require that a choice can be made. If thoughts unfold like a single fractal, what gives the fractal its formula? If thoughts unfold like a single recursion, how can any instance of the recursion have a unique meaning, for it will appear the exact same after an additional number of iterations. Any model that behaves as a recursion cannot support meaning in the abstract. If one does not believe in objective meaning, then how can you claim, ‘The only constant is change?’ It sounds like, to you, we have no basis for objective claims, and yet we make them anyway. Is this compulsion not a violation of agency? It is like being locked in a casino, and asked which game you want to play; what you may really want, going home, is never an option. In such a case, do you actually have freedom?

At this point, we have come full circle.

Perhaps, then, the process of thinking is not a fractal, nor a recursion, but it is simply a circle.