Thinking and Rethinking

I was listening to the radio on the weekend, and there was this interesting piece on Spark. I can’t recall if it was the CBC program or some news story, but my interest was sparked when I heard this story about “recursive thinking” and schools in the US that are teaching students how to think using recursion while reducing the emphasis on knowledge of content.

If you’re not sure what recursion is, you might remember this clip of Patrick from Spongebob Squarepants. 

Now, I realize that this is a technique usually applied to mathematical concepts, but I found the following article preview from the magazine “American Scientist“:

The Uniqueness of Human Recursive Thinking
The ability to think about thinking may be the critical attribute that distinguishes us from all other species.

by Michael Corballis

A dog chasing his tail has nothing on the human race. Recursion—a process that calls itself, or calls a similar process—may be a fundamental aspect of what it means to be human. In the human mind, recursion is actually much more complex than the notion of returning to the same place over and over. We put phrases within phrases because we hold thoughts in memory; thus we have language and a sense of a past self. We are aware that we are thinking about what someone else is thinking; on this awareness we build a sense of self and the ability to be deceptive or to act on shared belief. Recursion gives us the ability to mentally travel in time. It is fundamental to the evolution of technology: Human beings are the only animals that have been observed to use a tool to make a tool. Looking at human language and thought, psychologist Corballis finds recursion within recursion.

Hamlet employs a form of recursion in his thinking and rethinking. In fact, if we consider the character, Hamlet, to be a hero, then we can look at his whole journey like Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, the Hero’s Journey, which is recursive.the-hero_s-journey

“the storyteller’s paradox that though the hero’s quest must be told in linear and chronological terms, it represents multiple dimensions and has complex meanings. Like the paradoxes cited by quantum physics, the hero’s journey is, in reality, a spiraling, recursive, and elliptical process. Like a three-dimensional Chinese checkers or tic-tac-toe game, multiple dimensions operate simultaneously.”

Thinking about our reading and writing, then revisiting the same thinking helps us refine and redefine our perspectives and the articulation of those perspectives. In fact, I just realized that I am right back where I began this blog, rethinking about rewriting.

Back to the beginning at the end.


About melaniewhite2012

I am a high school English and Media Studies Teacher, an editor, and writer of educational publications for McGraw-Hill Ryerson, Ltd, and a mother of three. I distance run, exist largely on raw food, fresh air and sunshine, good literature, thoughtful radio, film, and laughter.
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