[Recursion]: Video Feedback

I’ve been playing with video feedback since I was kid hooking our shoulder VHS video camera up to a little black and white TV in my grandma’s basement. I have a document camera that plays through the computer in my classroom, so I can achieve the effect anytime, these days. All I have to do is point the camera at the screen and play. My students LOVE it, of course, as does just about everyone who experiences this in person. There is something deeply fascinating to us about this mechanical system observing itself. Infinity? What’s going on in the middle of that screen?

Homage: Drawing Hands

It’s the same effect you get when mirrors face each other, but the camera enhances this in several ways. You can twist and move it, creating incredible and surprising results. The camera/display combo makes small alterations each time the “image” is sent through the loop. As a result, the image deforms, one generation at a time. The color, the shapes, the detail, just about everything is slightly transformed through this recursion, similar to the evolutionary process that shapes all life.

In fact, I see feedback systems as a ubiquitous mechanism in the world. “Memes,” increasingly well-known, are the mental structures, analog to genes, whose interactions affect our ideas, or perhaps even constitute human thought. (Hofstadter’s I am a Strange Loop is all about this.) I’ve never fully explained my choice of “Lost In Recursion,” but perhaps it’s starting to come through. It refers to my own thinking, as well as to our schools – a troubled yet robust, self-perpetuating system, surviving minor alterations, awaiting revolutionary demand for change.

Homage: The Creation of Adam
(out of recursion, life and soul emerge)

By writing this blog, reading others, engaging in conversation on Twitter, and simply sharing my thoughts, I believe I’m taking part in the dynamic collision of ideas that is already shaping education reform and change in our country.

I hope my students will take active roles in this as well, but it won’t happen just by mastering material, meeting standards, passing tests, following directions, or going to the right colleges. It happens when you start sharing ideas, communicating, taking control, pushing back, and effecting change within these systems – most importantly the one inside your own brain.

Thanks to Justin Lanier for helping me take these photos. You can see more pics on the Lost In Recursion flickr page.

6 responses to “[Recursion]: Video Feedback

  1. On my more pessimistic days, the all-present school-thought recursion feels like the reason why the school system, and my thinking about and role in it, is broken. (Why do I keep thinking and talking about the same things? Why can’t I have any new ideas?) But on better and good days – and when I read things like this – the spiraling, interplay-ing, and recursive thoughts and interactions I have about school feel like the most natural and best paths to growth. Thanks, Paul!

    • Awesome comment, Anna! Thanks a lot. You’ve described it really well. That weird, almost chaotic collision of ideas is semi-stable, and yet so unpredictable. I love following it and seeing what new thoughts occur to me. It’s also cool that you have influence on that process, simply by interacting with each other.

  2. Great to see an update to Hofstadter’s TV and camera work from GEB, which has clearly influenced us both. Clever homages.

    • Yeah. It’s pretty much the same thing he did. I think I could improve the creation of Adam one, but I’m happy with it. I just can’t get enough Hofstadter, though.

      I offered a seminar on GEB with a few other teachers but it didn’t run. I’m doing “Mathematical Art” next semester and this will definitely be a part of it.

      What’s your favorite Hofstadter stuff?

  3. love it! i particularly like the notion of gradual transformation.

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