Recapitulation is an exercise to recall, review, release, and recharge energy. It rids a person of assumptions and preconceptions. Recapitulation is remembering or more precisely, reviving events and experiences. [Source]
I've alluded many times to Douglas Hofstader's new book, I am a Strange Loop. One of the reasons this book fascinates me so much, is that much of Hofstader's descriptions, describe almost exactly knowledge I learned through other sources.
But first, I'll come clean. I studied and practiced the teachings of mystic G.I. Gurdjieff actively for 5 years and in a school for at least 3 of those. (Much of what I know of Wilbur's Integral Theory reminds me of those Gurdjieff lessons.) Then I flowed into Aikido and practiced martial movements and paratheatrical rituals. One fine Berkeley day, I was coming back from aikido class and on a whim, I stopped in the temporary Berkeley Library. I frequent bookstore more than libraries. I had no idea what to look for. Them I remembered someone told me about some teachings of don juan. It was the last person I talked to at college. I had no idea who the author was, so I started looking up titles. I couldn't find that particular book, but I found the section that included other books by the same author. I picked two at random and took them on vacation with me. The author turned out to be Carlos Castaneda, and the first book I read, was The Fire from Within. (Shamanism was not new to me. Another fluke library stop, more than 10 years previous got 13 year old Heather obsessed with Lynn V Andrews. I accepted these stories as the myths and fairytales I had read.) I read the stories with a skeptics disbelief - the activities in his books are truly impossible, but I found myself agreeing more and more on the explanation and belief structure. It was so similar to my own, I realized that I was holding in my hands a book I would write had this book not been written. Rather than get angry (like I did at Taoism 10 years previous) I wanted to learn more. I gave myself a year to experience these impossible things. That year was the first of many years of practice and studying personal freedom - true freedom.
So what does this have to do with Hofstader?
Much of the more difficult concepts I learn (and try to explain) about true freedom Hofstader has explained with the ease of mathematical terms, analogies and stories. He easily explains Plato's cave - much more eloquently than Plato did. Here's an excerpt he uses to explain our warehouse (of symbols) and I can use it to show the importance of recapitulation.
(book excerpt after the jump)
From page 277, excerpt begins
Symbols Trigger More Symbols
A potential new doctoral student named Nicole comes to town for a day to explore the possibility of doing a Ph.D in my research group. After my graduate students and I have interacted with her for several hours, first at our Center and then over a Chinese dinner, we agee that we all find her mind delightfully lively and her thoughts just on our wavelength, and it's hopeful that she'll join us next fall. After she returns home, Nicole sends me an email saying that she is still very excited by our ideas and that they are continuing to reverberate vividly in her mind. I reply with a note of encouragement, and then there an ensues an de-silence for a couple of weeks. When I finally send her a second email telling her how wager we all are for her to come next year, a couple of days pass and then a terse and somewhat starchy reply arrives, saying that she's sorry but she's decided to go to another university for graduate school. "But I hope we'll have a chance to interact in the future," she adds politely at the end.
Well this little episode is all fresh to me. Nicole is a unique individual, our lively conversations with her were are sui generis, and the complex configuration of symbols activated in my brain by the whole event is, by definition, unprecedented. And yet on another level that's not true at all.
In my many decades' worth of episodic memory, there are precedents galore for the episode, if I just "hold it loosely in the mind". In fact, without making the slightest effort, I find quiet a few old memories bubbling up for the first time in many years, such as that time nearly thirty years ago when a very promising young candidate for our faculty seemed so interested but then, to our great surprise, he turned down our exceedingly generous offer. And that time a few years later when an extremely bright grad student of mine got all excited about accompanying me out to California for my sabbatical year but then changed his mind and soon dropped entirely out of sight, never to be heard from again. And then there's the sad time I was terribly infatuated with that young woman from a far-off land, whose singlas to me at first seemed so tinglingly filled with promise, but who then inexplicably drew back a bit, and a week or so later wound up telling me she was involved with someone else (actually, that even happened far more than just once, to my chagrin...).
And so, one by one, all these dusty old "books" are pulled off the shelves of dormacy by the current episode, becase this "unprecedented" situation, when it is perceived at an abstract level, when its crust is discarted and its core is distilled, points straight at certain other past sagas stored on the shelves of my "library", and one after another of them gets pulled out and placed in the limelight of activation. These old sagas, long ago wrapped up in nice neat mental packages, had been idly sitting around on the shelves of my brain, waiting to be triggered if and when "the same thing" should ever happen, in new guise. And, sad to say, it did!
When all this activity has flowed around for a while, with memories triggering memories triggering memories, somthing slowly settles out -- some kind of "precipitate", to borrow a term from chemistry. In this case, it finally boils down to just one world: "jilted". Yes, I feel jilted. My research group has been jilted.
What a phenominal reduction in complexity! We began with an encounter that lasted for hours in two different venues and that involved many people and many thousands of words exchanged and uncountable visual impressions and them some follow-up emails, but in the end the whole thing funneled down to (or should I say "fizzled out in"?) just one single very disapointing six-letter word. To be sure, that's not the only idea I retain from the saga, but "jilt" becomes one of the dominant mental categories whth which Nicole's visit will forever be associated. And of course, the Nicole saga itself gets neatly bound and stored in the shelves of my episodic memory for potential retrieval by this "I" of mine, somewhere further down the line, who knows when or where.
OK. Now I continue where hofstader ends. (I admit, I haven't read past this passage just yet. It is the most recent of passages I have wanted to write about in this vein.)
So if we go with what Hofstader posits, that the end of the experience with Nicole was in a way influenced by these previous experiences all in which "jilted" was the final take away vibe, then this is a pattern. First thing in recapitulation is to identify the patterns.
Next move. Are you (is Hofstader) happy with his end vibe result from the experience (feeling "jilted")? I would say a resounding NO!
OK. Next move. If the pattern is giving you an end answer that you are not happy with, what are you going to do? Do you know what kind of end answer/feeling you want to get? If not, does it matter how you tweak the pattern? Any outcome could be better. Of course, if you know yourself well, you can extrapolate which tweaks in the pattern could lead to a better outcome.
Great. So now it's fun experimentation time and break the pattern time. This can be harder than you might think. Right now you are looking at experiences in the past. But retrospecting is much easier than identifying in the moment - or as the moments are happening (e.g. present tense).
Ok, so the next step is to become aware of the pattern as it is happening (not in past tense). Don't bother trying to change it yet. Just become aware of when the pattern starts unfolding.
At some point, you'll have enough data to know when a pattern you want to change starts unfolding. This is a critical moment. This is the moment you can try your experiment. You can have a script of items you want to change and then follow the script when the pattern occurs. e.g. I get angry at traffic when the cars don't move. And then I blame every jerkwad on the road for the problem of the traffic. So the script is, when I identify I am getting angry at cars stuck in traffic and I start cussing out everyone, I am going to smile. I am going to take a deep breath. And then when you start cussing out that jerkwad driving in front of you you remind yourself about the script and then you start smiling and taking a deep breath. AND you pay attention to what the final end feeling is. AND then there is the post-experiment analysis: was the outcome something you liked better than the previous pattern? If so, then great, it's time to replace the old patternhabit with a new one. If not, then you/we/I get to continue to experiment.
This is a step along to freedom. You are free to do to choose what you want to do, be, feel. Because as hofstader explained very early in his book, all these symbols rolling around in our brains are symbols that are not much unlike Godel's creating a new symbol structure using PM as syntax.
There's lots more to be said/written on the matter, but I'm going to go order some pizza now. If you feel like reading more about recapitulation and methods, go check out this post at the sorcery files.
If you liked this kind of brain/consciousness rambling, let me know. Should I write more like this? Do you think it's total bullshit?